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Don't Stand So Close to Me: 5 of the Best Follow Me Drones on the Market

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When UAVs first hit the market, their application was somewhat hobbled by the available technology. Your options were basically to scud around a parking lot for a little while or shoot some grainy, cataractous footage of your old high-school football field (shout out, Lansing Lions). But as the technology developed and consumer drones quickly moved into the mainstream market, their use cases not only diversified and expanded, but became pinpoint specific.

Jump to today, when drones are everywhere, doing everything. From cinematography and filmmaking to site inspection and land survey, if there’s a task that can be performed aerially, odds are there’s a drone for that. Included in that list of ubiquitous use cases and multifarious missions are tasks best suited to a class of flyers known as Follow Me drones. These innovative eyes-in-the-sky are perfect for capturing candid action footage, because they specialize in autonomously tracking and recording moving targets.

The science behind Follow Me functionality is nascent, but that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from rushing to integrate it into their product lines—albeit to varying degrees of success. And what we’re seeing now is a market flush with Follow Me flyers, some good, some not so much. To help pilots sift through the posers and pretenders, we’ve compiled a list of our five favorite Follow Me drones and detailed what makes them so great. Come, take a look.

DJI Spark

As with most of the flyers on this list, the Spark isn’t strictly a Follow Me drone. Like its DJI brethren, the Spark does almost everything well and can perform myriad tasks and functions. But one area where the Spark really shines is its groundbreaking use of Follow Me technology.

DJI Spark Quadcopter

While most Follow Me drones rely on some type of signal tethering between craft and target, the Spark utilizes specialized recognition technology to “see” an object. What this means is that the target—be it person, vehicle, or yes, even animal—can move around freely without any kind of tethering device and the Spark will be able to follow along. Ride a bike, paddle a boat, hike a trail—the Spark will capture it all without any input from you. This untethered tracking gives the Spark a specific advantage over some of its competition because the requirement to keep a transmitter on your person at all times tends to limit use cases.

We should mention that the Spark isn't the only DJI drone to utilize this type of Follow Me technology. The Mavic Pro, for example, is a bigger, and in many regards, more capable drone. But what we love about the Spark is that its compact size and portability really lends itself to the adventurous, impromptu spirit of Follow Me functionality: something you can carry with you always and quickly deploy when the moment arises.

DJI Mavic Pro

If you’d like to read even more about the DJI Spark, check out our hands-on review here.

AirDog II

Unlike the other flyers on this list, the AirDog II was designed exclusively as a Follow Me drone for extreme athletes. Its build, control method, and various tracking modes are all tailored to specific activities, everything from downhill skiing and snowboarding to windsurfing and kiteboard riding.

AirDog ADII Auto-Follow Drone

In terms of tracking, the AD II doesn’t use the same recognition technology as the Spark. Instead, it relies on a wrist-worn transmitter called the AirLeash. Unobtrusive and easy to operate, the AirLeash establishes a signal between you and the AirDog so that it can stay locked onto your position all the time. The AirLeash also functions as a controller in case you need to adjust patterns and settings during an activity or take over flight.

Unlike the Spark, the ADII doesn’t come with a built-in camera. However, it has been optimized for use with a GoPro HERO5 Black—the go-to camera for capturing action footage—with full support of the HERO6 reportedly coming soon.

GoPro HERO6 Black

Another big plus is AirDog's compact folding body, which is travel friendly and really lends itself to impromptu action footage. Even better: its incredibly wind-resistant design means you can use it even on the choppiest of days. If extreme sports and outdoor adventures are your primary focus, AirDog II is the drone for you.

GoPro Karma

In 2016, the Karma got off to a fairly well-documented rough start: a design flaw in the battery connection caused some of the drones to unexpectedly lose power and fall out of the sky, resulting in a total product recall. By GoPro’s own admission, it was an embarrassing misstep, but undeterred, the action-sport giant quickly remedied the issue and, in 2017, the Karma relaunched to positive reviews and general fanfare.

GoPro Karma Quadcopter with HERO6 Black

At the heart of this comeback story is GoPro's commitment to delivering the best user experience possible. To that end, the company recently released a software patch to unlock Karma's Follow Me capability. Coupled with its already premium design and high-end camera (both the HERO5 and HERO6 are compatible), Karma is rising quickly toward the top of the Follow Me class.

Currently, the Karma relies on a signal tether between drone and controller, but again, if Karma’s triumphant return has taught us anything, it’s that GoPro is dedicated to giving its customers what they want, so a better tethering solution wouldn’t be surprising. In the meantime, using the controller is a reliable solution and can yield some great action footage of moving vehicles and objects.

Hubsan H501S

Something you might have noticed about these drones is that they aren't exactly cheap. And because we’re talking about a device you literally relinquish control of, the risk for potentially costly damage is higher than if you were at the helm. So what’s a reasonably cautious, fiscally responsible pilot to do? My friend, say hello to the Hubsan H501S.

HUBSAN H501S X4 FPV Quadcopter with 1080p Camera

Anyone who knows me knows that I stand firm for Hubsan. From cost to quality to overall performance, Hubsan almost always delivers—and that’s true with the H501S. Technically, this flyer is targeted at FPV enthusiasts, but with its premium build, reliable performance, and (relatively) cheap price tag, we think it’s the perfect drone to try out Follow Me functionality.

Like the Karma, the H501S locks onto the radio controller and tracks its movement via signal tether. Its onboard camera isn't as sophisticated as a GoPro, but it's still capable of capturing some great action footage and gives you a sense of what's possible with a Follow Me drone. Plus, in terms of general performance, it's such a great, cost-friendly flyer, you really can't go wrong.

Ehang Ghost 2.0

Now, this might sound strange, but one of the best features about the Ehang Ghost 2.0 is its warranty. I know, I know: touting how great the replacement policy is for when your drone breaks doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But for those who don’t know, the one thing all drone pilots have in common is that, regardless of skill level or interest, we’ve all crashed. And for some of us, those crashes have been catastrophic (farewell, beloved Phantom 3—if only your gimbal were as illusory as your namesake, perhaps it wouldn't have snapped like a wishbone when I clipped that tree). No such worries with Ghost 2.0. Thanks to Ehang’s 1-year, cover-everything warranty, if you break it, they fix it, no questions asked.

Ehang GHOSTDRONE 2.0 VR

On top of the added peace of mind and protection, the Ghost 2.0 is a solid, easy-to-fly drone with reliable Follow Me functionality built in. Unlike the other drones on this list, the Ghost is controlled solely by smartphone, so it relies on the included G-Box to track you around. Like the Karma and AirDog II, the standard Ghost 2.0 is optimized for use with a GoPro camera, but there’s a premium package that comes with its own integrated 4K camera.

All five of these five drones represent some of the best Follow Me options available today. Each offers a unique set of use cases and benefits, from the Spark's sci-fi-esque object-recognition software to AirDog's athlete-centric platform. Deciding which drone is right for you depends largely on where your interests lie, but regardless of your choice, rest assured, you'll have a flyer at the forefront of the Follow Me field.

So, what about it: Have you used any of these drones (or others) for their Follow Me functionality? Are you excited about what's next for Follow Me drones? And what about that object recognition tech? Perhaps you have some thoughts about a mechanical camera bird that can identify you based on your actions or appearance and then track and record your every move. Sound off in the Comments section, below!

2 Comments

I'm curious, is there any sort of terrain avoidance technology to keep the UAV from flying into something while it's merrily videoing its target? :-)

Hi Robert - 

There sure is.  Drones with obstacle detection and collision avoidance sensors are becoming more prevalent in both the consumer and professional sectors.    Here's one of our popular drones that offers this technology:

The Mavic from DJI packs features you once thought possible only on much larger platforms into a compact quadcopter that is snappy, agile, and captures high-resolution images. The drone features an advanced flight control system that draws on a host of sensors — including a ground-facing camera, ultrasound, GPS, dual redundant IMUs, and more — to keep track of where it is flying in 3D space and even avoid collisions. The Mavic works in tandem with DJI's GO mobile app for accessing settings, getting a telemetry readout, viewing a low-latency video feed, and even editing and sharing your footage. In addition traditional joystick style controls, you can fly with simple tap-based commands, and the Mavic can even recognize gestures for the perfect selfie.

Collision Avoidance

As the Mavic flies, it scans the world around it, creating a 3D map that tells it exactly where it can fly and what it needs to avoid. Because it uses vision processing, it can see up to 98' in front and can accurately measure distance up to 49' in front, making it significantly more accurate than sonar based avoidance technologies. When the Mavic detects an obstacle and sees a way around it, it will simply adjust its route to fly around it. If it can't see a way around, it will slow to a stop gently and hover until you tell it what to do next. 

This obstacle avoidance system is activated in every Intelligent Flight Mode, including all ActiveTrack modes, TapFly, and Terrain Follow. If you use Automatic Return to Home, it switches on too, so that as the Mavic makes its way back to you, it won't bump into anything in its path. Avoidance is effective when flying at speeds up to 22 mph

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