Reliving your weekend outing, soccer game or epic vacation with stunning aerial footage is about to get a lot easier.
On Monday, 3D Robotics announced its new drone Solo, which should make it easy for users to document their adventures without having to become an expert drone pilot and camera operator.
While there are drones with great cameras and flight controls, and drones that automatically follow you, Solo combines the crisp footage from a GoPro with automated, intelligent flight paths to record whatever you’re doing. Instead of being stuck with a controller to fly the drone, Solo users can plot a route for their drone, or just ask it to follow them and then let it do the work.
“I do recognize that the only missing thing in my family photos and videos is me,” said 3D Robotics chief executive Chris Anderson. “Because I’m always the guy taking the shot, and I want a robot to do the work.”
Let’s say you were playing football or basketball with friends. On the Solo app you could use its cable-cam feature to set a route for the drone to fly, from one goalpost to the other. You would also set an appropriate height so the drone wouldn’t collide with anything. Then with the follow-me function activated, the drone would track you during your game, flying up and back the assigned route.
Currently Solo tracks the GPS in your smartphone, so a user would have to be comfortable having his or her phone on the playing field. But between this automated route and the auto-landing and take-off function, a person wouldn’t have to spend time learning how to fly a drone by hand.
“You can get on with your life,” Anderson said. “You can be the subject of the film not the director of the film. That’s all because of autonomy.”
Solo will eventually do optical tracking, in which it could recognize a given person’s clothing and physical appearance, and automatically follow them. But Anderson says 3D Robotics would like users to have their phones present too, so that the drone has another data point to accurately follow them.
There’s also a feature to easily take selfies with Solo:
3D Robotics is billing Solo as the first smart drone, and it’s powered by Linux computers in the drone and its controller. App developers can leverage the computing power in the drone, its controller and the cloud to create new, useful services. 3D Robotics has launched DroneKit, which is essentially an app store to distribute these offerings. This will likely spur new and interesting ways to use drones.
3D Robotics is also allowing sharing of flight paths. Anderson compared this to how an app such as RunKeeper lets joggers share great routes. Drone pilots traveling to exotic locations, or just looking for a safe, proven route to get good footage could swap their findings.
Anyone using Solo will have to be careful about the flight paths they choose. If a 100-foot tall tree is in the path you’ve asked Solo to fly at 80 feet of altitude, the drone will fly straight into the tree. Solo doesn’t have sense-and-avoid capabilities, an area the drone industry continues to develop.
Solo will be available in May, starting at $999. Anderson calls Solo his company’s first physical product that can meet and exceed its best competitors, DJI and Parrot.
Like DJI’s new Phantom drone, it allows for live HD streaming from the drone’s camera to a phone or tablet attached to the controller.
I’ve experimented with the potential of having a drone follow me, and have to say it’s a neat experience that produces memorable footage. Here’s a GIF of footage shot on a GoPro on Ehang’s Ghost drone.
As I ran around a park in Northern Virginia the drone stayed with me, communicating with a sensor in my hand. While at first there’s something a little creepy about a buzzing machine tracking your every step, you get used to it. Especially after reviewing the video footage you get.
With Solo 3D Robotics is taking automation and auto-following functions to another level. Who will be the first of your friends to share video of a drone following them on Facebook?