GoPro’s Karma drone is finally about to be unveiled


posted Sunday, September 4, 2016 at 5:59 AM EST


It's been two years since we first told you about action camera giant GoPro's plan to create its first unmanned aerial vehicle, a move which would put it in competition with drone heavyweight DJI. Now, the company has finally set a date on which that device -- subsequently named the GoPro Karma drone -- will see its official launch.

In a brief (and frankly, rather misleading) video shared on its website and social media accounts, GoPro shows an impressively smooth pan across the front of a Volkswagen Bus (revealing it to be a tiny model) before an actual VW Bus drives right over the top of the camera's viewpoint. The video then cuts to black, before text appears stating simply: "Karma. Watch it 9.19.16 at"

GoPro's teaser video for the upcoming Karma drone.

The implication, obviously, is that the video was shot using DJI's new drone, and a cursory glance at the video's comments on YouTube suggests many who've seen the clip believe that to be the case. As long-time drone users ourselves, though, we find it very unlikely that the footage -- while labeled as being shot on the GoPro Hero4 -- was captured from any aerial platform, let alone the Karma drone. It seems far, far more likely that the video was actually shot from a ground-based platform rather than an aerial one.

After all, the VW Bus is clearly moving fairly fast in the clip, and its passing would be creating a huge wake followed by very turbulent air around and beneath the vehicle. Unless GoPro has been able to bypass the rules of physics, the chances of an aerial vehicle being able to stay aloft -- let alone utterly motionless -- in the wake of so much dirty air are essentially nil. Nor is it easy to fly a drone in a small, enclosed space in the first place, even if there's no moving van to contend with. If you get close to ceilings or walls, multicopters face issues with air flow which tend to suck them straight into a collision with the nearest available surface.

Footage shot with a developmental prototype of the Karma drone, and not subsequently stabilized in post-processing. Note that this footage is now a year old, and may not accurately reflect the Karma drone's current capabilities.

We should note here that it's not the Karma drone we're concerned about here, just the honesty of the clip. We're not aware of any aerial camera platform which could hope to keep flying in such a scenario. And even the best stabilization systems can't provide a rock-solid view if the platform to which they're attached suddenly makes a radical motion or just plain crashes, as would be likely in this scenario. We wouldn't expect the Karma drone to be able to fly in such conditions either, let alone film them.

But be that as it may, we're clearly supposed to infer from the video that the GoPro Karma will be both very small (since a vehicle can supposedly drive right over it) and also extremely stable (as we're supposed to believe it able to fly smoothly at such a low altitude). And, of course, that it will offer attractive, stable video, although the previous footage released a year ago already gave us cause for optimism on that front. And there, at least, it was clearly stated that this was footage from the actual drone, and not simply a teaser shot on totally different gear.

Will the Karma Drone's size and stability -- plus whatever unannounced features it offers - be enough to turn the tables on DJI, though, a question which is especially pressing as GoPro sees the bottom falling out of its current business? The answer to that will depend very strongly upon what GoPro has to show when the Karma launches on September 19th. Watch this space for more on this story soon!

(via The Verge)