I still think people — myself included — look a little ridiculous on our smartphones, staring down vacantly at the truly phenomenal feats of evolutionary engineering that are our thumbs, which we now send twiddling for hours every day across a slip of glass and light. And so once I discovered consumer drone technology, one thing really struck me: Drones make us look back up. They yank us out of our screenshock and put us back into the real world in a remarkable way. Flight. Ah yes, we remember, we live in a world with a sky. We live in a world with up.
But as we enter this new aerial age, I’m surprised to find that now I’m actually looking up less frequently. Yes, drones are flying robots; they’re powerful and cool and strange in the best possible ways — almost magical, it sometimes seems to me. But as we worked on Solo over the past year, I began to understand that this technology isn’t really about looking up at all. More and more I began to see that the truly magical things are happening because now we can look back down.
What do I mean by that? Solo’s smart technology makes it so easy to fly (its dual 1 GHz computer power means it can even fly itself with superhuman precision) that we don’t have to worry so much about the behavior of the copter in the air and can instead focus more and more on what that copter is actually up there to do for us: Get great shots. In other words, we now have the luxury of looking back down at the screen in our hands and really taking in what it’s like to see the world from above.
In turn this means that our primary interaction with drones is no longer with the copter, but with the controller and especially with the screen — with the app. That’s why we’ve put so much work into making the Solo app easy, highly functional and fun to use. It’s the best mobile drone experience out there, hands-down. Here’s why.
About the Solo app
Our mobile development team has focused its efforts on providing a user experience never before seen with a drone. The 3DR Solo app gives you access to live HD video from Solo along with fingertip control of many of Solo’s functions, including pushbutton flight commands and Smart Shots — Solo’s groundbreaking one-touch, one-take cinematic shot creation technology. It’s out today in the App Store, and will be available on Google Play this weekend. For compatibility, please see the bottom of this post.
GoPro® and HD video: Perhaps first and foremost, the app is your interface for the live wireless HD video feed from Solo. But to help you get the exact video you want, you’ll also have exclusive access to GoPro camera control and the suite of GoPro camera settings right through the app. This means that with the Solo app you’ll be able to do things like start and stop recording, adjust frame rate and field of view and even shutter speed, all through one powerful and simple workflow while you’re in flight — something no other drone delivers. Further, you can record your HD video straight to your phone’s camera roll for instant sharing.
Live and satellite views: While you’re flying the app also allows you to choose between the live view from the camera or a satellite view (think Google maps) of your selected shot. You can even combine the two, swiping out for a 1/3-screen satellite view while watching your live feed. This satellite view can be helpful not only in planning your flights or tracking Solo’s path, but also in setting certain Smart Shots exactly where you want them — more on that below. The satellite maps are “cacheable,” too, so if you’re heading out to a remote location where wireless connections might be scarce, just open the app in advance and when you’re in the field the app will recall the exact map for you to use, even without a data connection.
Smart Shot control: You can use the Solo app to execute Smart Shots. Just press “play” on the app and Solo will automatically execute the Smart Shot that you’ve set up, controlling both flight and camerawork at speeds that you can customize and adjust. The app also gives you fine-grain control over the Smart Shots you set. For instance, say you want to set a Cable cam shot over a bend in a river. You can fly Solo up there and establish the start and end points of your cable by using the controller to fly, position and set the copter. But you can also make fine-grain adjustments of the virtual paths (in Cable cam or Orbit) with your fingertip, right on the screen. Want to make sure you’re exactly over that part of the river bend you have in your head, but can’t quite get a good sense of perspective from where you stand on the bank? Use the satellite view to adjust your cable to your geographical liking. When you’re all set, you can customize the speed and altitude of the shot, so you get the exact kind of movement you’re after. In Orbit mode, the app enables you to adjust the radius and height of your orbiting track with your fingertip. And you can even change the distance and the angle at which Solo is following you, in real time.
Wireless updates: As drone technology evolves, your Solo won’t get left behind — instead, it will continue to evolve and get better and better. 3DR will continually roll out new features and updates for Solo via the Solo app. What’s more, the Solo app can update Solo, the controller, the gimbal and the autopilot — all wirelessly! Gone are the days of updating your drone by plugging into it.
Advanced settings: Digging a little deeper, the app also lets users adjust flight parameters such as speed and flight behavior, customize flight modes and even change how the controller responds to your commands. Solo is a versatile and powerful drone, and these qualities are easily and immediately accessible to experienced or adventurous power users who want them, right through the app. But don’t worry — the app won’t overwhelm you with these things up front. Your Solo experience can be as simple or as complex as you make it.
Instant access to customer support: Again, we designed Solo to address the whole user experience, which includes support. We’re super proud of the fact that the Solo app gives you instant access to technical support. If Solo detects that something went awry in flight, the app will prompt you to submit a service ticket, allowing you to send the saved logs of your last flight wirelessly from the app straight to customer support. If we see that you experienced any loss or damage caused by system error, we’ll fix or replace Solo for free — plus the gimbal and GoPro, if they were installed.
So, while the app itself isn’t the incredible flight technology that makes Solo do the incredible things it does, it is how you experience that magic. What will you see, and what can you do, now that you can look back down?
iOS compatibility: Requires iOS 8.0 and up. Compatible with iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air, iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 2, iPad mini 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad Air 2, iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular, iPad mini 3, and iPad mini 3 Wi-Fi + Cellular. This app is optimized for iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus.
Android compatibility: Requires Android 4.3 and up. Nexus 5, 6, 7 & 9; Galaxy S3, S4, S5 & S6; Samsung Tab 4; LG G3+; HTC One M7+; Moto G & X