At CES 2015, the CTA started the Unmanned Systems Marketplace, an area of the show floor dedicated to flying things big and small. This year section grew quite a bit with new models from familiar makers like DJI and Yuneec, as well as many more companies looking for a piece of the sky. Here's a look at what I found.
AEE has been making security and military technology since 1999. The F900 is one of its commercial drones, able to fly for up 40 minutes with a 3kg (6.6 pounds) payload. It can, however, carry up to 10kg (22 pounds) and fly in winds up to 33 knots.
The A20, on the other hand, is made for consumers. Features include a 500-meter maximum control range, a 4K-resolution camera, automatic retractable landing gear and a modular remote controller with three distinct flight modes (there's traditional flight mode with dual flight stick operation, mobile phone flight mode to pilot using an app and Dynamic flight mode).
For $999 (about AU$1,440 or £690) when it ships in February, the X-Star Premium gives you a lot of the features you'd find on DJI's Phantom 3 Professional: 4K video at 30fps/1080p at 120fps, a 3-axis gimbal for camera stability, HD live view from the camera, GPS and GLONASS for positioning and smart autonomous flight features. And yes, it looks like DJI's Phantom quads, too, but the Autel does come in orange, making it easier to spot in the sky.
Autel includes a 64GB microSD card for storage and a hard-shell backpack for travel. Plus, the company's support based in the US.
On the surface, the Petrone looks like a run-of-the-mill toy quadcopter. The key difference is that they have infrared transmitters and receivers on them, so if you have two or more of them you can play an aerial game of Laser Tag.
The Inspire 1 Pro Black Edition is just what it sounds like. Instead of the white body and controller of the original model, this new one is black with a black controller. DJI says it's inspired by high-end filmmaking equipment. Like the $4,500 original, it comes with the company's Micro Four Thirds Zenmuse X5 interchangeable lens camera. Unlike the original, it's priced at $4,800 (arounf AU$7,000 or £3,300).
The $999 DJI Phantom 3 4K is essentially the same as the current Phantom 3 Professional except that its controller uses a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi video downlink from the quadcopter with a range of up to 1.2km (0.75 mile). The Phantom 3 Professional uses DJI's Lightbridge technology, which has a more reliable connection, HD live view and a range up to 5km (3.1 miles). UK and Australian details weren't forthcoming, but $999 converts to around £600 or AU$1,440.
Ehang's Ghost 2.0 is a big step forward from the original. Like the first one, it's mainly piloted with an iOS or Android device. But the controls for the Ghost 2.0 have improved. The company also has a set of VR goggles with head tracking that will let you control the drone's 4K-resolution camera position just by moving your head.
The Ghost 2.0 is available now for $800 (AU$1,150 or £550, converted), but you'll have to wait til later this year to get it with the goggles.
I watched the FlyHawk hover up and down in its cage for a couple minutes before I realized it had six propellers and didn't have the typical long body for a battery. That's because it loads vertically from the top, letting you charge it fast once it hits its 20-minute limit.
The controller comes with a built-in 7-inch tilting touchscreen so there's no need for a mobile device to see what you're doing. There are two versions: The Hawk V5 has a 1080p camera for about $460 (AU$660 or £310. converted) while the V6 costs $540 (AU$790 £370) and gets you a 2.7K-resolution shooter. Look for them in March.
The TT reminds me of a plastic version of Parrot's Bebop. It has a lot of the same features including being operated by an iOS or Android device, an optical-flow sensor on the bottom to help it fly indoors and a built-in wide-angle 1080p camera.
Sure, it looks a bit like someone jammed a table fan inside a volleyball and put a camera on top, but it's still pretty cool. Billed as the world's safest drone and built on an open platform, the Fleye, while equipped with a camera, wasn't designed with a specific use case in mind. Since it's padded and the blades are completely shielded, it could be developed for uses where an open-blade model would be dangerous. It's currently on Kickstarter and expected to ship in September 2016, but if and when it hits retail it will cost appoximately $1,365 (AU$1,965 or £940, converted).
The Favor seems like a trimmed down version of the company's X4 Pro. The feature set is very similar to that of Yuneec's Q500 model with an HD camera, return-to-home, Follow Me tracking and a flight time of 20 minutes.
The X4 FPV Brushless isn't new, but it's still not widely available. It is, however, one of the smallest RTF quads I've see with GPS, first-person-view streaming to the included remote with its built-in screen, return-to-home and Follow Me tracking and a 20-minute flight time -- and you can find it for around $200.
The A380's mission is to be simple, easy choice for a first camera drone. It can takeoff, land and return to home with a button press and its mobile app supports waypoint navigation and point-of-interest circling. The video downlink for live preview is good for up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) at VGA resolution. The integrated camera can snap 12-megapixel stills and can record video in full HD at 30fps or 72op at 60fps. MiniWing expects the price to be competitive with the DJI Phantom 3 Standard when it arrives in the coming months.
The Onagofly is controlled with an iOS or Android device and is primarily designed to snap aerial selfies or record 1080p full-HD video while it follows you around in the air. It can currently be ordered through Indiegogo for $200 (approximately £135 or AU$275), and the drone's developers are guaranteeing March 2016 delivery to its backers.
Many racing drones are custom built, but I was still surprised to see only a couple ready-to-fly (RTF) racers at CES. The Furious 320 was one, a 320-size model with brushless motors and a modular design for easy repairs. Flight times average 8-10 minutes and it can be purchased with or without GPS.
Wingsland has a Phantom clone called the Minivet, which wouldn't standout from the rest if it weren't bright orange. The K3, on the other hand, has a unique design made from aluminum alloy and carbon fiber composite. The controller has built-in GPS so the drone can follow you and has controls for the 4K camera and 3-axis gimbal. And it will have an obstacle avoidance module available for it. It should be priced under $1,000, but the company was at CES 2016 looking for distribution, so you'll have to keep an eye out for it later this year if you're interested.
There were a few drones I saw at other places around CES and AirDog was one of them. The follow-me quadcopter for action sports made a big splash at CES 2015, but only recently started shipping to its crowdfunding backers. CEO and Co-founder Edgars Rozentals said although it looks the same and the core product is the same, everything about it is better than what they had originally planned. What I saw looked great, but at $1,600 (around AU$2,300 or £1,100) without a GoPro camera and a three-month wait for delivery, it really should.
The drone that keeps getting better and better. 3DR wasn't at the show specifically, but the company did announce some new Smart Shot functionality: Multipoint cable cam and Follow with Freelook. You can read more about them on 3DR's site.