Chinese company DJI has played a bigger part than anyone in bringing drones to the masses, and it's looking to continue that role with a new easy-to-use aircraft that weighs less than a soda can and launches from the palm of your hand.
The diminutive DJI Spark weighs in at a modest 300 g (0.67 lb), measures 14.3 cm (5.6 in) along each side and 5.5 cm (2.1 in) tall. Like a lot of the other micro drones we've seen, the idea is that you can take it along with you on your adventures and get it into the air with minimal effort.
The drone launches from your hands and, while it can be piloted by remote control or through DJI's mobile app, it can also be controlled entirely by hand gestures. This allows users to send Spark flying up and away, snapping selfies and coming back again simply by moving their hands. It can hover at up to 30 m (98 (ft) and sense obstacles 5 m (16 ft) away.
In line with this easy-to-use mantra, DJI has fitted out the Spark with a few new flight modes. The most interesting of these is the so-called QuickShot, which sends the drone along four pre-programmed flight paths to capture a 10-second video. These modes include Circle, where it will automatically circle the subject, Helix, where it spirals away while flying upwards, Rocket, sending it straight up into the air with the camera facing downwards and Dronie, where it flies up and away while facing the subject.
Spark also comes with a new mode called Coordinate, which sends the drone flying to a location you tap on your smartphone screen, along with a couple of new shooting modes. One of these is dubbed PanoMode, which automatically adjusts the gimbal and camera to snap a series of shots and stitch them into a panorama, and the other is ShallowFocus, which creates a bokeh effect. It also features DJI's ActiveTrack tech, which allows it to track objects on screen.
A separate Sports Mode allows the Spark to reach its top speed of 31 mph (50 km/h), and switches the gimbal to FPV mode for use with DJI's Goggles for first-person view flying. Like all of DJI's drones, Spark will automatically return to its point of take-off if the connection is lost, if it loses battery or if the user hits the return-to-home button on the controller.
The flight time is listed as 16 minutes, and DJI claims it will transmit 720p video from up to 2 km (1.2 mi) away. The footage is captured at 1080p, however, courtesy of built-in camera with a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor attached to a two-axis mechanical gimbal, while stills are snapped at 12 megapixels.
Small portable drones, gesture controls and the ability to launch from the palm of your hand ... these are all things we have seen from various drone makers over the last couple of years, but they have always seemed a little, well, gimmicky. The fact that DJI, with its pedigree and track record, is now joining the party does make them seem a little more legitimate.
The Spark will be available in white, blue green, red and yellow, and will retail for US$500. If you're looking to include the remote controller, that kit will cost you $700, but also includes an extra battery, bag, extra propellors and guards. Available for pre-order now, DJI says it will start shipping the Spark in mid-June.
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