Super quick follow-me camera drone uses artificial intelligence to be a better cameraman
Ever since that notorious Lily drone video went massively viral back in 2015, scores of companies have been scrambling to build super-portable, automatic, follow-me camera drones.
The latest to cross our desk is the Staaker, and it has a few tricks up its sleeve that could set it apart from the crowd.
Like many of these things, it's controlled not by a traditional R/C unit, but through a GPS tracker that can be strapped onto your wrist, or wherever else is appropriate. Controls appear minimal – while you can fly it via the buttons on the tracker, it's designed to operate mainly in one of several follow modes.
These include a simple follow, a circle function, a compass mode that follows you from one particular side, and a hover and track mode.
Footage is captured via a GoPro (not included) mounted on a stabilized 3-axis gimbal and powered by the drone's battery.
The secret sauce here that Staaker hopes will differentiate this from the rest of the market is its "artificial intelligence." This is claimed to be able to track you optically, and learn what kinds of movements you're making so it can anticipate your next move, and make sure the camera's ready for you.
Otherwise, the spec seems fairly high. A large smart battery pack offers a claimed 30 minutes maximum flight time with a top speed of 50 miles per hour (around 80 km/h). That beats DJI's Phantom 4 in sport mode quite handily – this thing should be freaky fast.
Weight ready to fly is 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) and the Staaker is a hyper-portable design with fold-out propeller arms so you can throw it in a backpack without taking the props off. That also means it's super-quick to set up – the company claims you can be in the air inside 30 seconds. Nice.
The elephant in the room here is obstacle avoidance. There isn't any. Which means there's a limited set of circumstances you can really use this thing under – wide open spaces without cliffs, rock walls, trees, or basically any other people around.
Staaker says it doesn't feel that current tech is up to the job yet, though more likely it's just too expensive right now. After all, the Phantom 4 does a decent enough job, but only in the forward direction, and it uses a whole bunch of pricey sensors and cameras to do it.
Without very smart sense and avoid tech, all of these wristwatch-controlled follow me drones are downright dangerous if there's anyone else around. I've played with a couple of pre-production efforts, and ... frankly it feels completely irresponsible to put one in the air. Jump on a bicycle or a dirt bike and just forget about it – and that's when everything is working correctly. There's a lot that can go wrong, and if it does, you've got a 3.5-pound missile traveling at anywhere up to 50 miles per hour, with a nasty set of buzzsaw blades on it and nobody in control. Let's say no more.
At US$1199 on pre-order (US$1799 at launch), the Staaker isn't cheap. But it's faster than a Phantom, with better endurance, the fold-up form factor is a winner, and there's a chance this thing pushes the game forward when it comes to optical tracking. It'll be interesting to see how it performs.
Here's the promo video:
And some sample footage in slightly longer cuts - it looks like it does a decent job: