The US government predicts one million drones will be sold over the coming holiday season. That's a whole a lot of thumbs jerking around unfamiliar joysticks, trying valiantly to prevent a meeting between their shiny new toy and the trees or local ferris wheels. But experienced pilots too will be looking to take their wizardry to new levels with the latest in high-flying hardware. With most consumer models carrying top-notch camera gear and a pretty friendly learning curve, drones made for rookies and experts aren't as different as they once were, though they do still have their own strengths and weaknesses. Let's put four of the big players side-by-side to see how they stack up.
Drone technology sure is moving fast. So fast, in fact, that French hardware company Parrot has already felt compelled to launch a follow up to last year's popular Bepop drone. The Bepop 2 retains the light weight and camera of the original, but can fly faster and longer with a flight time of 25 minutes, landing it in the same territory as leading consumer drones on the market.
Researchers working at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab in Ontario have created a collaborating swarm of drones that act as 3D pixels (voxels) to create giant, flying interactive displays. The researchers claim that the "BitDrone" system provides users with the ability to investigate virtual information presented in 3D by directly manipulating these hovering voxels for use in the likes of 3D gaming, medical imaging, and molecular modelling.
In the year since the release of the Ghost Drone, camera-equipped quadcopters that can autonomously track a subject haven't exactly become par for the course, but that feature is no longer enough to set them apart from the crowd either. In its ongoing search for a point of difference, the Chinese maker of the Ghost Drone has returned with a new and improved version, which allows pilots to don a set of virtual reality goggles and control the direction of the drone's camera simply by moving their head.
One of the problems with consumer drones is that unless you're using them to shoot video, they can actually get kind of boring after a while. Flying them pointlessly up and down and back and forth only stays interesting for so long. That's why a group of Slovakian entrepreneurs have created Drone n Base. It lets drone pilots race one another, engage in aerial dogfights, or play games like capture the flag.
The crowdfunded drone explosion continues with the FLYBi, a
quadcopter designed to put you in the "cockpit," sort of. It aims to
fulfill the promise of earlier concepts like Oculus FPV that merge virtual reality tech with drones to provide a first-person view of the flight.
Despite the increasing number of companies making and marketing consumer drones, there’s apparently still room for growth and innovation. For example, Axis Drones' Aerius quadcopter is touted as the smallest one ever manufactured. We got some hands-on time with the wee wonder.
Yep, it's another prosumer quadcopter – ProDrone's Byrd. So, what's so
special about this one? Well, among other things, it combines folding
propeller arms with swappable camera gimbals and a 29-minute flight
Children of the 1970s may recall Kenner's Smash-Up Derby set, in which
two toy cars flew into pieces when they crashed into each other – the
neat thing was, they could then just be snapped back together. Well,
Vantage Robotics' Snap is sort of like the Smash-Up Derby of drones. The
4K camera-packin' quadcopter's main body is attached to the folding
propeller assembly by magnets, allowing it to come off under impact
without incurring any lasting damage.
Last month, DJI released the Phantom 3 Standard drone, which slotted in below the Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Professional in the company's lineup. At the time, DJI promised compatibility with a series of intelligent flight modes would be forthcoming in a software update and the company has now delivered on that promise.