- by Rick Wilson
New 3DR Solo drone will make you think twice before buying that Phantom 3
With NAB behind us, there is a ton of new aerial gear. DJI has new phantoms. Freefly has a new drone, gimbals, and controllers. And a bunch of cameras with UAS in mind were announced, for example the Blackmagic micro cinema camera is specifically designed for UAS use. But a small company called 3D Robotics has announced something a bit different. Enter the 3DR Solo. The company calls it the “smart drone”. The drone is very similar to the DJI Phantom 3: 3 axis gimbal, directional lighting, self-tightening props, flight controller, digital video downlink to smartphone or tablet, live broadcast, control of camera via mobile device, but there is one core difference. The Phantom 3 uses DJI’s Sony Exmor based camera that cannot be removed or upgraded, whereas the 3DR Solo is built for GoPros. You can use a hero 3, 3+, or 4. And if GoPro’s future models retain a similar design, they will also be compatible with the 3DR Solo. This allows you to upgrade your camera every time GoPro releases a major update, without having to shell out for an entire rig, like you would if you had a Phantom 3. A major difference that this UAS accomplishes that other drones haven’t been able to do is that it can start and stop and even change the settings of the GoPro while inflight. 3DR stated that they worked with GoPro to add this functionality. 3DR also has a couple interesting flight control features. One is called “cable cam” which allows operators to lock the UAS to a particular A and B point at specific flight levels and GPS locations, the Solo will fly along the virtual cable automatically allowing the operator to focus on camera movement and speed. Another is called “orbit” which allows the operator to automatically circle their subject. The Solo also has a “follow” and “selfie” feature which are pretty self explanatory. Another great potential aspect of the Solo is that 3DR has designed it to be “future proof”. It’s impossible to tell if they’ll be right, perhaps in the next couple of years it will be, since the solo has swappable motor pods, an accessory bay, removable gimbal, wireless updating, and they have also been working with 3rd parties to provide future accessories and features for the Solo. At $999 plus $499 for a GoPro hero 4 black, the Solo is about $150 more expensive than the 4k version of the Phantom 3, and $499 (the price of the GoPro) more expensive than the 1080p version of the Phantom 3. Regardless, 3DR’s play for the Phantom’s user base will only improve competition in the sub $1500 RTF UAS market.