Although camera-equipped drones have opened up all sorts of film-making possibilities, trying to simultaneously control the aircraft and the camera movements can definitely be challenging. That's why Perceptiv Labs developed Shift. It's a system that allows a DJI or 3D Robotics quadcopter's motorized camera to automatically keep a tagged subject centered in the frame, letting the user concentrate on flying.

The Shift hardware consists of a processor that is mounted on the drone (and plugged into its autopilot system) along with a "Shift Eye" that is mounted adjacent to the camera lens – that Eye lets both the processor and the user see what the camera is seeing. The combined weight of the two components, including battery, is less than 200 g (7 oz). One charge of the battery is good for about an hour of use.

Video is streamed by Wi-Fi from the Shift system to the user's Android mobile device, up to a distance of 300 feet (91 m). Utilizing an app on that device, the user simply selects a subject in the Shift Eye's field of view by tapping it on the screen. The Shift software then takes over, visually identifying the subject, and then panning and tilting the camera to keep that target centered as both it and the drone move about.

The Shift system on a 3D Robotics Iris

In the case of gimbal-mounted cameras, all the pans and tilts are achieved using the gimbal. On tilt-only systems such as that on the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, however, Shift actually adjusts the yaw of the drone itself to pan the camera.

The app additionally allows users to manually move the camera, and to have the aircraft move in closer to the subject. It's also possible to track multiple subjects simultaneously. In that case, the camera will move in order to keep all the subjects in the frame at once – the pilot might also have to back off a bit, in order to keep the shot wide enough if the subjects move apart.

The Shift system on a DJI Phantom

Additionally, users can select one of a number of pre-programmed flight paths, which the drone will then follow on its own. If a simple circular path were to be selected, for instance, then the quadcopter could fly all the way around a central subject, keeping it in the shot at all times.

Perceptiv Labs is quick to point out that Shift is not the same as the increasingly-popular Follow Me mode, in which a drone will autonomously fly along above a moving person, tracking them via a signal from their smartphone or another device. With Shift, subjects don't need to be carrying any tracking device, and the drone is still flown by the user.

Shift is available now for pre-order, priced at US$599. Delivery is scheduled to begin this fall (Northern Hemisphere). The planned retail price is $799.

You can see footage shot with the system, in the video below.

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