If there’s something intriguing about robots there’s something truly captivating about robots that you fly. Enter the UAV, unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone to you and me. Good consumers drones have been around for a few years but US company 3D Robotics have raised the bar with what they’ve called the world’s first smart drone, the 3DR Solo.
The maker says that the smart element of the Solo is not just that the drone does more and it certainly does, but it allows you, the pilot to do less. By giving you less to do they make it easier for you to focus on what this drone was really designed for, aerial photography. It’s designed to work best with a GoPro camera that you mount under the drone with the pictures from that camera sent wirelessly from the sky to your controller, where you mount your smart-phone or tablet. And it’s that footage that makes the whole drone experience worthwhile. For years aerial photography, either professionally or for personal use was an expensive proposition, but personal drones have changed that, and 3D Robotics are trying to bring it to a new level, for a new generation of drone pilots.
The Solo is packaged for travel when you unbox it. Attaching the four propellers is simple, as is attaching the battery after charging which takes around an hour. That hour’s charge will give you around 25 minutes flying time. I was relived to find the drone smaller than I’d imagined but sturdy looking in a rugged matt black colour. Sturdy implied it was likely to survive my first few landings, and it did. You do need a smart-phone or tablet to operate the Solo and you attach that to a controller module, which looks much like a controller for model aircraft or boats. To capture pictures or video you need to attach a GoPro camera, which is sold separately. With the camera connected you’re ready to go once you connect your phone to the drone’s wifi network so the controller module can communicate wirelessly with the Solo.
Powering up the drone is straightforward and then the first bit of magic happens as you see the real-time high-definition picture feed from the GoPro to your phone, as well as flight information and weather. Getting the drone in the air is easy. Press a button labeled Fly, and it does. The Solo takes off and hovers a few metres from the ground, waiting patiently for your next move. There are first-flight lessons available via the app and after a few tentative test flights you can start to explore the Solo’s remarkably smart features. Amongst it’s smart-shots, as they’re called, you can set it up to orbit a location or building and capture cinema like footage or, in what could be the ultimate selfie, program it to take off and capture selfies of you and your family gathered on the that breathtaking cliff, before it returns to land at your feet.
The footage it allows you to capture can be of those once in a lifetime locations, but it can be shaky, particularly if the weather’s a little windy. To eliminate that shake you’ll need to purchase the specially designed Solo gimbal for €399 which attaches the camera to the drone and really does give you cinema like footage. If you do opt to buy a gimbal, and if you’re serious about using it for photography you really should, there are controls for the camera pan and tilt built in to the Solo’s controller unit.
The maker’s founder has said they’d like to take the skill of Spielberg and turn it in to software. They’ve gone along way towards that but when you factor in the cost of a gimbal and a GoPro this isn’t cheap fun but I can assure you, it is fun at dizzying heights.
RRP: €1299.99 Basic
More info at: 3DRobotics.com