This article was originally published in The Drone Mag’s April/May 2016 issue.
The hunt for a drone … where to start, what to do, what features should you focus on? The questions seem endless, then you get to the store, whether it’s a major chain retail store or a dedicated hobby store, and you’re inundated with choices. Your head begins to spin! Do you look for a beginner model, but you want photo ability? Then, what if you want to just have a day of action? What does what, where do you turn? Traxxas has once again stepped up, stopping your head from spinning as the only thing that should be spinning are the props that are on a drone that is right for you. Traxxas has unleashed the new Aton and it’s a quadcopter that does what you want it to do in every respect that drone pilots of any ability are looking to accomplish. Easy-to-use and super-fast, camera ship to stunt machine, durable to customizable, the Traxxas crew has engineered it all into one package, the Aton, and we’re amped to test out every last one of its features. Let’s talk Aton, the personal video assistant and more.
FOR: Any level of quad-rotor enthusiast
INCLUDES: Fully Assembled Aton, four extra Propellers, 11.1V 3000mAh Power Cell LiPo Battery, Quick/balance Charger, transmitter, GoPro camera mount, landing gear and instructions.
WEIGHT: 30.33oz (860g)
DIAMETER: 14.57 in. (370mm)
WIDTH: 18.57 in. (472mm)
PROP SIZE: 9.25 in. (235mm)
TRANSMITTER: Traxxas 6-Channel
BATTERY: Traxxas 3000mAh LiPo power cell
FLIGHT TIME: Up to 20 minutes on the included pack
• Everything you need to start flying is in one box
?• Impressive speed, reaching up to 50 mph
•? Airbrake is a cool feature to stop the Aton in place so you can regain composure
•? Return-to-home and geofencing makes flights easy and worry are
•? Captures great video as is and stunning video with the optional gimbal
•Transmitter may appear game controllerish to some, but don’t let its looks fool you; it does the job exceptionally well
Traxxas has truly produced an all-in-one quadcopter with the Aton. It’s the perfect size machine with three modes that will allow you to advance from beginner to pro-pilot with the same model. It can be flown smoothly as a camera ship or with an easy mode switch. It performs aerobatics and hits exciting speeds up to 50 mph. Each and every operation is super easy to use and the Aton is built to withstand the rigors of all types of flight. The tunability on the Flight Link app (available for Android or IOS users) only further enhances the appeal of an already excellent model.
?The Aton has the look, the Traxxas look; even if you are not an RC air enthusiast and you know the Traxxas brand, you would probably venture a guess that the quadcopter you see on these pages is related to the RC giant. Kudos to TRX for giving the new Aton a look that falls right in line with their other products. From first glance you’ll notice the racer style canopy that covers the main body of the copter. This screws onto the main frame of the machine that is molded of a super durable plastic that appears similar to the plastic composite they use on their popular surface vehicles. The main frame protects the Aton’s four electronic boards as well as housing the battery. A battery door unclips from the rear that swings down for access to the tray. Traxxas cleverly equipped the battery and quad with their ID plug for seamless battery charging. On top of the Aton appears to be a roll bar, but in fact it’s a status bar. When the rear of the quad is facing you, you can see what the status is of metrics like GPS, home return, info and of course, power. Traxxas let us know that a variety of optional body colors are available so if the stock red one doesn’t suit your fancy, then you have options to choose from.
?Under the Aton, Traxxas has fitted each motor support arm with rubber pads so the quad can gently land when in sport or expert mode without the gimbal or landing gear extensions. When the gimbal or camera mount is attached, you’ll need to screw in the front and rear gear and simply attach the camera mount with its clipping mount. Our test unit was the Aton Model 7908 with the optional two axis gimbal (7970) attached. On top of the Aton is the roll hoop with status bar. This hoop that looks a bit like a car spoiler houses the copter’s GPS unit, keeping it away from the rest of the electronic components such as power boards, gimbals and camera to lessen the chances of interference interrupting an operation. What’s even cooler than the look of the hoop are the four LED status lights with decal symbols over them to indicate what systems are a go for a successful flight. We love this feature as so many other drones on the market have the status lights on the bottom of the machine, making it difficult to see during general start-up. Traxxas makes your RC experience even easier, once again, with the status lights.
?Let’s talk more lights. The arms on the Aton have translucent lens covers with a colored insert in the front. Super bright LED lights behind these inserts illuminate the arms for better orientation visibility, not to mention its looks super cool at night. Traxxas outfits each new Aton with a red body, inserts and props, however, in typical Traxxas fashion, they have you covered with optional gear to change out the colors of these items to fit your specific customizing tastes.
?Traxxas has programmed the Aton with three modes to make flights easier for any and all pilots. First, there is Film Mode which many will be using since the Aton is a great “personal video assistant.” In this mode, beginners can learn to fly the Aton with its limited flight characteristics or capture that epic photo or video sequence. Looking to step things up a notch, then Sport Mode would be your next step. Here you can fly at quicker speeds and perform stunts like flips. If you download the Traxxas Flight Link, you can adjust the number of flips the Aton can do with the push of a button. Sport Mode cranks up the speed and agility from Film Mode. Then there is Expert Mode which we were excited to see, where all the limits are removed and you have full control of the model. The Aton is really a machine that pilots can grow with from a beginner and as they advance, the Aton can support their desire for more challenges. In Expert Mode the quad has more maneuverability with potential speeds up to 50 mph, purely indicating the Aton is not a toy. Note that the gimal is only to be mounted when using Film Mode.
?Four high-powered, efficient brushless motors mount to each corner of the quad and can get the Aton honking at serious speeds; after all, Traxxas is the fastest name in radio control. The motors are controlled by a series of innovative electronics which can be updated later as more development occurs. The Aton is preset from the factory to have a ceiling of 400 feet and can fly a distance of 500 feet, but using the Flight Link app, you can enlarge the geofence or remove it altogether. Another neat feature of the Aton is the Air Brake. Want to cancel a return home flight? Use the Air Brake to reset the copter. Want to regain orientation? Hit the Air Brake, it’s really a bail-out button. Other cool digital stuff in the quad is its six-axis stabilization and GPS functionality. The Aton flies super stable in Film Mode for awesome camera views. Now for something very cool. Your flights can be logged on an optional SD card and then loaded into Google Earth so you can view your flightpath using programs such as Mission Planner or re-fly your mission in VR!
The Aton is a Traxxas product and therefor getting it up and going is super easy. The quad itself comes out of the box assembled and even has the precision propellers installed. The props are marked A and B and will match up with the A and B indicators on each of the arms next to the motors. While you are installing the props, it’s a good time to put the battery on charge with the included 3A charger. The battery and charger are equipped with the innovative Traxxas ID plug so you just have to plug it in and the charger does the rest. No worries about incorrectly setting up the charger. After your prop install, slip the included “AAA” batteries into the radio and now you’ll be ready to fly as soon as the battery has finished charging. If you plan on adding the camera to the Aton, you will need to simply install the included landing gear using the supplied 2mm head screws and latch your GoPro camera in place.
IN THE AIR
It was less than a day before the Traxxas Aton went from its shipping box to the air at the offices of Drones magazine. It took that long because as soon as we finished charging the battery it began to snow outside. So we waited for the next morning to fly the machine, but mother nature was nasty to us again and it was fairly windy outside. We couldn’t wait though. We headed out, set the Aton down and waited for four green LEDs on the status bar. Once they were lit, the motors were idled up and we had liftoff. Just seconds after the Aton reached an altitude of about ten feet, a massive gust of wind took hold of it while we were flying in film mode. Traxxas warns not to fly in Film Mode in wind gusts, but honestly we were able to easily handle the challenge and kept the Aton flying smoothly and successfully. We, of course, wouldn’t recommend this to a novice, but it was worth the mention because it impressed the Drones crew. Before our hero move became a zero move, we shut it down and waited for a calmer day.
Just a day later with clear skies and a light breeze, we took the Aton out for some fun in film mode. The quad seems to float in the sky and its reaction to stick inputs is smooth and easy which results in much less jittering in the video results. Our 2-axis gimbal took care of a lot of the motion sickness, but we did notice the props in some of the shots. Luckily, the angle of the camera can easily be changed in the gimbal by using the set button to alter the camera angle. Back in the air our videos had much better results of the scenes we were shooting. I was having a great time flying about the sky, but Matt was doing a little dance just waiting for his turn to hit the sticks in Sport Mode. We landed the Aton and took a few minutes to lose the camera and landing gear.
Matt easily switched flight modes by pressing the right stick down on the transmitter twice … completely bypassing Sport Mode and jumping directly to Expert. The Aton was like a totally different machine and was ripping around the sky much faster, perhaps even faster than expected as the flight mode was quickly switched back to Sport Mode. “Holy Smokes!” was all that was uttered after this first jaunt in Expert Mode. Traxxas has hinted at the fact that a fullblown FPV system might be in the works for this machine and we can see why, as it screams. One of the more popular moves you’ll see at fixed wing events is the touch-and-go. Not really a maneuver to attempt with a quadcopter … unless that quad is an Aton. With the gear removed and the belly serving as an armored skid, we were able to perform some sweet touch-and-goes with the Aton. The roof of the parking structure at our office is nice, smooth concrete, so we were able to get some pretty long slides in on fast approaches, before lifting back off for another run. It was especially cool to crank the rudder fully to one side or the other while sliding for pirouette touch and goes.
Once the fun is done, you can either push the “Home” button and let the Aton land itself or bring it back in manually. Either way, the quad is very stable and seems to suffer less from ground-effect turbulence than other small machines. Perhaps the coolest part about the GPS aided capabilities of the Aton is that it requires no calibration when moving to a new location. Yes, you read that correctly. Each time you fire up the radio and the quad, it may take a few seconds longer to initialize, but it calibrates the GPS compass automatically every time it is plugged in. Not only that, but you can reset the “Home” point without having to power down the model and radio. Very innovative features for a company not all that familiar to the drone masses
THE FINAL WORD
There’s no doubt that Traxxas has single handedly brought thousands of enthusiasts into the RC hobby world with their variety of surface products that fit the needs of everyone from beginners to the speed hungry. Now, it appears they have their sights set on the air side with the newly released Aton. The Aton impressed us in every way. From its simplicity, to its high tech looks, the copter is sure to attract newcomers to the aerial RC world. Its ability to capture stunning video on one hand and reach speeds of 50 mph on the other hand is sure to impress any seasoned RC drone pilot. The Flight Link tuning options are easy and impressive and Traxxas’ hints of upcoming accessories have us on the edge of our seats wanting to see more and do more with the Aton platform. All this at a great price that blooming pilots and experienced pilots both are willing to pay?! Traxxas did their homework and put out a quadcopter that pilots of any ability will enjoy for years to come.
TRAXXAS traxxas.com, (888) TRAXXAS
GOPRO raxxas.com, (888) 600-4659