OMG a Drone!

I was inspired to do something stupid, so I purchased an Autel Robotics X-Star Premium “drone” quadcopter. It's pretty fancy, with being able to shoot 4K 30fps video from a stabilized 3-axis gimbal (so when the aircraft changes orientation in pitch, roll or yaw, the camera stays where you left it).

I did get the Orange color (rather than white). It seemed like it would be easier to see against the sky while flying, though that's not necessarily a good thing since we've many well-armed people living nearby. As it has a flight time of a bit over 20 minutes per battery, I did order an extra battery. I can see that maybe having one or two more might come in handy.

You fly the thing with a nifty remote control. Really, you direct it rather than fly it. The aircraft as a pretty sophisticated on-board “autopilot” with a GPS receiver, solid-state accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetic compass. Once flying, when you release all the inputs, it will just hover there in the air, fixed in position. Even with a pretty good wind blowing, it will maintain its position. You can turn all that cleverness off if you like, but I'm not anxious to try out the crashing part of the experience. It has one-button take-off and landing (back to the location it took off from!)

The video from this thing is really quite astonishing. It will take 1080P video at up to 120 frames per second. For higher resolution, you can take 2.7K video at 60 frames per second and 4K video at 30 frames per second. My old iMac can't even render 4K video smoothly without stuttering – that's 4 times the resolution of your 1080P HDTV.

You can also take 12 megapixel still frame images, too. Here's one as an example (and click through the thumbnail to see the full resolution)

This was taken on “full-auto” on a cloudy day; probably the white balance is off a bit. You can also shoot “raw” uncompressed images and do processing on them later. Pretty slick.

Not only can you record images and videos, but while flying, there is a “First Person Video” downlink from the aircraft that you can watch in the application you run on your phone or tablet that's connected to the remote control. This application is a “dashboard” where you can see real time video from the drone, and other data overlayed including altitude, speed, lat/long position, distance from the “home” point that you launched from, battery status, remaining flying time and other stuff.

The application also plots the track of the drone on a map. You can use this map to set waypoints and an autopilot function on the aircraft to fly a course through the waypoints, orbit a waypoint, or even to have it follow you (really, the remote control) if you're moving around on the ground.

Big fun!

I've put the raw videos from the first few flights on YouTube in a playlist here. There's also another video I made where I edited together parts of two videos to capture the entire first flight. Sadly, the old iMove '09 software and quicktime that I have on my iMac takes the wonderful 4K video and produces only a 720p lower-resolution version. But it has a musical sound track!

More drone stupidity to follow, I'm sure.