Many drones present themselves as delicate, expensive sports cars of the sky. In response, drone manufacturer DJI has announced a (surprisingly tiny) working-class drone for the rest of us.
It’s called the Spark; it ships in mid-June but is available for pre-order now for $499. This price stands in stark contrast to competing entry-level drones — even those from DJI’s existing lineup. Consider the company’s latest Phantom 4 drone, which retails for $1,500. The Spark is not only one-third of that price, but is a significantly smaller, lower-impact device.
Drone manufacturers face a unique customer conversion problem. Their products, like virtual reality headsets, are opt-in and expensive. Many may be interested in drones but only a fraction of that population will ultimately pony up the cash to get flying. The Spark seeks to get the more casual crowd flying a drone of their own by significantly reducing the price of admission. It will appeal to the casual crowd not wanting to haul heavy drone gear and paying a premium for the privilege.
Despite the discount, there’s no shortage of cool tech tricks at work here. The Spark equipped to take pictures by watching for your specific hand gesture cue. “Controlling a camera drone with hand movements alone is a major step toward making aerial technology an intuitive part of everyone’s daily life, from work and adventure to moments with friends and family,” DJI Senior Product Manager Paul Pan said in a statement. The so-called Gesture Mode seeks to improve our selfies and group photos by positioning itself 10 feet away before taking a picture. It’s your new flying selfie stick, basically.
Gesture Mode is also intelligent enough to interpret hand signals that direct the Spark’s flight. With the wave of your Jedi master hand, your drone will fly up, down, forward, and backward in response to your motion. Jazz hands aren’t always going to be the most practical means for piloting your air vehicle, however. The Spark is also steerable via smartphone app up to 300 feet away, or via analog remote up to 1.2 miles away. For this gain in operational distance, analog remote users sacrifice the live 720p video feed enjoyed by the smartphone pilots.
DJI’s drone-flying app also has extra flight presets, called QuickShots. These are pre-programmed flight patterns with names like Circle, Helix, Dronie, and Rocket, each one a cinematic flyby, zoom, or climb to make your photos and videos look better.
It’s a cute, small drone that comes in a variety of colors (Alpine White, Lava Red, Meadow Green, Sky Blue, and Sunrise Yellow) and has the added benefit of being comparably cheap. Will the Spark be the thing to make personal drone use mainstream?