GoPro has announced that it plans to release its own quadcopter drone in the second half of 2016. Indeed, as of December 2015 it has a name: “Karma”. Given the way the drone market has developed in the past year or so, it’s no surprise that GoPro wants to get in on the action – after all, its cameras are often mounted on drones such as the DJI Phantom. However, it’s notable that at the consumer end of the market, drone makers are now increasing including cameras with specs that match those of the GoPro range. The advantage of an all-in-one drone/camera package (as opposed to mounting your own GoPro on a naked drone) is that it is much easier to facilitate the use of the camera in flight for a first person view (‘FPV’) from the drone while flying it. This in turn makes it easier to fly the drone so as to capture good aerial footage, and to navigate it to avoid obstacles, particularly when flying at the limit of visual range.
As such, it seems likely that the market for GoPro cameras as add-ons to third party drones will decrease as time goes on – hence GoPro’s desire to join the party. There are currently very few details about quite what form GoPro’s drone will take, but we’ve given our predictions below:
- Our initial prediction is that GoPro will release a quadcopter drone with similar functionality and at a similar price point to the PJI Phantom range – specifically the DJI Phantom 3. This would likely feature an in-built GPS and gyroscope to allow it to hover stationary in the air with hands off the controls, and also quite likely a look-down optical system as featured on the Phantom 3 to improve accuracy when near the ground and/or indoors.
- Its unlikely that the drone will feature a built-in camera – instead it will have a gimbal stabilised mount for a GoPro to be attached. This is likely to have to be one of the Hero 4 models or (as discussed further below) the Hero 4 Session rather than the Hero or Hero + models, given the fact that the latter are not removable from their waterproof cases. We can definitely envisage GoPro selling an off-the-shelf bundle of drone and camera to allow complete newcomers to the range to have a one-stop entry point to the drone world.
- The drone is almost certain to be able to stream live footage from the GoPro camera to a smartphone or tablet app, allowing FPV while flying, and to give the user some control over the video and photo settings. Indeed, it may be that the entire control system for the drone is via a smartphone or tablet, perhaps with an optional transmitter available to increase range and performance, as seen in the Parrot Bebop.
- Given GoPro’s serious affiliations with extreme sports, we think it is very likely that the drone will feature some way of automatically tracking the user while he or she gets on with skiing, biking or whatever – perhaps with a series of settings to allow the drone to circle the subject, or to track them while staying level. This kind of technology has recently been seen on the Lily Drone (which utilises a special wrist mounted tracking device worn by the user) and we can’t think that GoPro will ignore this – after all, the whole purpose of the GoPro camera range is to capture whatever it is that you are doing, not just to be a high-end camera system.
- Indeed, we wouldn’t bet against there being two models of GoPro drone – a more simple one akin to the Lily which has few, if any, controls, but can be set to follow the user while he/she moves, and a more full featured drone which the user can take full control of like the DJI Phantom.
In late October 2015, GoPro released the following footage, said to be taken from “a developmental prototype of GoPro’s quadcopter and stabilization system.” It’s interesting to note that the maximum resolution of this footage on YouTube is 1440p – the same as the maximum resolution of the GoPro Hero 4 Session camera, but notably less than either the Hero 4 Silver or Black, both of which can shoot at 2.7K and 4K. As such, it is possible that the GoPro drone might be intended to carry a Session as its camera payload rather than the heavier Hero 4 Silver and Black models:
It’s also notably that GoPro expressly refer to the stabilization system – clearly the drone is going to feature some kind of gimbal. This is unsurprising, as given how drones fly, a gimbal of some sort is absolutely essential for getting smooth footage.
Anyway, those are our thoughts for now – we’ll be sure to update this page as more rumours and speculation surface! In the meantime, if you have any views of your own then do share them below!