Innovation in technology usually follows a pretty recognisable pattern. Products are first released, such as mobile phones and laptop computers. Then newer models gradually shrink in size as consumers become more fashion-conscious and utility makes way for appearance.
To an extent we are seeing the same thing happening in the drone industry. It might not be right to say that drones are becoming smaller but a subset of micro-drones has started to develop, and it’s easy to see why they are so popular. Your average high-end, consumer drone is probably going to cost you around $1,000, so why not spend a tenth of the price on a smaller model to see what all the fuss is about?
Back in January New York-based Axis Drones released what they dubbed ‘the world’s smallest FPV drone’. It’s called the Vidius, comfortably fits in the palm of your hand and can be bought for under $100. More out of sheer curiosity than expectation, I thought I’d take the plunge and give it a try…
Fresh out of the box the first thing you notice about the Vidius is just how small it is. Yes, I knew I was getting a micro-drone, but just how dinky this thing is still came as a surprise. Upon seeing it my girlfriend, mother and grandmother (admittedly not my usual go-to references for reactions to the latest trends in technology) all said something along the lines of “Aww, it’s so cute” – not the reaction any man expects to his new gadget, but welcome nonetheless. Despite it’s tiny frame, Axis have made a real effort to make the Vidius modern and sleek – the all-black paint job certainly helps in this regard. There are also built-in LEDs to help you keep track of flight at a distance or during the darker hours.
The Vidius comes with a small, 2.4 gHz controller which performs a lot better than it looks and feels in your hands. It’s remarkably responsive to commands, and after a few practice runs allows you to steer your drone with relative ease. You can also download the Axis app for mobile or tablet, which allows you to connect to the Vidius and control it through on-screen buttons with the cockpit camera view as the background.
While I was able to download and use the app just fine, I found flying the Vidius through the screen of my Samsung phone more difficult than using the controller. Flying with a larger tablet might well be easier, but I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. Handily you can connect to the Vidius using a mobile device, ensure you are recording, and watch through the screen while continuing to fly with the controller.
So now down to the finer details. How good is the camera, how responsive is the Vidius in flight and how does it stand up to punishment? Let’s start with responsiveness first. My first tentative flight was over in less than three seconds. No sooner had I taken off than the Vidius was veering wildly to the left and crashing into the ground. It made for a funny first video, but I’ll admit that I wasn’t overly impressed – either at my own piloting skills or the stability of the Vidius on take-off. But things quickly improved as I got the hang of it, and it wasn’t long before I came to appreciate this tiny piece of engineering. With a bit of practice the Vidius is certainly flyable, and performs much better than I expected.
It does tend to pitch slightly to one side or the other, but this unpredictability can be adjusted in flight through the controller’s trim tabs. Speaking of which, the controls are fairly standard for those familiar with flying bigger drones. The left stick handles thrust (up/down) and yaw/rotation (left/right), while the right handles right/left, forward/reverse. You can also choose one of 3 speeds, depending on how much flight sensitivity you want. The 6-axis gyro stabilization keeps the Vidius stable in the air.
The Vidius doesn’t come with any of the smart software that you’d expect from a larger, more expensive drone. There’s no Follow Me, obstacle avoidance or autonomous flight here. There are however, a few neat, pre-programmed tricks that you can active with a simple click on the controller. These include side rolls and back flips; a sure way to impress your sceptical friends.
Now for the camera. First of all let me say that I really wasn’t expecting decent footage and pictures from the Vidius. That it can fly where you want it, be so small and even have a camera is a real marvel. The image quality isn’t great, but it’s certainly good enough for social media sharing if you’re so inclined. The Vidius really isn’t for serious photographers, and is much better as an introduction to the world of drones. With around 6 minutes of flight time per 20-minute charge, you’re more than able to get some interesting, recognizable videos and pictures in 420p – just don’t expect anything on the level of its high-end consumer rivals.
With any drone you want the assurance that a small crash isn’t going to smash your investment into tiny little pieces. You’re going to crash your Vidius a lot to begin with, but luckily it’s more than rugged enough to take the punishment. This means that it’s a great drone for kids and complete beginners eager to fly and improve their skills. The Vidius is also so small that you can fit it in your pocket, and wont need to apply for FAA registration.
With more micro-drones set to hit the market, whether or not this tiny quadcopter is a sign of things to come in the drone industry remains to be seen. As it stands, the Vidius certainly offers a fun and affordable introduction for those considering making a more serious investment further down the line.