I was invited to the GoPro new product launch and media event in Lake Tahoe this week and will be sharing info, updates and my first impressions hands-on with the new GoPro Karma drone and gimbal system, as well as the new HERO5. Check back for updates throughout the day!
Yet another Failure to Launch! (and, later in the article, some new drones that are actually being produced and sold).
After 18 months of development, GoPro obviously does not have their drone working properly! This is a BIG deal for a number of reasons, some of them given below.
GoPro announced their intention to bring a drone to market in November of 2014 – over 18 months ago! At the time GoPro was worth almost 10 billion dollars (market cap) and therefore had plenty of money to develop a drone or similarly complex product. Moreover, they hired as product manager an employee from 3D Robotics – Pablo Lema – who we can assume brought some existing knowledge into the project. Due to this hire, it’s assumed that the drone uses code (flight controller programming and/or hardware) which was from the same open source project that 3DR used (Arducopter). This, again, should have given them a jump on R&D as they would not have had to develop the flight controller from scratch.
GoPro took their time in developing their new model – which actually seemed like a good idea after the failures of 3DR and others who rushed new models to market. However, events of the past week have now cast a shadow on GoPro’s ability to deliver a groundbreaking product.
Failure to Launch
My inbox and some forums were abuzz in the last week with speculation that GoPro was getting ready to launch the Karma Drone in early June. This date was cast in stone as a major media and PR push was being coordinated around it. Given normal timelines, this meant the drone and spec/literature/ads had to already have been ready. After all, just the shipping and stocking of large quantities of a consumer electronics product from China could easily take a month or more.
Announcement of Further Delay
On thursday, May 5, Nick Woodman (GoPro CEO) announced that the Karma would not be launced as planned and would be further delayed until the “Holiday Season”. Here is a MarketWatch article with those announcements and quotes.
As if to admit his level of cluelessness, the GoPro CEO offered the following quote:
“As late as this week, we believed Karma’s launch was on schedule,” said Nick Woodman
This is virtually impossible. Either Nick was too busy surfing and partying or something else is up. It’s our guess that the levels of management and communication within GoPro are lacking, meaning that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
The Xiaomi Yi Action Camera is a “GoPro type” sports and action camera which promises good quality at 1/3rd the price of the major brands. It uses top quality components such as a Sony camera chip (sensor) and an Ambarella image processor. Prices vary depending on the vendor, but are generally in the range of $70-$90 without the waterproof casing. Adding the factory (Xiaomi brand) waterproof case adds another $25 or so. 3rd party underwater cases can be purchased for less than $10, however I did not feel comfortable protecting my Yi with anything other than the factory produced case.
I purchased the Yi from Banggood at this link. Banggood ships worldwide and may also have a warehouse in your country. Be sure to look for coupon and discount codes on the Banggood site.
The Yi is also available from Amazon (US and perhaps other countries) – try the link below:
What first started out as a fascination with ground based POV cam rovers, cars and trucks, I’ve seen a lot of expensive development going into this lately, so I decided to venture into what it takes to build a functional DIY rover that can be used in various locations and production purposes.
Ground based systems that may look like simple RC toys (which at their heart, really are) have a function that either aerial nor handheld operation can achieve. Getting into locations inaccessible or possibly dangerous by other means, is probably the number one reason to build a system like this. Agriculture, wildlife, conservation, geological studies and many other industries have need for an economical entry into this technology. [Read more…]
Finding Places to Fly and Photograph with your Drone.
For some this is very easy – for others a bit more difficult. Here are some hints and tips which may help you find some safe – and photogenic – places to fly!
Note: most of these suggestions assume you know how to take decent pics and videos which you can share with the owners or overseers of the properties.
Learn to use Google, Apple or Bing Satellite Maps to locate large open areas. During a recent trip to Florida, I noticed that a large fairgrounds was just a few blocks away. This area provided a great view of the city and surrounding area and was very safe for flying.
Walking or Biking around an area can often locate some additional places to fly. I founds some large abandoned areas near some railroad tracks which provided an amazing view of a local park as well as the center of town.
Consider your Contacts [Read more…]
At the heart of many modern camera drones is a magical device called a 3-axis Brushless Camera Gimbal. It contains many of the same technologies which are in the drone itself. Here is what they are and how they work – explained in the simplest terms possible.
The word gimbal can be used to describe any adjustable camera or compass holder designed to keep the device level. A more accurate description of the quadcopter gimbal would be a 3 – axis camera stabilization and anti-vibration device. It uses brushless motors (powerful and quiet as well as long lasting) to adjust the position of the camera. 3-axis describes that the camera is adjusted in all directions – up/down, left/right and forward/backward (3 dimensions or, as we call it, the real world).
SJCAM M10 Review Introduction
SJCAM is a Chinese based maker of budget sport cameras. Their earlier models, such as the SJ4000 (approx. $110), are low priced copies of the GoPro rectangular style which have gotten very good reviews. The SJCAM M10 ($100 w/accessories, $70 bare) is a newer cube shaped model which we assume contains many of the same innards as the SJ4000 model. This First Look and Review will focus mostly on the use of this camera for aerial photography and video.Before we delve deeper into the features and performance, it must be said that if you are shopping for a camera which like a GoPro but at 1/3 of the cost…you are not going to get it with any of the action cameras in the $100 category. Even an older model of GoPro such as the Hero2 will be superior to this category. BUT, if you are looking for a camera with a vast array of features, a color LCD screen and the ability to easily switch to a dashboard cam, etc. – then read on. [Read more…]
FPV (First Person View) is the term used to describe a ground level view of what the camera on your quadcopter is seeing. Current systems use various monitors to accomplish this, including:
1. Small LCD screens – sometimes built into the TX, other times mounted above it.
2. Goggles – popular models include the Fatshark and the new Epson Moverio – in the near future, the Occulus Rift will likely be an important addition to this category.
3. Smart Phone or tablet screen – existing products such as the Phantom 2 Vision+ and the Parrot AR Drone use IOS or Android devices to display the camera output from the flying drone.
In this article we will put together a simple FPV system which could be installed on any quadcopter with enough payload to carry the weight.
The very Basics
Most modern quadcopters are controlled with an R/C radio that uses the 2.4GHZ frequency band. Therefore, this frequency cannot be used for a companion FPV system since it may interfere with your R/C radio control. FPV systems are typically sold in the 5.8GHZ frequency band, although you can also get other frequencies.
In this intermediate level exercise, we’ll put together a very basic 5.8GHZ system. This system took less than one hour to assemble and test, making it an easy project for those who want to start working with some DIY aspects of the hobby.
Drone and Quadcopter Aerial Photography and Video (APV) on a budget.
A large percentage of of the new hobbyists taking up this pursuit have interest in the photography and video aspects of quadcopters. People are often impressed when you show them amatuer pics such as the one below – and they want to know how much it costs to set up a similar rig.
This article will explain some of the options available from $80 to $700 (total) for getting aerial pictures and video.
———————Lowest End – under $200 Total
WL Toys Model 222
Those of us with interest in photography often end up with a collection of cameras – too many to take along for travel or for all the various activities we may engage in. Optrix sells a number of cases which may help sports and hobby enthusiasts to cut down on that number!In many ways, an Optrix case turns your iphone into a GoPro. In fact, in terms of various features it may do even better! Before we get into the meat of the review, let’s discuss what this case is and what it isn’t…..
Simply speaking, Optrix makes very rugged (military spec!) cases which turn your phone into a Point of View video cam. These are splash proof, shockproof and available with or without wide angle lenses. A link to an Amazon description is here:
Optrix XD Case Kit for iPhone 4/4S
Potential for Drone Flying
It would take a decent sized quadcopter to fly the Optrix and iphone as a POV camera on their quadcopters. The iphone 4S is probably too heavy for any normal work, but the Optrix and the iphone 5 may be an option for some. Also, you can use these cases for various models of the ipod touch, which are also lighter in weight.
Approx weights are as follows:
iPhone 4S with Optrix XD case, mount and lens – 14 oz (too heavy for most medium drones)
iPhone 5 with Optrix XD5 case and smaller mount (other mounts could easily be devised to save weight) – Less than 200 grams, which could be flown by a DJI Phantom or many other smaller quads.
Various other configurations could easily be flown – for instance, some of the cases don’t have the wide angle lens and others accept the ipod touch models (various generations).
Other Drone and POV Uses
The Optrix can also be used for various other parts of your drone life – including following along with your flights when your drone is close by. You can chest-mount or helmet mount the cam and take nice POV videos for operating instructions, etc. You can also use it to document repairs and other close-up work on your workbench.
Of course, you can also use this case for hiking, biking, hang gliding, sailing and various other activities which you wish to document.
One question which might come up is whether you need the wide angle lens model. Below are two videos taken in the same basic location following a small quadcopter – one is with the wide angle and the other without. The other videos at the end of this review are all with the wide angle lens.
WITH WIDE ANGLE
WITHOUT WIDE ANGLE
The wide angle will make it easier to keep a larger area in the frame – and perhaps provide your viewers with a more immersive experience. However, for some close-in work, such as detailing some modification you performed with a soldering iron, a well aimed mount without the wide angle may be better suited. Note that if you use requires the waterproof feature, you must make the decision about wide angle or not before purchasing your Optrix. The wide lens cannot be removed – your only option for narrower shots with the wide-angle model is to prop the case end open!
Optrix went all-out on these cases! They are built to a standard, not for a low price. They use very high quality materials and have been tested to many times the shock of other cases. Time will tell, but my guess is that my iphone will wear out long before this case does.
Video Quality and Features/Settings
This is probably the best kept secret of the iphone vs. various other action cameras. Your iphone (4S and 5) are great video cameras! They have amazing stabilization and other features built right in. Your iphone already has the extra features such as GPS built right into it, so you can track where your videos are taken. In addition, you have access to various apps and settings which are much harder to access on other sports cams. Your phone also has lots of built in storage and easy access to share and export video and still photos. In short, no stand-alone action cam can possibly provide all the features that your iphone can!
Optrix provides various mounts, some of which come with stock units and others which can be purchased as accessories. Many of these use plastic bases with 3M adhesive pads. Between the stock and your own semi-custom mountings, just about any type of mounting can be accomplished. One of the negatives of the iphone/optrix combo is that your sports camera is quite large in size – so don’t expect to get those secret vids with this one! However, if you put on your thinking cap you can devise other mounting methods (example: chest mount) which will not make you look as alien when filming.
I have not yet used the included adhesive pad because I’d rather wing it until I am certain how and where I am going to use the camera. I rigged up part of the case that the cam came in, and used zip ties in various arrangements to hold the assembly to my helmet. An example from today is shown here. Notice that small ties are used to hold the cam mount to the case plastic – and then larger ties are holding the mount (the adhesive protectors on the bottom have not been removed) to the bike helmet. This worked fine, as you can see the Gillespie Park videos near the end of this review.
The case comes with a rubber sled which helps protect your phone from shock. That case slip around your iphone and then the assembly slips into the hard plastic shell. A small latch seals the hinged top and len onto the main body – and then you are ready to go! The rear features an heavy-duty membrane which is touch sensitive and waterproof. It does not respond as nimbly as your bare phone does, but it’s easy enough to do the basics which are required to shoot a video. All in all, assembly and operation could hardly be simpler.
Here are some video samples – if you want to see more professional vids of snowboarding, dirt biking and race car driving, just google optrix and there should be plenty!
Video #1 – Here is a 4 minute tour on my bike of a street and then Gillespie Park in Sarasota Florida. Note that, to save upload time etc., this video was only taken at 720p. But if you use the larger youtube viewer, it should still look good!
Video #2 – this is a short clip at full 1280p – hand held.
Summary – as with any accessory or tool, it is important that the buyer and user understand both the pros and the cons (limitations) of the device and technology. The Optrix cases are very good at what they do – that is to protect the phone while letting the tech already inside your device operate to it’s full capabilities. Optrix has even released some enhanced video apps to make things easier – check the app store!
I’ve used mine quite a few times and expect to continue. In the end, that’s the best testament for a piece of technology such as the Optrix.
Note – if you intend to do a lot of flying or bungie jumping with this cam, you may want to purchase the Squaretrade extended warranty or a similar program from your phone vendor. This will assure that even an abused (crashed) phone will not cost you a bundle to replace!
Here is a video using the Optrix – of snow shoeing through the woods after the Nemo Blizzard of 2013 – Optrix starts about 20 seconds in.
Here is an Amazon link to the Optrix HD for the 4/4s – you can find the newer ones (for iphone 5) there also or at the Optrix Web site