A Kickstarter project is redefining the idea of the autonomous drone. While it's not the smallest quadcopter on the market, it is considered the most advanced drone in its size category, and, according to representatives, it currently has no real competitors.
It's called the Zano, and it's a small, lightweight drone that sits comfortably in the palm of a hand. While it hasn't yet shipped, we recently had a chance to check out a couple prototypes and came away impressed. The arms of the quadcopter are thin, but they don't feel likely to break under significant stress. The quadcopter blades felt a but more fragile, so it seems like it would be a good investment to purchase the accompanying carrying case.
Unfortunately, because the Zano was on display at a trade show, safety precautions prevented anyone from actually flying the thing. So we can't speak to how well the Zano flies, but we can point to its impressive array of features.
It includes a built-in 5-megapixel HD video camera that can live stream through your mobile device (iOS or Android). This means users will be able to see what the drone sees in real time, and can adjust the shot manually or by programming specific controls—a familiar function among today's consumer market quadcopters.
Another unique feature for such a small drone is its supposed ability to synchronously swarm in groups of up to a hundred devices, all controlled by the same unit. Not only would this be an incredible sight to see, it also has its practical uses. For moviemakers or professional athletes who want to set up massive "one-chance-to-get-this-right" productions or stunts, having multiple drones hovering and filming will allow them to get a variety of angles to ensure the perfect take.
The unit also boasts digital image stabilization, but with no demo we can't confirm the quality of the video. Once you're done shooting, you can upload your footage instantly to social media.
You also don't have to worry about your drone flying off and getting lost. When Zano drones lose contact with their smartphone overlord, they'll automatically fly to the last known location of the device and hover there. If they sense their battery getting low they will gently set themselves down, or they can otherwise be programmed to return to their docking station.
The miniature drones work together as a unit by generating their own on-board WiFi and tying a virtual tether to a smart device and to other Zanos nearby. They also use GPS to determine where it is in relation to the control device, allowing a user to set angle and distance preferences for the drone to maintain. Zano representatives explained to us that the app will serve as the main control panel either through tilting the device or utilizing on-screen joysticks.
The Zano drones will likely ship this summer. Pre-orders are available for about $270, and the retail price will likely end up at around $300.