A new breed of drones are emerging, though you could argue they aren't really drones so much as selfie cameras that can fly. The newly announced foldup Hover Camera is the latest addition to this ultra-portable fleet of micro-aircraft, and with automated flight modes and a carbon fiber protective casing it could land as one of the more user-friendly solutions on the market.
There are larger consumer drones on the market such as the DJI Phantom 4 and 3DR Solo that offer automated tracking functions to keep a subject in shot mid-flight. Generally referred to as a "Follow Me" feature, this is designed to ease the learning curve for users looking to tap into the breathtaking world of aerial photography but don't yet possess the piloting skills to match their enthusiasm.
The trouble with these larger drones is that they are, well, large. So a line of smaller, highly portable camera drones have begun to emerge from their shadows. The palm-sized Zano drone was an early (and doomed) attempt at this, with others like the ONAGOfly following suite. Among the more inventive approaches, we have even seen a selfie drone that wraps around the wrist like a bracelet when not in use.
The Hover Camera from startup Zero Zero Robotics, was conceived for the same reasons as those examples above, and it does appear to package some user-friendly features into its small frame. The most important example of this might simply be its weight. At just 238 g (8.4 oz), those who purchase the Hover Camera won't need to register the aircraft with the US government's mandatory drone database, which only concerns itself with drones between 0.55 and 55 lb (250 g and 25 kg) in weight.
By enclosing the propellors in a carbon fiber cage, Zero Zero Robotics says that the Hover Camera can be safely grabbed during flight without posing a threat to one's fingers. And when not in use, this cage folds up into a transport-friendly 182 x 132 x 32.5 mm (7.16 x 5.2 x 1.27 in) package.
The Hover Camera can simply be released into the air where it will then hover in place automatically. Through smartphone controls, the drone can be made to shoot 13-megapixel stills and 4K video, along with 360-degree panorama shots. There is no gimbal system like you'll find on most larger drones, but instead electronic image stabilization to make for steadier shots. This is similar to the approach taken by Parrot in its Bepop drones, with surprisingly stable results.
Once in the air the Hover Camera can be made to capture a panorama or automatically follow the user. Rather than through GPS, the drone stays the course through optical flow captured through a downward facing camera and visual SLAM (Simultaneous localization and mapping) through the front camera. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.3 GHZ quad-core processor, this combines with facial and body recognition algorithms to track a subject in real time.
It should be said that a lot of drones have promised follow me functionality in the past two years, but few are available to buy today, with the 3DR Solo and Phantom 4 a couple of exceptions as stated above. The Lily drone is perhaps the most notable example of this, which wowed the public with a slick PR campaign and racked up US$34 million worth of preorders in the process. But still, we'll wait to see how the technology works in practice.
There's no word yet on final pricing for the Hover Camera, though Re/code reports that it will go up for preorder this US summer. You can check out the promo video below.
Source: Hover Camera