Unveiled: 3D Robotics Solo Drone
A new drone has just been announced that 3D Robotics will add to its GoPro lifting fleet, dubbed the Solo. Solo because it is designed for the solo pilot/camera operator, in some cases even solo pilot, camera operator, and talent rolled into one. Saying it has a GPS-back flight control system isn't saying much since at least limited autonomy has been a standard feature of multi-rotors from the beginning. But unlike what has come before, where many of the features feel as though they were designed to appeal to the traditional RC user rather than the videographer or photographer, the Solo has a few tricks up its sleeve that are aerial-imaging specific.
While Cablecam is great for a linear tracking shot, for circular motion there is Orbit mode. In this mode, the camera will fly in a circle around a subject determined by the pilot. The radius of the circle is completely customizable, and can be adjusted at any time during the flight. Though not all of the features are unique to the Solo—Follow Me, for example, is found on the IRIS+—they all have the potential to be very useful to the aerial imager. They include Cablecam mode. With this mode, it's as if the drone is attached to a cable; it can move back and forth along its length, change altitude, and the camera can pan and tilt, but side-to-side deviation is prevented no matter what the pilot does accidentally. To make control even simpler, you can program the Solo to record the first and last camera position, and the camera will automatically pan between them. All you need to do is press a stick on the controller to move the drone up and down the "cable" at the desired speed.
Selfie mode does more than you might think. First the Solo pulls in tight for a close-up, and then flies backward to produce a dramatic reveal of the background scene. A cool shoot, if one we're guaranteed to see overused.
Finally, there is Follow Me. Its function is pretty obvious from the name. With this mode, the drone will track a subject carrying a GPS-enabled mobile device—a smartwatch is probably ideal for this, especially for tracking an athlete. It doesn't have to "follow" the subject either. The Solo can be programmed to fly ahead of the subject with the camera looking back as well as alongside it.
As you've probably gathered, the Solo is heavily reliant on a smartphone or other mobile device. Apps are available for iOS and Android. Like many other app-based FPV systems, Solo's mobile downlink allows you to view a live camera image plus telemetry data, access settings not available through the controller, and—assuming you have Internet access—lets you upload almost immediately to social media. You may even be able to live-stream, though I have not yet confirmed this capability. On top of that, and apparently right now unique to the Solo, it provides integration with the GoPro HERO's Wi-Fi control system, allowing you to start and stop camera recording in-app.
In addition to the Solo, you will need a 3-axis gimbal for mounting and stabilizing the GoPro, which for the moment looks like it will be available separately. No word yet if there will be mounting options for other cameras besides the GoPro HERO3, HERO3+, and HERO4.
For more information and updates on availability, please visit the Solo's B&H product page.