As a late Christmas gift this year, I got some extensive time with the 3D Robotics Solo over the holiday week. Overall, it was an excellent experience -the bumps I encountered along the way were of my own making- and the resources and infrastructure at my disposal proved just how far drones have come in the last year.
There was really only one glaring omission from the experience that I hope gets addressed in the coming months.
But we will get to that.
Guidance From the Start
The second I powered on my Solo and connected to the app, it autoplayed a short video about flying safely that covered some basic rules and good practices. Every drone of this calibre should force new users to watch a video like this upon set up. Not everyone knows to fly under 400 feet or that they may be within the bounds of a restricted radius around an airport and, if you are new to drones, you probably may not even know to look for rules like this.
Getting this information in front of people is a tremendous challenge faced by the FAA and, as I have said before, it is going to be the responsibility of the manufacturer as much as the government to educate the public about the safe use of drones.
So I was very impressed with 3DR’s effort at starting with safety.
Learning to Fly
After the short video about safe flying, a quick start video began. 3DR CRO Colin Guinn presented a quick walkthrough about how to get your drone in the air and, once again, this should be an industry standard. Every other drone on the market comes with either written instructions or brief animations that are supposed to inform new users how to get started but they (almost) universally over simplify the process and fall short of being truly helpful. More often than not, you have to consult YouTube to find out why your drone isn’t flying.
However, Colin’s instruction, as well as the overall ease of the process, sets the Solo process apart. Getting the Solo all connected and flying is so easy. Every time I was about to ask myself “how do I do X…” there was a prompt in the mobile app or on the screen embedded in the controller that instructed me what to do. 3DR understands the way beginners go about flying, and so the guidance is nearly automatic.
3DR has long touted the fact that both the controller and the Solo itself have powerful onboard computers and it really shows because the way you are guided along is very much the same “point and click” procedure you use to manipulate your computer.
Flight was smooth and position hold was extremely precise. Once I was airborne, the Solo handled just as well as any leading UAV model, including any offering from DJI.
The basic flight path commands (cable cam, orbit, etc.) worked exactly as advertised… however, when I went to retake control of the drone in the middle of an orbit pattern, the response wasn’t quick enough and the Solo got up close and personal with the roof of my house.
It wasn’t a bad crash by and aside from a few broken props, everything was working just fine when I rebooted back up.
Unfortunately, the Solo only ships with two spare propellers so I was on my own to find one extra…
An experience that turned out to be totally worth it.
Finding real drones in big name retail stores is a relatively new phenomenon in the drone world, but I had seen advertisements by both manufacturers and stores that drones were on shelves, so I figured I would see what that experience was like.
I popped into my local BestBuy and had no trouble at all finding the props I was looking for.
It’s rather interesting to see products and technology traditionally sold online make the transition into brick and mortar stores but there it was… drones had their own row featuring the Solo, the DJI Phantom 3 and every accessory you could want.
My Solo is flying just fine again, but the display at BestBuy highlighted the great shortcoming of 3DR’s flagship drone. On the end of the drone row was the store’s GoPro display, a necessary accessory if you purchase a Solo because the drone does not come with a camera.
As fantastic as my experience with the Solo has been, I have yet to get fully immersed in the platform because I don’t have a GoPro and 3DR doesn’t have a proprietary camera.
Buying the complete package (drone, gimbal and GoPro) costs about $1,800 where DJI’s top-of-the-line Phantom 3 Professional costs $1,259 with the gimbal and 4K camera included.
On top of this, GoPro itself will be releasing the company’s first drone, Karma, in 2016. In order for it to stay competitive, it’s going to have to ship with a camera and stay in the $1,000-$1,300 price range.
To deal with this new competition and stay at the forefront of the industry, 3DR is going to have to adapt this year so this is my New Year’s wish: Please 3D Robotics, whether it’s a tertiary manufacturer or your own proprietary model, please, include each Solo with its own camera.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com