3DR Solo Smart Drone: Australian Hands On

Drones are getting more and more popular in Australia. They're getting more powerful, easier to fly, and easier to repair. Computers getting smaller and faster, too, means it's easier to do fancy things with your drone through the apps that connect to them wirelessly. 3DR's smart Solo drone integrates with your GoPro Hero, and it has built-in controls and robotic video presets that make filming professional drone footage very easy.

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This is the 3DR Solo:

It's a $1799 barebones drone; you're able to hook up the $699 gimbal seen in most of these pictures to unlock the Solo's full potential, buy an extra battery for $249 for another 20 minutes of flight time, and replace those self-tightening propellers for $19 if (and when) they break. The bundled controller is a cross between the Steam Controller and DJI's Remote Controller, and has a central colour screen that gives you flight stats in real time.

At a launch on Cockatoo Island on Tuesday morning, I got the chance to test-pilot a 3DR Solo for 10 minutes. With a bit of instruction from 3DR's guru Colin Guinn — I've only ever flown a DJI Phantom a couple of times before now — I went from complete drone newbie to filming surprisingly reasonable drone video in a super-short time frame. To anyone familiar with an Xbox or PlayStation, the controller is easy to understand, and the companion app is intuitive.

3DR Solo: Basic Flight Is Easy

3DR's New Solo Drone Promises Airborne Footage Without A Learning Curve

Just like any other drone in its class, the 3DR Solo's controls are straightforward; you have two sticks, one for elevation (flying up, down) and rotation (turning left, right) and one for direction (flying left, right, forwards backwards along any axis). Those are your primary controls for moving the Solo around three-dimensional space — that's simple enough once you get the hang of it (and don't get yourself switched around accidentally).

Take-off and landing are usually the trickiest and most hair-raising part of flying a drone around, but there's a little FLY button on the controller that takes care of that for you. A long press — you'll see a progress bar fill on the colour screen — starts the quadrotor's four electric motors, and another long press (again, progress bar) tells the Solo to take off and hover about three metres from the ground. Because the drone is GPS-enabled, it can hold its location accurately.

To that end, the controller even has an E-brake button that'll override any controls or currently-running video recording macros and halt the 3DR Solo in space. If it's all too much, a home button brings the drone back to where it launched without any further user intervention. It doesn't have any proximity sensors, although 3DR is currently working on a LIDAR package (amongst a bunch of other retrofits) that'll be released in the near future.

Drone Video: GoPro Plus 3DR Solo

Filming from the 3DR Solo, plus the GoPro Hero4 Black connected to it, was ridiculously easy. Like, "make yourself look vaguely professional after five minutes of flying" easy. It's a combination of smart controls on the the 3DR Solo's high-tech controller — you have a simple tilt for the gimbal underneath your left index finger, for example — and smart controls on the companion Solo app for Android and iOS take care of anything more complicated than that.

Out of the box, the 3DR Solo and companion app will ship with four "smart shot" video recording presets. They're all reliant on the Solo's GPS, and use that plus controls for the drone itself and the three-dimensional gimbal (all handled remotely, with no user interaction necessary) to record some very good video. Orbit is a 360-degree spin around a predefined GPS coordinate that you select on a satellite map (swipe and tap on your phone or tablet to set it). Cable Cam asks you to set a start and finish drone location and camera direction, and then smoothly transitions between the two (with complications throughout the routine possible).

Selfie is drone video on steroids; once you've framed and positioned the Solo facing you or whatever object you want to record, it'll pull back and up over a predefined distance and tilt the GoPro gimbal down to keep you in the frame. You can even use the drone in Follow mode, which will track the GPS of the controller and attached smartphone and attempt to stay a predefined distance from it, with the GoPro gimbal pointed towards it.

You can map these macros to one of the two A/B buttons on the Solo's controller, so you could use one of those to very quickly bring up the Orbit or Selfie options, for example, and build a quick routine. It's incredibly simple to do for the quality of smoothly stabilised, smoothly panned and tilted video that you get out of it — I'm confident that I could have shot 3DR's showcase video above with about an hour's practice in the right locations.

3DR Solo: Australian Price And Release Date

The 3DR Solo is available now for $1799 and upwards at a bunch of different Australian camera and electronics retailers like Harvey Norman and George's Camera. Expect to pay about $2500 for a full kit including a protective backpack and extra battery. Then, on top of that, you'll need a mobile device and a GoPro for video recording. It's expensive, but on par with prices of competitors' drones.


Comments

    This is way more expensive than a DJI Phantom 3. You can get a Phantom 3 advanced for well under two grand that has a camera and stabilised gimbal included. This is the video of the first ever drone flight a friend of mine took a couple of weeks ago - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCy-7lEx0JU&feature=youtu.be

    Just look at the wind, yet he had no trouble keeping the Phantom 3 perfectly steady and got some really good stabilised footage. And this guy had never flown any kind of drone before in his life.

      A Phantom 3 will set you back $2200 from DJI's own store (I've actually just ordered one myself for a series on Giz!). I'd say they're roughly equal.

        I got the Advanced when I was in LA recently for $1250, I think it ended up being about 1600 with conversion at the time and taxes :)

        On kogan, the DJI Phantom Professional is AUD1950, while the Advance is AUD 1550. Both come with cameras. You're not lying, but you're not being fair either.

        I got the P3A for 1550, since then the price has gone up for both Adv *& Prof by about 200 and the price of Standard was dropped to around 1100.
        This is from DJI online store.

        I hope you have a the appropriate license for commercial use of an RPA from CASA.

    Is the gimbal actually available in Australia? Most in US still don't have them and the ones that do seems to have a high failure rate.
    Either way with the GoPro included this is over $3000 and only compares to the $1190 Phantom 3 Standard ($920) on special. The camera is the same and neither has the Phantom 3 Adv/Pro Glonass or lightbridge.

    I would caution against taking this article at face value. The CEO of 3DR was the editor for Wired Magazine for 8 years. A lot of Solo Owners are having issues across the board and articles like these are not addressing anything, only advertising for 3DR.

    A Reddit AMA Callout to 3DR Execs is coming soon.

    At the moment the issues that will be outlined are as follows.

    *GPS Shielding and Antenna Issues
    (Shielding has been incorrectly installed and is touching module causing longer lock times). This issue has not been formally addressed since launch.

    *US Based GPS Only

    *Wireless Atheros 250mw Wireless Cards with Stock Antennas are not holding Live Feed without degradation.

    *GoPro App Integration was assured at Launch, and may not be available until Q1 2016. 3DR has not formally addressed this since launch.

    *Gimbal Motors are Shuttinf Down in High Winds due to over voltage. Confirmed by 3DR Techs, not formally addressed by 3DR.

    *Gimbal has to face north to reduce interference. Not formally addressed by 3DR since launch.

    *Gimbal was delayed for two reasons:

    A. Gimbal ground clearance in original design was too low. 3DR informally announced it was increasing the ground clearance. The new revised version is the same clearance. 3DR has quietly sent out leg extensions upon registration.

    B. Gimbal was experiencing Jello at high winds on y-axis. This has been reported to still be having an issue.

    *HDMI Cable is too stiff and breaks and causes interference with Gimbal Movement. 3DR Techs have quietly notified a few key people that there is a new more flexible HDMI Cable in the works.

    Accessories like Lidar are in development, but may not be available until Q4 2016.

    These are the issues thus far with some gaps I am sure. This is from April US based launch until currently today 9-20-15.

      Hi. We're not advertising anything; I'm sharing my experiences from the *Australian* launch last week. (I'm not sure what the CEO's previous experience has to do with anything?) If you've got any concerns with the article then feel free to shoot me an email using the Contact page at the bottom of the site.

    We are professional drone operator any needed a action drone. We ordered the Solo this summer from b&h. Got it in September. We are observing the same issues as Ken discribes in the post above. We have us one modification with hdmi cable, GPS and3d printed a wind shield for the gimbal. Now the Solo work, but we still need a little post stabilizing of the video, but after that, the result is almost perfect for professional use. So, Solo is maybe not ready for the marked unless you are able to make advanced modification yourselves.

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