The new Solo from 3D Robotics is more than a drone for carrying a GoPro action camera and capturing aerial video footage. Its built-in computers offer "Smart Shots" programs for automated, professional-level cinematography. It also comes with an open application development platform so developers anywhere can build additional apps for the Solo.
Powered by two Linux computers -- one in the drone and one in the controller -- the Solo lets a user on the ground control a GoPro in flight. The controller is also designed to be easy to manage straight out of the box, with dedicated buttons for "takeoff," "land," "return home," and "pause," which is basically an emergency airbrake to protect the drone from a collision or other potential trouble.
While the Solo can't automatically sense and avoid obstacles, it can be constrained by a "virtual safety net" that lets a user designate how high the drone can fly. It also features a "follow" mode that enables the device to automatically track an operator hands-free via smartphone GPS. (It supports both iOS and Android.)
Hollywood as 'Software'
"Solo is a breakthrough in intelligent flight," said 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson. The drone's built-in computers and intelligent programs have essentially turned the Hollywood toolkit into software, he said.
"Solo uses advanced autonomy to make creativity easier. Rather than needing skill to capture a great shot, you can let the software do the work. Even better, you can be in the shot -- you can be the subject of your life's story, not just the director," Anderson said.
The company's chief revenue officer, Colin Guinn, said 3D Robotics "set out a year ago with the promise of not just creating the best drone, but the best overall aerial filmmaking experience imaginable." In addition to creating a device with smooth and powerful flight dynamics, it also meant creating a smarter drone, "one that could abstract users from flying so they can focus on getting great video," he said.
Half-Mile Wi-Fi Range
A user will be able to attach a GoPro camera to the Solo with a separate Solo Gimbal. The three-axis Gimbal not only integrates the GoPro with the Solo's built-in computer but keeps the camera charged during flight.
The Solo alone weighs 1500 grams; with the attached Gimbal and GoPro, the total weight comes to 1800 grams. It provides up to 20 minutes of flying time (up to 25 minutes without the camera payload) and features a Wi-Fi range of up to one-half mile. Live video from the GoPro in flight can be streamed wirelessly to an iOS or Android device and, from there, to FPV goggles, field monitors, Jumbotrons or news vans.
Although the Solo can be controlled up to a half-mile away from the operator, "users [should] always keep the drone within their line of sight and fly it under 400 feet," a company spokesperson told us. That ensures that operators remain in compliance with current regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is currently eyeing new rules to accommodate the fast-changing environment for domestic drones.
The spokesperson added that 3D Robotics expects the Solo to be used by a wide variety of operators, from hobbyists and sports enthusiasts to professional filmmakers and more
Set to go on sale in Best Buy stores across the U.S. on May 29, the Solo is priced at $999. The drone will go on sale globally during June and July. The Solo Gimbal, which will be sold separately, will cost $399.