In 2015, selfie sticks are all the rage; but as 2015 comes to an end, we all have to move on. These days, drones are ultimate vanity accessory.
The latest semi-autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle for hobbyists is called the Staaker. Three years in the making, it was created by a team of engineers, including former Google X and CERN employees that consulted with professional production companies regarding building camera drones that can shoot epic movies with ease. Its unique feature uses artificial intelligence to predict what its owner might want to do next.
Like other auto-follow drones, the Staaker has a GPS wristband that tracks its users. However, that is where the similarities start to thin out. This drone works as a personal cameraman with its artificial intelligence technology that allows for the drone to anticipate or react to the next move, then uses the information to set up the best shot for its owner.
The technology is then combined with five different user-activated follow modes, including circling the user, following from behind, or turning to the direction with the best scenic shot of the environment. It also allows for its user to control where and how the drone shoots its photos. For safety purposes, the Staaker maintains a two-meter (6.6 feet) cloud around the user but can follow him or her from as far as 1,150 feet.
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“We use all the data [collected] from the tracker to predict what you are going to do next,” OJ Seeland, CEO and founder of Staaker, said. “It picks up subtle signs and reacts to them.” If the drone “senses” that its owner might maneuver toward the right during a ride downhill, for instance, it will react accordingly.
The Staaker is known for having one of the fastest speeds and longest flight times as far as self-flying drones are concerned. The Staaker can fly up to 50 miles per hour and has a battery that can last up to 30 minutes of flight time, depending on the usage. The fact that Staaker has interchangeable batteries also means that it can be relaunched quickly, without the need of a recharge, as long as you have extra batteries on hand. The company itself also mentioned that the Staaker is pretty easy to launch. It has a quick eight-second prep time that makes it useful for people on the go.
Fast, intelligent drones are not easy to build. The company had to go through 50 prototypes in over three years before they were finally content of the Staaker. Seeland explained the process, saying, “As a company we are committed to delivering the world’s first intelligent auto-follow drone with the best design qualities on the market. We are really excited to show the world what we have built.”
The Staaker can fit a GoPro Hero4 camera (sold separately) in a three-axis gimbal to shoot 4k videos and 12 megapixel stills. When the Staaker lands, the gimbal automatically retracts to prevent the camera from hitting the ground. The drone also functions as a handheld rig, which allows filmmakers to utilize the gimbal when not in flight. It is designed to withstand harsh conditions and is water-resistant. But not the same can be said about its attachable GoPro Model as the camera will be out of its protective housing to fit the Staaker. However, the company did mention that the drone itself has been stress-tested in a range of conditions from the Arctic Circle to Hawaii, so it is proven to be worth your money.
The company opted to fit with the Hero4 because it is the most ubiquitous among the action cameras available. The smaller version, called the Session, however, is not supported. Still, it worked directly with GoPro during the development, as confirmed by the company’s VP on Marketing, Mike Luff.
While more resourceful users could create their own mounts for another action cam, the Staaker is designed to work specifically with the Hero4, providing a power to the camera without affecting the drone’s flying time, although users have to manually start and stop recording on the camera before the drone can take off. There is room for improvement—the company could possibly go for a more powerful, embedded camera in their future versions.
The Staaker weighs a mere 3.5 pounds and can be folded for easy transport. There is no need for attachment or removal of propellers as it is ready to fly once out of its case. It is so compact that there is room for two Staakers in a large backpack, for those who are taking aerial photo and videography to the next level.
Luff also gave a demo of a prototype, which he carried in a standard backpack. He was able to control the drone easily via the tracker on his wrist, and it followed him as he ran around a field. It also responded to his controls without fail. Its takeoff and landing were also smooth, and with the use of a GPS tracker, the Staaker can be set to land in a designated spot.
There are ways to manually control the drone or set it to an auto-follow mode, with a small LCD on the tracker, which conveniently also shows the battery level as well as the location of the Staaker in case it gets lost during its flight. In its initial, the Staaker did not have any software to help avoid obstacles like trees, so there is a need for users to plan its use accordingly. But the company will soon build a function in the second-generation version, as noted by Luff. He wasn’t able to demonstrate the 50 mph capability of the drone; however, he did mention that he was able to test the prototype while driving in a fast-moving car, and the Staaker had no problems keeping up.
There are auto-follow drones in the market that are now employing computer vision for tracking. However, Luff said that the technology is not ready and a tracking device is more dependable as of now.
The Staaker will start shipping in December and will cost $1,795, inclusive of the drone, its waterproof tracker, and a carrying case. It is already available for pre-order, with a $600 discount, so if you’re looking forward to aerial photography, this is the time to buy. Rest assured, the Staaker will be worth every penny.