On 13th of April 2015, 3D Robotics officially announced “Solo”,  their latest and most sophisticated drone designed specifically to be flown with a GoPro.

Promising twentyfive minutes of flight time and a range of up to half a mile, the Solo is a first step in realizing the true potential of UAVs.

We set out a year ago with the promise of not just creating the best drone, but the best overall aerial filmmaking experience imaginable.

Solo will be available in over 2,000 retail locations worldwide starting in May in the U.S., and in June and July globally. In the U.S., Solo will launch at Best Buy, B&H, Samy’s Camera, Sport Chalet and many other premiere camera and electronics retailers. Throughout June and July, Solo will become available in 3DR-authorized premium retailers around the world, including Boulanger in France, Best Buy and London Drugs in Canada, Currys and Wex Camera in the U.K., Harvey Norman in Australia and Virgin Megastore and Dubai Duty Free in the U.A.E. Preorders for Solo will begin immediately.

Computers in the Air

The solo is first- ever consumer drone run by two full blown computers. One of those sits on the drone itself, while a second one is situated in the controler.

Quite a bit of this power is used to stabilize the drone during flight, security, and pure precision control.

Most of this is used for the Solo’s camera automation. And this is where it shines.

Camera Control

There is a standard “follow me” mode, but also a “cable mode” that let’s you draw a line on your phone’s screen, and the Solo will fly along exactly that line while recording video.  The video taken on that flight can be controlled even more.

The drone can memorize a specific pan and tilt on each end point and will control the camera to transition between those along the path.

Of course, manual control is possible.

Pick any target and select “Orbit,” lets the Solo drone fly in a perfect circle, while keeping camera focused on your subject the whole time.

Or you can feel like Bruce Willis using the selfie mode. Once activated the camera will spot on you and then fly away, action-movie-style.

Solo as a platform

While the computers in the Solo make flying and filmning a lot easier, the next step for 3DR is to opening up to tinkering. This opening up takes the form of DroneKit, a platform for developers, made available to everyone interested.

While this move might not be quite selfless – who knows what cool features will be added by these enthusiasts? – having open access to a platform like this is a tremendous step.

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The camera

Different from the new Phantom 3, the solo does not come with its own camera. Instead, 3D Robotics has gone into a very close cooperation with goPro.

The result is a very fine control over any goPro camera used with the drone.

Camera settings can be changed in-flight and the company touts very fine accuracy in pan and tilt for the gimbal.

It will also allow you to upgrade the camera without losing the drone.

Other features

Smart Battery

As already presented by DJI for the Phantom 3 drone, 3D robotics is upgrading their battery technology. Called the “Solo Smart Battery”, the battery let’s you know how much power it has left and can calculate the time it needs to return to safety.

The Solo Gimbal

This is where the cooperation with GoPro becomes apparent. This is the first gimbal capable of fully controlling the GoPro. Solo gives you the exclusive ability to start and stop recording video while in flight, which means that when you land you have only the shots that you wanted to take; when it comes time to edit you now have “fat free” footage, instead of dealing with huge, cumbersome files. You can also snap photos, change FOV, FPS and exposure compensation and much more—through Solo’s mobile app at long range, or dedicated buttons on the controller. The 3-axis Solo Gimbal stabilizes the camera to within 0.1 degrees of pointing accuracy and charges the GoPro so your battery doesn’t die during flight. Combined with Solo’s controller you get fine-grain tilt control, including angle presets and instant speed adjustment; or you can just create a Smart Shot, hit “play,” and Solo’s computer will fully control the gimbal for the perfect shot. The Solo Gimbal delivers all of these advanced capabilities while providing a painless and tool-free method of installing and removing the GoPro. The Solo Gimbal is sold separately for $399.

Our verdict

When the press release first hit, the immediate reaction was that 3DR is playing catch up with DJI.

After going over all the features of the Solo and hearing of the open platform initiative, this does not sound like trying to catch up anymore.

The Phantom and all of DJI have a serious competitor on their hands.

The price is steeper, though, with a Gimbal equipped drone clocking in at 1400USD, without a camera.

However, for serious drone film makers, this seems like the drone to get.

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