“Now Everyone Can Fly”: a familiar slogan, but that’s exactly what 3D Robotics (3DR) want you to believe when you fly their Solo smart drone. As someone who has yet to pilot a drone, I was about to put that statementto the test.
I was invited to attend one of 3DR Malaysia’s recent Solo training sessions (which they hold every two weeks or so) held at Tadom Hills Resort. The location was large, scenic and just asking for some landscape shots to be taken from up and above – a perfect job for the 3DR Solo.
When it was finally my turn to pilot the Solo, a 3DR representative walked me through the basic controls. It all sounded simple enough. Lifting off the drone was as easy as holding down the “Fly” button, and the drone was up in the air in seconds.
The controls, while intuitive, took some getting used to. But within a minute or less, I was able to maneuver the Solo to where I wanted it to. With the basics out of the way, I now wanted to try and get some professional looking shots with fluid movement and subject tracking. You know, those vast landscape shots that you’d see on CNN. “That’s where the Smart Shots feature comes in”, grinned the 3DR rep as he began the introduction.
Smart Shots consists of six flying features and the first I got to try was the “Orbit” feature. Orbit as the name suggests allows the drone to orbit around a subject at variable speed, direction and radius. This creates a signature “wrap-around” or P.O.I. (Point of Interest) shot only possible by more skilled pilots. Just by locking down your anchor point and with a push of a button or two, you can go completely hands-free as you watch the drone do the work. This feature was great at orbiting around the limestone cliffs of Tadom Hills as the blue lake and trees at a distance are slowly revealed .
The next Smart Shots feature on the 3DR Solo was “Follow”. Follow acts as a leash between you (well,the controller actually) and the drone and allows a subject to travel as it tags along. This feature is useful for when you’re in a car and you want the drone to capture the car as it cruises on a long-winded road. The drone will keep the car centred and follows along as you drive.
Just make sure the drone pilot isn’t the one doing the driving as well.
“Cable Cam” was the next feature I got to experience and it was probably the most powerful one of the lot. Cable Cam allows you to set multiple keyframes or points in the air, each with any position or angle the pilot desires. These points are then tied by a “virtual cable” and act as a path for the drone to take and execute at just a push of a button. This feature utilises the 1GHz Linux computers within both the drone and the controller and gives pilots complete control to plan a shot before it happens, never missing it.
I didn’t really get a chance to try the remaining three Smart Shots features but they do seem useful nonetheless. “Pano” is basically a panorama mode for the Solo as it automatically pans, snaps and stitches together a panorama photo with ease. “Zipline” tries to emulate professional cinema zipline dollies for pro-looking fly-by shots, except that it’s done here with a push of a few buttons and a drone. The final Smart Shots feature is of course, a selfie mode. “Selfie” has the drone starting close in front of you and once initiated, it flies up and back while keeping you at the centre of the frame – because everyone loves selfies.
Now, the Smart Shots features are indeed simple, powerful and smart but that’s not all. While using any of the aforementioned features, you still have complete control over the drone. Already set up your Cable Cam but the subject has shifted from its original position? Just adjust the Solo accordingly and watch as it follows the same, pre-determined course. Shooting an Orbit but decide to fly in closer? Just take control and do just that.
The flight time for the 3DR Solo is advertised to be about 25 minutes, which is more or less the standard battery life for consumer drones these days. On the sunny day of our flight, the Solo lasted a little less than 20 minutes. But it’s times like these that frequent flyers carry with them at least 2 or more spare batteries.
In all, the myriad of features available on the 3DR Solo are both well thought out and easy to use. They allowed for a drone greenhorn like myself to actually take some pretty quality shots – and of course, left me wanting more. Drones these days are simple enough for even children to use (under parental guidance of course) and they’re only getting better. Everyone indeed can fly and I am eagerly anticipating my next flight.
The 3DR Solo can be purchased with the 3-Axis gimbal for around RM5,400 from ShaShinKi and a list of other dealers here. Also follow 3DR Malaysia’s Facebook page for info about upcoming meets and training sessions.