Solo: The Smart Drone Review & Footage
Daniel and I are planning for 2016 with providing more real-time elements to our live outdoor events. In the preparation of our plans, we purchased a Solo: The Smart Drone by Robotics 3DR.
The drone holds a camera under the casing and has four propellers that keep it stabilized. When flying, it reminds me of a floating table as it keeps its balance. It can move up and down with a maximum ceiling limit of 400 feet. In the footage, my settings on my controller have the maximum setting of 160 feet to put in perspective on how high this can go.
The controller is sync’d with our iPhone and uses the iPhone in conjunction with information being relayed from the drone.
Additional Accessories Required
It’s not a toy, as per say, it’s a camera tool. To use this effectively, it works with GoPro Cameras. GoPro cameras are designed with athletics and cameras on the move. They can be mounted to virtually anything for quality recording. You can even go under water. The GoPro cameras are a bit bigger than a Tic Tac Candy container.
Advertised for Beginners
Our camera specialist, Ron, had different drones that were slightly cheaper but recommend the Solo: The Smart Drone over the rest. The biggest feature of it being advertised for beginners. It truly is for beginners.
The Solo Drone always returns to home within a 6 foot diameter to where it took off from. So where ever you took off from, ensure you leave some extra space around where it took off from. It is relying on GPS in contact with satellites to pin point its location throughout the flight.
Upon start up. The controller helps you and actually speaks to you to help you out. When you lift off, the drone starts off and lifts straight into the air about 20 feet and hovers. It keeps itself completely balanced and stable. It doesn’t turn at all. It waits for you to command it while suspended in the air. You can move in any direction which includes up and down, side to side and front and back. You can always rotate the drone. It takes a bit of getting used to drive it with stability to your fine motor skills of the joy sticks on the controller.
On your controller, you can see exactly how much power the drone has. Flying time is about 20 – 25 minutes per charge. So as a camera person, like us, we need to ensure we are getting the best use of our footage without a whole lot of fuss.
The drone can work with winds up to 40 KM per hour. The higher the winds, the more power it will use to keep itself balanced and stable.
When you are ready to land. You push a button on the controller to return home. If the drone is low. It will rise up to about 50 feet and find it’s GPS positioning over where it took off from. It will then lower at a steady and controlled speed. The closer it gets to the landing, it will slow down and will touch down softly.
This feature allows people like us, beginners, to use the drone without having to practice or damage the drone by not knowing how to land it.
You can not use this drone indoor such as a convention centre. The drone will not take off if it cannot see the satellites to position itself. I wouldn’t want to use it indoors with the fly home button causing it to shoot upward about 50 feet. You have a great chance of ramming this into a ceiling if you are indoors. Because it will not work indoors anyways, it’s not something you have to worry about.
Flying time is about 20 – 25 minutes. Wind conditions and the amount of commands through your joy stick will dictate how much power you use. It takes over an hour to fully charge your Solo from the lowest levels to be ready again for another flight. The controller also has to be charged but doesn’t use the power as quickly.
The Solo will return home when the power is detected to be too low. It will not just run out in the air. It will over power your commands and return home to prevent a crash. It takes in consideration it’s height and distance away from home to ensure it turns around comes home without running out.
Built in Features
There are many added features which some are aesthetic as far as changing light colours on your drone and more. I will highlight three that I think are most important:
- If the drone looses contact with your controller. It knows where it took off from. Should it loose contact, the drone will automatically return and command itself to land at the home positioning. Home positioning isn’t where you are standing, it’s exactly where it took off from.
- There is a Selfie Command. It knows where you are standing by holding your controller. Pushing Selfie will cause the drone to go into the distance… and then slowly pan towards you for the cycle. That’s pretty neat. You can hide your controller behind you or rest it on the ground out of sight beside you and it looks like a helicopter is taking your footage.
- The Orbit Cycle. Your mobile device shows you where you are in a real satellite map. With your finger, you draw a circle on your phone. The drone will make a perfect circle. It rotates perfectly. So if you wanted to stand or have a subject where the camera does a 360 around it. The camera will rotate in a complete accurate circle while turning to ensure the camera stays fixed on the same spot.
This Is Not A Toy
If you are thinking this a cool remote control toy for kids, think again. Though it has some safety features built into the system, it doesn’t detect objects to avoid them. So if you are going to run this close to wires, trees, people, buildings or other types of objects, it will hit it.
The propellers are stored in a special case inside your packaging. To be taken off after each flight and stored. The stability is achieved through the 4 propellers. You don’t want anything to damage or nick your propellers.
Though we didn’t buy the Solo for this purpose of what I am about to explain, it’s one of the biggest reasons why people are buying this drone. You should be aware there is a technical gliche that is well documents on Robotics 3DR for the camera usage on board.
As advertised on Solo, it shows that you can see and record the flight from your mobile device that is paired to the controller. We’ve not been able to get this to work. We are not alone. What this means is that we cannot see what the Solo is seeing in the air. We have to guess. Why this isn’t a 100% draw back is the video recording element:
- Solo says and many people have also said the same thing, when it’s paired and you can see what the drone is seeing, the video footage is fed to your mobile device remotely. Should there be any interference and because it’s transmitting in real-time, there is likely to be blurry and footage interruptions in your recordings.
In the footage below, I started the camera before take off. I cannot see what the camera is seeing from my point of view. However, the footage is clear because the camera is saving the footage to itself without being connected to my controller. I would prefer that than disappointing footage of the video cutting out in key moments. This means, we have to be vigilant to keep a close eye on the camera direction and make some assumptions.
So if you are buying the Solo: The Smart Drone with the idea of being able to see exactly what its seeing in mid-flight, you will be disappointed. I suspect this feature will be updated and fixed in the future. For now, it’s not reliable enough to say that should be your purchase decision. For Daniel and I, this feature isn’t a deal breaker as I want quality footage and to be smart about its usage.
The camera below has been set to wide pan. I wouldn’t have done that in retrospect. It’s why you are seeing the far areas being rounded off.
The cameras work on WIFI and be paired with virtually anything. You can even use the cameras to broadcast live but during the flights, you must ensure the WIFI is off for the camera as it can interfere with communications with your drone. Again, this is not a deal break for Daniel and I but should be noted if you are making a decision based on that.
Two Minutes of our 9 Minute Test Flight
So far, I am happy without purchase and this is a our first recorded flight. It was actually our second trial but we didn’t record the first one. You can see after just this being our second trial, it’s easy to control.
BTW, it does record sound but the sound of the motor is the dominant feature. It’s not a loud machine but with the camera being directly under the drone, it hears the motor. So I have masked the sound with cutting the sound feed from the recording and adding my own music to it.
I get it to the maximum of 160 feet as per the safety settings. It goes 400 feet. 160 feet is really high as you can tell.