Drones are getting increasingly inexpensive by the day as new suppliers enter the market. Learn more about different kinds of this fledgling technology in the article.
Drones, without a doubt, are the hottest thing in consumer electronics at the moment. They're cool. They're fun. They're edgy (just ask the FAA). And they're increasingly inexpensive, as more suppliers (and their products) enter the market. Makes you want to go out and buy one and fly it around in the Colorado Bluebird Sky, doesn't it?
But which one(s) should you get? That's where this article comes in. Most of the following candidates are already available for purchase.
DJI Phantom 4
Ask anyone who's already played around with a drone, and they'll probably tell you that aside from the initial elementary learning curve of figuring out how to launch, fly, and land the darn thing, the two biggest issues with them are keeping them from running into things (walls, trees, other drones, etc) and keeping them video-recording in a stable manner whatever you've got the camera trained on at the time.
Market leader DJI's latest Phantom 4 quadrotor strives to solve both of these problems. It leverages its integrated camera not only for video capture but also, in conjunction with an on-board Movidius Myriad 2 processor, to tackle a variety of computer vision tasks … object detection and avoidance, for example, as well as object recognition and auto-tracking. Check out the following promo video for more details:
Yuneec Typhoon H
Truth be told (at least according to Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich), the Phantom 4 wasn't the first autonomous obstacle-avoiding drone (though I believe it's the first to combine the object avoidance and object tracking features). That honor goes to Yuneec's Typhoon H, which Intel showcased at its January 2016 Consumer Electronics Show keynote:
Instead of using a conventional single or stereo camera for object-detection purposes, the Typhoon H leverages Intel's RealSense technology, which leverages a structured light transmission-and-sense approach conceptually similar to that employed in Microsoft's Kinect game console and PC peripheral. Curiously, however, at that same CES Intel announced that it was acquiring a different drone manufacturer, Germany-based Ascending Technologies.
"Follow me" features aren't unique to the Phantom 4, either. Take the Lily Camera drone, which isn't yet shipping ("Summer 2016," says the manufacturer), but for which pre-orders are currently being taken. If you haven't yet put down your cash, too bad … the initial pre-order price was $499, but it's currently $899. Then again, the shipping MSRP will be $999, so you're still saving $100.
The Lily Camera doesn't use its … camera … for object-tracking purposes. Instead, you clip a small waterproof tracking device to whatever you want it to follow. The drone and tracker mate over RF; they both include accelerometers, GPS transceivers, and barometers (for height discernment). The tracker adds a microphone, whose captured audio it passes along to the drone doing the recording. The drone, along with front- and bottom-facing cameras, also includes a three-axis gyro and a magnetometer (compass).
Here's perhaps the best part; it's completely autonomous. Toss it in the air, the motors automatically fire up, and it commences its tracking activities, using the comparative position and movement data measured by both it and the tracker to maintain proper speed, distance and height between them:
How cool is that?
Parrot Disco Drone
If conventional airplane form factors are more to your liking, check out the Parrot Disco, also introduced at this past January's Consumer Electronics Show:
Don't get TOO excited, because it's not yet shipping … as far as I know, a production date hasn't even been announced yet. However, Parrot isn't some fly-by-night upstart; it was one of the first drone suppliers, as a near-six-year-old teardown from my buddies at iFixit makes clear. So if fixed-wing is your thing, start saving your pennies.
Zero Zero Robotics Hover Camera
Another prototype addresses the will-it-never-die "selfie" craze. The diminutive Hover Camera weighs only 238 grams and shoots 4K-resolution video and 12 Mpixel still images, following you around with the assistance of face tracking algorithms. The manufacturer has reportedly already built a couple thousand prototypes, and plans to enter volume production later this year, aided by $25 million in just-garnered funding. Downsides? Only eight minutes of flight time between charges, for one. And truthfully, does the world need yet another narcissism assistant?
Check out the next 5 drones in our gallery…