There’s a new drone on the market that’s the size of a can of Coca-Cola and can be controlled using one’s hand’s gestures.
China-based DJI, the world’s biggest drone manufacturer, unveiled Wednesday its new Spark drone, a small flying quadcopter that weighs a little less than one pound and costs $500.
The Spark drone is DJI’s cheapest drone yet compared to the company’s other models like the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mavic Pro, which cost $1,500 and $1,000, respectively.
DJI director of strategic partnerships Michael Perry demonstrated at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal how the drone could be controlled using hand motions. After pressing the drone’s power button twice, the drone recognized him as its operator and gently lifted itself from the palm of his hand like a mini-helicopter.
By moving his hands left or right, the drone would move in either direction. When he stepped forward or moved back with his palm facing toward the front of the drone, the drone would it turn move away or inch closer to him. The act of waving one’s hands causes the drone to fly ten feet away. An on-board camera keeps the operator centered in its frame, in case the operator wants a selfie.
Perry showed how he was able to move around Grand Central Terminal so that the drone could take a picture of him with hanging chandeliers in the background. While he walked around, the drone remained still, hovering in the air, tracking his every move until he finally posed and it took his picture.
When he simultaneously waved both of his hands, the drone flew back to him, and when he laid his palm out to the robot, it lowered itself back to his hands.
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DJI is pitching the new drone as a family-friendly model that makes it easier for people to quickly use it to take pictures. Perry said that DJI surveyed prospective customers and discovered that many of them wanted drones, but didn’t know what to use them for besides flying.
Perry contrasted the Spark drone with larger and more powerful drones that professional or amateur filmmakers use to capture breathtaking videos that they wouldn’t be able to take without the help of a flying robot. Some of these videos include capturing the insides of an “active volcano,” he said.
But the Spark drone was designed for more low-key videos like taking selfies or family portraits without needing the help of someone to hold a phone and take a picture. Compared to its more expensive siblings, the Phantom 4 Pro and the Mavic Pro, the Spark drone is unable to capture 4K video, fly up to 30 minutes without needing a recharge, or fly a little over four miles away from the operator while still being controlled.
Instead, the Spark drone can capture HD video, fly 16 minutes in the air, and travel about 1.2 miles while still being controlled.
DJI is hoping that the lower price will attract people who don’t require the more powerful features of the more expensive models. Other drones that cost around $500 include the Parrot Bebop 2 drone and the UPair One Plus drone that includes a 4K camera. Those drones, however, do not have the same gesture-control features like DJI’s Spark drone.
DJI has been able to gain a large part of the drone market by undercutting its competition on price. For example, drone company 3D Robotics stopped selling its own drones and pivoted to selling drone software and services for businesses because it couldn’t compete, according to tech news site Recode.
To emphasize the drone’s family friendliness, DJI is also selling the drone in five different colors that sound like they were derived from an upscale furnishing store such as Pottery Barn: meadow green, alpine white, lava red, sunrise yellow, and sky blue.