The Iris+ looks pretty cool. Just dream of practically anything you'd like a drone to do, and chances are the new 3D Robotics quadcopter will do it. Autonomous flight? Check. Longer flight time? Check. Dynamic LED lights for directional awareness? Check. Crazy-arse "Follow Me" function? Check.
Based on specs alone, the Iris+ is a big improvement over the last edition of 3D Robotics' drone, the Iris 1.0. The second generation makes autonomous flight as simple as drawing a path on a smartphone or tablet, and then the Iris+ takes over.
The Iris+ can also fly for 15 minutes with a gimbal and camera attached and 20 minutes without. (That's a huge improvement over the 5- to 6-minute flight time of the original Iris.) There's a traditional joystick-style controller, but the setup also comes with a long-range telemetry radio that enables your device to control the aircraft from over 3,000 feet away. (That's over half a mile.) And, addressing a major complaint with the original Iris, the craft now features screw-on, self-tightening propellers for a more reliable design.
But the Follow Me feature is definitely the coolest upgrade. This third-person view mode will be immediately exciting for anyone doing action sports, since it not only follows you around but also controls the gimbal to keep you in the center of the camera frame while you pull off stunts. The Iris+ can become your own personal aerial cameraman that sticks with you over every jump or down every trail — so long as you're toting a GPS-enabled Android device and there aren't too many trees to trip it up. It even boasts a custom app for the Pebble smartwatch so you can tweak the flight during your ride or run. A LIDAR or depth-camera based avoidance solution would come in handy for those aforementioned trees, but you'll have to supply that yourself.
Sounds appealing, huh? It just goes to show how 3D Robotics is gunning for DJI and the much celebrated Phantom drone, going so far as to hire former DJI America boss Colin Guinn. That's him in the video above. The $US750 retail price of the Iris+ is certainly more attractive than some professional grade drones, and when you add the gimbal ($210) and a GoPro camera the total cost comes close to the
$US1300 you'd pay for a top of the line DJI Phantom Vision 2+.
While you could start with an original Phantom for $US479 and add a custom camera rig, the Phantom's autonomous flight feature is new — and buggy, in this blogger's opinion. It also won't follow you around.
All that said, 3D Robotics is releasing the source code for the Follow Me feature when it launches the Iris+, which means that other drones could adopt the feature for free before long. Buying the whole package at once does have its perks, though.
The Iris+ will completely replace its predecessor to make sure all new owners get these features. If you already bought an original Iris, though, you won't be totally left out in the cold. 3D Robotics says you'll be able to upgrade your drone to the new Iris+ spec anytime during the next 90 days for a cool $US200. [3D Robotics]