We saw plenty of drones at NAB but nothing quite like the Autel Robotics Kestrel.
Until now the company has only been selling small DJI Phantom-sized drones which they demonstrate at the start of the video above, but the Kestrel is something else entirely.
Most unmanned craft designed for filming have short ranges and limited flight times. In contrast, Autel’s long range drone is expected to have a range of more than 60 miles. The drone would also have the ability to take off vertically, and then fly horizontally, much like a military Osprey. Indeed the whole thing looks more like something used by the CIA than your common or garden DJI drone. It was really interesting to see it being promoted at a broadcast show like NAB.
At the front of the UAV is an interchangeable nose cone that can take various different camera and gimbal packages. It wasn’t clear what the payload is but Autel said a thermal imaging camera could also be fitted. There is going to be a ground station to control the drone, but it isn’t yet clear what technologies will be used to see a live feed of the drone’s location.
It’s only a prototype at the moment, but the company hopes to sell it for industrial imaging and also news use. It is clearly a professional tool that will require a pilot with a lot of experience – in fact Autel see it more as a replacement for a helicopter in some applications. Autel talk about being able to deploy it to remote locations where you couldn’t safely send a camera crew. Clearly there are many regulatory, safety and privacy hurdles to overcome before you can expect to see a Kestrel drone flying over you neighbourhood emblazoned with a CNN or BBC logo, but in some war or disaster zones I can see how drones like this may become a reality.
No price or release date was given for the Kestrel.