The release of Solo is a big step forward for 3D Robotics. See how they are closing the gap on DJI as well as their thoughts on innovation in the drone industry
Q. DJI is clearly the market leader in drone manufacturing, how is 3DRobotics looking to close this gap?
Many ways! First, there’s Solo, the world’s first Smart Drone, which is a revolutionary consumer product with intelligence and features that no other drone touches. We’re changing the game with this technology by making it easy not just to fly a drone, but to get great shots—to take the flying skill out of the equation so you can focus on how you want to tell your story. For instance, it’s the only drone with Smart Shots, which means pro shots with the push of a button—Solo can fly itself on virtual cables and orbits that you set in the air so that you’re free to work the camera. It can even work the camera for you.
We’ll also close the gap with platform adoption. We’ve helped build and maintain the world’s number one drone platform, which is now found at the Dronecode Foundation. This allows the global developer community to innovate faster, and to develop an ecosystem that will grow faster and more robust than any platform out there, and will spur adoption. People and businesses all over the world will be building their own applications and uses on our platform, and we’re excited to see where they’ll take it.
Q. The close working relationship with GoPro surely led to major benefits to the solo platform. What distinguishes Solo from other drone platforms in terms of aerial photography and videography?
Definitely Smart Shots—Cable cam, Orbit, Follow and Selfie. Solo is a two-man system in one—and it can even be a no man system. It can get incredible 5-axis shots in one smooth take. This means you no longer have to be an expert pilot to get the shots you want, because our software has all of that skill built into it. This lets you be a creative storyteller—not thinking in terms of flight, but in terms of the exact frames and scenes you want. Show Solo what you want, and Solo makes it happen. Oddly enough, this computer technology allows you to be more nuanced and adventurous with your shots—technology paradoxically makes your shots more human.
Q. We love that your platform is open sources, enabling developers to build apps for drones. How many applications have been released to date? What are some of the more interesting applications?
We’ve just released the source code for Solo. In addition to that, we have plans to open up much of SoloLink, which is the wifi communications hub Solo uses—it’s a Linux platform, which appeals to a wide set of developers. We’ll also deepen our DroneKit integration into Solo so people can write shots in Python and create more Android apps.
As for those apps, we’ve got the Solo app and Tower, as well as DroneKit, our open API for anyone to design their own drone apps. You can host these all on3DR Services, “the app store for drones.”
Q. Do existing drone regulations limit the ability to innovate drone technology?
They do. If we’re not allowed access to certain technological barriers and problems, it’s difficult to effectively innovate to surmount those barriers and problems. For instance, if there were no beyond visual line of sight flights allowed, then companies like Amazon who want to develop viable and safe drone delivery systems would have to either abandon their research or conduct it elsewhere. Same for many ag drone developers. Fortunately in that specific case, the FAA is taking steps to open up BVLOS research with their new “Pathfinder” program. We’re actually pleased with recent progressive steps the FAA is taking, and we hope they continue to do so, particularly by opening the air to sub-2kg microdrones, which will allow us to conduct the lion’s share of necessary flight research that we can later apply to larger systems.
Q. One of the use cases people seem to get most excited about is drone-based delivery systems. What use cases most excite you in terms of driving the drone-based economy of the future?
Delivery is exciting. The humanitarian uses are, too—the Syria Airlift, which we help sponsor, is a particularly compelling project, as is the UAViators humanitarian drone network, who were instrumental in mapping the Nepal earthquake. But there are also so many uses where drones can minimize or eliminate risk to human life—industrial inspection, railroads, flare stacks, spans, communication towers, nuclear plants. There’s the agriculture use case, where drones will help farmers run more sustainable and efficient precision farms by dramatically cutting water and pesticide use. Search and rescue, firefighting—even NFL practices. This list is so long and varied, and it’s quite exciting to be right on the cusp of all it.
Q. Okay, the Solo drone looks cool but we know you are not a company that is comfortable resting on its laurels. What sorts of things are you investigating next?
We’ll be building out the Solo platform! It’s got an open accessory bay, an open gimbal bay, and so much processing power. We haven’t even begun to tap the full potential of its intelligence. Solo is just getting started.
Q. The ability to fly drones for longer and longer periods of time is important. Yeair! is a new drone that is being crowd funded on kickstarter. One of it’s biggest claims to fame is a one hour flight time using a combustion engine. Are combustion engines in drones something we will be seeing more of in the future?
Maybe in bigger and heavier models that would make more sense. But drones, because they’re so lightweight and can accommodate a wide variety of designs and materials, are actually a great lab for developing alternative power sources. One of the coolest I’ve seen recently is a hydrogen-powered drone, which drips water as its exhaust!
See the 3D Robotics Solo in action