If it seems like a long time ago that GoPro were first teasing their drone project, well, it kind of was. Today finally saw them take take the wraps off the project, at a launch event in Squaw Valley, California (site of the Winter Olympics in 1960, sports history fans).
The company announced new revisions of its signature HERO camera line – the HERO5 and the cheaper HERO5 Session – as well as GoPro Plus, a subscription-based service that will allow users to upload footage to the cloud and edit it via a lightweight smartphone-based app. But although the company might be hoping this new revenue stream will help their share price rebound, for the rest of us it’s the Karma drone project that was the main event.
It’s a mark of how fast technology is advancing in this area that the Karma drone itself doesn’t really compete on specs or price now – it seems that GoPro is hoping that its brand will act as a guarantee of simplicity and quality for the legions of users who have bought one of their cameras.
To that end the emphasis is on usability straight out of the box – or backpack, as this is a foldable device that packs down to fit in a pack that features pre-cut foam for the drone, controller and stabiliser (sorry, ‘Stabilizer’). Cameras mount via the removable gimbal-like three-axis Karma Stabilizer, which is compatible with the new HERO5 models as well as existing HERO4 cameras.
There’s also a handheld grip for the Stabilizer which turns it into a GoPro-compatible stabilised handheld system, much like DJI’s Osmo. It will also mount to existing GoPro grip gear, handy if you’ve already got a collection of mounts.
The controller is ‘based on familiar video game controllers,’ which as much as anything offers an indication as to the market the company is targeting with the Karma. Video downlink from an attached camera is fed to a 720p touchscreen, and the flight control software includes auto takeoff and landing with No-Fly zones baked in. There are also pre-programmed camera moves, to replicate a cablecam motion for example, that are designed for the user to be able to ‘capture the shot without worrying about flying.’ One big omission though is the lack of automatic collision avoidance, which is built in to DJI’s rival Phantom 4 drone.
And rather than offer flight control through an app, as DJI does, GoPro’s Passenger app will allow non-pilots to piggyback on your video feed and preview what you’re recording: in effect a director’s monitor.
Batteries will offer ‘up to’ 20 minutes of flight on a one-hour charge, and although you only get one bundled with the drone you do get a handle for the Karma Stabilizer included, so you’re also effectively getting a handheld three-axis gimbal for the price.
The Karma will be released on 23 October for $799 US – that’s without a camera. Bundled with a new HERO5 the cost will be $1099 US – the kits will also include spare propellers, the backpack, the gimbal grip, battery, charger and flight controller. That price seems very deliberate as it undercuts DJI’s Phantom 4 by $100 US, though GoPro is very much having to chase this new market with its first aerial offering. Full tech specs are available on the GoPro site here.
If it’s as user-friendly as the company suggests, GoPro’s Karma could be a good way for a huge number of existing GoPro customers to start flying – though with countries around the world continuing to tighten up legislation around drones, the biggest problem for new pilots could soon be finding somewhere they’re legally allowed to take their new toy for a spin.