Karma's simplicity is deceiving. "We started with a small team," says Lema. "We used them to attract other people that are roboticists, we have control theory folks. We have a team that joined us in Zurich, that's our advanced navigation team that's working on some future product ideas."
That last part is important. Lema is referring to Skybotix, a company GoPro acquired that specializes in autonomous flight. Karma doesn't have much in the way of autonomous flight features, which will be the biggest eyebrow-rise of Karma's launch for most drone-industry pundits. There are smart camera modes like "orbit" and virtual cable cam (which in my experience are actually more useful). But, unlike AirDog and the Phantom 4 (and many others), it doesn't follow you.
Most "experts" would have bet good money that feature would have been included. I gather it's possible/forthcoming, but it's not a launch-day priority -- and would probably require an accessory. Likewise, unlike DJI's Phantom 4 or Yuneec's Typhoon H, Karma doesn't have any form of collision detection or object recognition. Ostensibly, two large omissions -- but not according to GoPro.
Lema is confident that his team has gone about things the right way. "There are many drones out there, but this one is ours," he says. "We wanted to create something that's first and foremost about ease of use, and related to how GoPro users will use our cameras." That's not to say you can't expect a few updates in the works, or more feature-rich versions in the future. Lema hints that some of these could be coming soon.
"We look at what's happening with technologies in the industry. I think you'll see some stuff coming out of GoPro in future products that'll be pretty incredible," he says, before reminding me, "We have full teams that work on collision avoidance."
GoPro's cameras are rare in that they are used by consumers and professionals alike -- something the company hopes will be true for Karma. When I sit in on one of the Karma promo video edits, I realize that the development of Karma doesn't just happen on the whiteboards over in engineering. The company's own media team has played a key role in shaping it, sneaking in selfish feature requests that might be invisible to the consumer -- but could give Karma more curb appeal to lightweight professional crews.
For example, Karma's engineers added a "dronie" mode -- where the quadcopter moves up and away from the subject in a dramatic rise. Sam Lazarus, the lead for Karma's media team, told me that it was their experiences out in the field that got the feature changed from an angular, robotic straight-line "lift" to a much slicker, more Hollywood-style curved "reveal."
I hear about many such fine-tune details during my time in different departments. GoPro clearly hopes they all add up to something that stands out in a busy drone market. This month alone, DJI is likely launching its most consumer-friendly drone yet, and cheaper competition from Yuneec, Parrot et al. isn't stopping anytime soon. Not to mention the sheer number of cheap, unknown camera drones at the low end. With action cameras, GoPro inspired the imitations that meant it had to diversify. With drones, the bargain-priced no-name brands were already there.
One of the very first things I asked Woodman at the farm was: What would he have done differently with Karma if he had the chance to do it all over again? "The development of Karma has gone so well," he said," and OK, it took us a little bit longer than we'd intended, but the end result is so phenomenal that I wouldn't change anything about how we approached developing Karma." He added: "If we were just developing a drone, we could have released it much sooner."