In the future, our own personal drones will follow us around to take photos of us like our own personal flying paparazzi. It’s not too hard to see that this is where things are going.
Here’s the thing: like so many other things, the future is happening a lot sooner than most people think. It’s operating on its own timetable and has been since 2007. The Hover Camera Passport Drone (from Chinese startup Zero Zero Robotics) is that future — today.
For $500, you get a drone that folds to size of a small notebook. Its propellers are protected in a carbon fiber fence, which also should keep most fingers out of the danger zone (cue Kenny Loggins, if you like). It packs facial recognition, “body tracking” (which keeps your entire body in frame, handy if you’re doing the sort of active things people like to post on Instagram) into that small package, and can do orbits around you or take 360 degree panoramic shots on 4K video or 13 MP stills. Flight time is 10 minute on a full battery charge and the kit includes two batteries, with a maximum altitude of about 65 feet. It’s controlled by an iPhone app, and though the Hover Camera Passport Drone is being exclusively sold in Apple Stores, an Android app is also available.
I saw a display unit at the Apple Store in Ala Moana (in Honolulu) and remembering a post that some stores were giving demos, I ask the staff if anyone could show it off to me. They were giddy with excitement to play with the drone.
There’s a few kinks that needs to be worked out. The staff attempted, and failed, to install a firmware update. The Hover Camera Passport Drone also needs assistance in take off in the way of being held until its propellers generate enough lift to get it airborne. The facial recognition also seems a little finicky, taking some time to kick in.
But when the drone works, it is something to see. It follows the user around like a well-trained flying dog…that looks like a flying notebook. The video and stills, from what I could see, was sharp and good enough (at least) for social media posts. The cool factor, especially if you have even a passing interest in drones, is undeniable. It’s not a professional homebrew or DJI rig, but it’s not supposed to. It’s more like a camera on a phone rather than a DSLR.
The staff at the Apple Store I talked to said they were selling well, and gave an anecdote about a tourist buying it when they watched them fly it — which makes sense, as this is the perfect sort of impulse buy a well-heeled visitor vacationing in Hawaii would make. It’s essentially a selfie stick, but with a lot more wow factor and a lot more potential.
And while we’re comparing this to a selfie stick, people might long for the days of people walking around with poles when they realize the buzzing noise of a hundred drones at their favorite beach may very well be a thing.
But let’s face it. Personal drones are now a thing. Telling someone from 2006 that people will have their own computers in their pockets in 2007 would probably draw a guffaw. That person from 2006 would also have no idea the potential that would be unlocked because of fast cellular networking and smartphones. In same way, it’s impossible to say what good people having ready access to their own drones would be. Imagine events captured on smartphones, like the Arab Spring, now being augmented by a swarm of drones.
Those lofty possibilities aside, today’s Hover Camera Passport Drone suffers from the sort of first adopter problems you’d expect. But they’re also the sort of problems sorted out in the 2.0 version of the device. So if you’re not the type to buy the first version of something, you might want to wait to see how the next version fares.
With a solid product launch, the Hover Camera Passport shows that personal drones will be a popular thing sooner rather than later — whether it’s for better or worse, we’ll soon find out.