Among the swarm of consumer drones to emerge this year, a number have been aimed squarely at action sports devotees. What defines these vehicles is a tracking feature that enables the drone to autonomously follow athletes from above, but these generally require the user to carry a smartphone to communicate their GPS position. Streaming from a built-in camera to a smartphone app, the Mind4 drone instead allows users to select any object to follow onscreen, a feature that could lead to new possibilities in aerial drone photography.
As battery life, payload capabilities and camera specs continue to advance, photography and videography using drones are becoming more and more remarkable. Notable examples this year include a stunning surf video shot above Indonesia's Mentawai Islands, and getting up close and personal with a wild eagle. But achieving these heights in drone photography involves expert piloting skills or incredible luck, or perhaps a bit of both.
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This is why we are seeing drone manufacturers looking to offer new levels of autonomy to widen their appeal. Designed with extreme sports such as skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and biking in mind, tracking functions offered in models like the Airdog, Hexo+ and Iris+ promise to capture all the high-adrenaline fun from above, without the possibility of human error.
But the team behind Mind4 believes it can do better. It lists the downsides of relying on GPS as the need to carry a GPS signal device (smartphone), water sports being out of the question, the GPS signal becoming weak and the margin for error extending to 20 meters (65 ft).
It has devised a solution it describes as "cutting edge computer vision technology." This involves the user positioning the drone so that the subject is onscreen in a companion smartphone app (to be available on both iOS and Android). They can then either hit the Autolock button for the system to automatically select and lock onto a subject, or manually select an object themselves using a finger. Hitting start then sees the drone track the subject as they move around, using computer algorithms to calculate the position. The company says accuracy can be as high as one millimeter (0.04 in).
Another new feature of the Mind4 drone is gesture control, meaning should you need to take control of the drone there's no need to take your phone out of your pocket. Waving a right hand brings the drone closer, throwing both hands in the air takes a photo or pointing at the ground brings it back down to earth.
Video footage is shot at 720p and the drone features a 2D gimbal and mount for external cameras with HDMI or USB ports should you need more pixels. The drone itself weighs 960 g (33.9 oz), has a range of 2 km (1.2 mi) and is equipped with a 5,000 mAh battery to allow around 20 minutes of flying time.
Mind4 is also claimed to be the world's first Android-based drone, which the team says will allow for greater customization. This begins with six stock apps designed for various sports such as skiing, surfing, cycling and hiking and extends to the ability develop apps of your own. The body gesture control can also be customized.
Airmind, the company behind Mind4, has built functioning prototypes and is looking to raise funds on Kickstarter to scale up production. Early pledges of US$899 will have one sent your way in September 2015, if all goes to plan.
You can check out the pitch video below.