The AirDog is another Kickstarter auto-follow drone “designed for sports enthusiasts, outdoor fans and indie moviemakers”. Unlike the similar HERO+ the AirDog doesn’t use a smartphone as the control interface for the drone to follow, but instead it uses an AirLeash. The system uses the Pixhawk autopilot system.
The AirLeash comes with a number of modes.
- Auto-follow – where the AirDog follows the user.
- Relative position follow – where the AirDog retains a set distance to the user while following.
- Follow track – where a route is recorded by flying the AirDog which can then be repeated in the smartphone app.
- Hover and Aim – where the AirDog hovers in one position while following the movement of the AirLeash.
- Circle – where the AirDog circles the AirLeash at a set distance and altitude.
- Look down – the AirDog will record action below it.
Although the AirDog can be controlled completely by the AirLeash the iOS and Android apps allow the distance, height, and angle to be controlled. It carries a GoPro camera in its protective plastic case within a 2-axis gyro-stabilized gimbal.
The system cost $1,295 with a 2-axis gimbal, although this appears to be a pre-order reduction from $1,495. An additional Airleash can be purchased for $295. The AirDog has a 10-20 minutes flight time depending on the speed it is flown at.
Both the AirDog and similar system, the Hexo+, have the ability to follow a person carrying a smartphone or other device, keeping them in frame for the whole time frame of a video would seen to have great potential for the recording of site tours, which could now be recorded automatically from different altitudes showing the whole or parts of an excavation. The audio could be recorded with a digital recording device attached to the tour guide, with the audio and video being combined in post production.
They would also have the potential to record fieldwalking and exploration looking for new sites in remote regions.
The BBC has already begun to used UAV systems in the recording of news items – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24712136 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/researchanddevelopment/2012/04/collab-soton-uav.shtml – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n3csw972
Not only is the AirDog impact resistant, it is designed to be flown through wind, waves, rain, sleet, and snow which should cater for the British weather which would limit the flight of other systems. It’s design also allows it to fold up and fit into a backpack, making it very portable.
The AirDog is specifically designed for autonomous flight so it does not come with an RC (Radio Control) Controller, it can however be switched to manual and an RC Controller bought separately can be used to control it like a standard UAV, although this obviously adds to the cost.
The recently released IRIS+ quadcopter has limited the usefulness of any small UAV with “follow-me” technology, as not only is it a system with an RC controller and an autopilot that can be used to photographically map areas, but the system also has “follow-me” technology which matches that of other systems. It closely matches the lowest price of the AirDog as well.
The limitations of the system would be closely linked to the limitations of the GoPro camera which it uses to record.
The AirDog project rejected the use of smartphones for a number of reasons:
- Problems with using smartphones in extreme conditions – this is unlikely to be a problem.
- The average smartphone has only a 5-10m GPS accuracy horizontally, which is worse horizontally.
- Smartphones generally only have a 30-50m range for Wi-fi and Bluetooth which could cause potential problems if the UAV lost its signal – this would be less of a problem with site tour recording.
The six propellers of the HEXO+ make it the more stable of the two systems and more capable of landing if one motor were to fail.