Many of our smaller hobby drones come with a pre-paired drone controller, and little other option to fly your new machine. The commercial market is a different concept, with many controller types and styles available. In the mix is Panasonic’s line of Toughbooks and Toughpads, these are rugged tablets and laptops in a range of sizes that are both workstation and drone controller.
We met up with Panasonic at AUVSI Xponential 2019 in Chicago to see what they have in store. The selection at the tradeshow, and in our video, is but the tip of the iceberg for this powerful selection of drone controllers.
Panasonic is a trusted brand by many, they have a vast range of electronics for home and commercial use. For example, most of the videos on our YouTube channel were recorded with the Panasonic GH5 DSLR camera, which is still one of the best DSLRs for video capture around.
In terms of working with your drone, the Panasonic line of Tough-series books and tabs are primarily Windows powered devices with Intel chipsets. We’ve had these devices on our radar for a while, as we have people in our life that need a MIL-spec computer just for use in their living room. Sigh…
The ability to utilize these rugged computers as drone controllers is ideal for many users. If nothing else, the built-in battery swapping functionality is a must-have for some operators. You can swap batteries when one is depleted, but the device can self-power for about 30 seconds while you do this, so you never have to shutdown. Not a game changer for a drone with 30 minutes of flight, but a fixed-wing craft with upwards of 24 hours of airtime needs more than an average drone controller.
In addition to buying a full Panasonic Toughbook or Toughpad, the core of the system has been built into other drone controllers. We have no examples in the consumer space, but controllers like the Yuneec ST-16 use the same concept, embedding a 7-inch Android tablet into the controller.
The folks at Panasonic make it pretty clear, as with any Windows powered PC, the available configuration options, and therefore, available price range, is vast. There is a barrier to entry here, we’re not talking about $100 controllers, but if you are in the market for commercial gear, there is likely a configuration that can serve you well. Let’s take a look at some of the best Panasonic Toughbook and Panasonic Toughpad drone controllers.
Toughbook convertible laptops
At first glance, you may mistake a machine like the Panasonic Toughbook CF-33 as just a rugged looking laptop. That would be dramatically underselling this beast. This 12-inch machine is not only a detachable 2-in-1 style computer, it also packs an infrared camera, and that MIL-spec durability. You can disconnect the tablet portion of this device and connect to a selection of keyboard docks, including vehicle docks for those on the go.
As a drone remote control, a 12-inch display is a little big for full hand-held operation, but a great size if you have a mount to hold it. If you need to shrink it down, consider the CF-20, which is a 10.1-inch display.
- Check out the Panasonic Toughbook CF-33 from $3500
- Check out the Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 from $3400
If you are certain that you will not need a docked keyboard, you can save a few dollars by grabbing one of the Panasonic Toughpad tablets. The Toughpad FZ-G1 kicks things off with it’s 10.1 inch display, but look at the Toughpad FZ-M1 to drop it down to a 7-inch display. Unlike the available Intel Core i7 processor for the FZ-G1 and the convertible laptops, the 7-inch model is locked to the Core i5.
In addition to the Windows powered machines designed to be drone controllers, Panasonic has a few Android tablets as well. These are not the latest and greatest Android tablets, many of them have processors from several years ago, but if you are looking for a device with MIL-spec resilience, few other options are available.
I’ll say that again, all of these tablets have different chipsets, please look closely before you order.
- For a 4.7-inch tablet, check out the Toughpad FZ-N1 from $1800
- For a 5-inch tablet, check out the Toughpad FZ-T1 from $1500
- For an ultra rugged 5-inch tablet, check out the Toughpad FZ-X1 from $2000
See more Android tablets at Android Authority.
We’re having fun exploring the commercial end of the drone community. We’re learning more about how drones actually operate, what sorts of options we have for controlling them and experiencing technology we hope to see in future consumer drones as well.
The Panasonic line of Tough-series drone controllers are an eye-opener in terms of modularity of drone components. We hope to see more cooperation between manufacturers, much as we’d love to see more integration of USB cabling for consumer electronics. If all drones operate on the same technologies, we’d be able to fly any drone with any controller. Think about that.