The battle in the skies this week is the autonomous action-sports drone apparently. Why? Because, what if you want to be the star in your as yet un-made aerial epic? With a regular drone that's a tricky one. You could film yourself, as you stand flying the drone, but where's the fun in that? Airdog is a quadcopter drone that follows you, using GPS and movement tracking to keep up as you get down (the slope, or whatever). Action camera selfie videos are cool and all, but wouldn't an epic aerial shot following you carving through fresh powder snow, or riding that killer wave, or heck, even scuba diving be so much better? Airdog promises exactly that. And more.
The first thing that makes Airdog different is the wrist-mounted controller. You simply tell Airdog when to launch, and it will take off, reach your chosen altitude, and then start following you -- and you won't need your phone, making it a true all-weather set-up. Once you're done riding, simply tell it to land, and it will. That's the basic operation, but Airdog's creators want this to be the action camera drone of choice. As such it will be configured with sport-specific profiles. Imagine you're surfing, and want to catch you riding that one big wave? The drone's 10-15 minute battery life might all be spent by the time mother nature serves up the barrel you want. To solve that problem, Airdog can be left on the coast, and when that set finally does roll in, you can trigger it to take off and come find/follow you. Should the battery run low while you're still in action, it'll fly itself back to the coast and land again. There will be similarly tailored profiles for other sports.
You might be asking a very good question at this point: what about avoiding obstacles? Airdog's creator Edgars Rozentals tells us that his team are already working on a solution for that, one that will be available as an upgrade after release. In the meantime, you can either fly where you know the path to be clear, or, use the ability to draw in a route for the drone via the app in advance (literally telling it exactly where to fly). You can even record a route with the app, then fine tune and adjust it later.
The tracking part uses a combination of GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes and a barometer. If autonomy still makes you nervous though, there is the option to control it with a good old RC transmitter too. As for the camera part, it's designed to carry a GoPro in its protective housing -- something Airdog claims is a first (most carry just the naked camera). There is a gyro stablization gimble included too, which will give smooth footage, and the whole drone folds away for easy transporting. The only catch? It's launching on Kickstarter so you'd better hope enough of you get onboard to make it happen. If you do, you can bag one for the early-bird price of $995 - $1,195. Retail shoppers can expect to part with $1,500 if and when it hits the shelves (all things going well, in October).
With the drone market-place clearly hotting up, the battle for the skies is on. DJI has been leading the field with ready-to-fly drones so far, but Airdog and other recent entries show that there's an appetite to take drone videography to the next level. This is exciting for the consumer, but there will always be concerns over what this could mean for public airspace. If you haven't already, then definitely check out out explainer on the whole topic. What we like about Airdog, though, is the smarts of the software. The custom profiles for each sport suggest that its developers really want to make this adaptable, and useful to a wide variety of pursuits. And the waterproof controller mechanism not only opens it up to the sea/water sports, but a whole host of other applications, too.
Until now, the market was either hobby/kit-based, or expensive bespoke options. DJI has done a lot to democratise the drone with its Phantom range, but that still left only a small choice. Now, with entrants like Pocketdrone, Hexo and of course Airdog, there should be something to fit all use cases and pockets. Rest assured, we'll be putting them all to the test as and when we can.