GoPro’s recall of their Karma drone, coupled with the fact that Karma doesn’t have sense and avoid capabilities or follow me autonomous flying, has prompted some analysts to question if GoPro should be in the drone business. The simple fact is this: Building drones makes perfect sense for GoPro because UAVs are just another platform for shooting action videos and photos. GoPro didn’t make a mistake by developing drones; their mistake was entering the wrong market.
Therein lies the problem: Karma is a knife in a gunfight. The gunfight is the highly competitive, feature-rich prosumer drone space where competitive UAVs already have object avoidance and follow me features. This is not a place to introduce your first drone; the market is littered with failed or failing UAV companies.
The sweet spot for GoPro’s first UAV is the selfie or pocket drone market. This is the space between the prosumer and the toy drone market. UAVs in this market capture the same 4K video and 13 MB photos as prosumer drones but they are typically much smaller, weigh less than 250 grams (no FAA registration required), have about half the flight time, and sell for around $500.
The Hover Camera Passport from Zero Zero Robotics, Yuneec’s Breeze, Dobby from Zerotech and the Cleo drone are good examples of what GoPro should have developed. The Passport has face and body tracking, shoots 4K video and 13 MB photos, is totally enclosed for handheld takeoff and landing, and can fly autonomous orbit, rotation, and follow me missions. When folded, it is slightly smaller than an iPad mini.
Sourced from Hover
Although Yuneec’s Breeze doesn’t have face tracking, it does have follow me autonomous flying technology and 4K video and 13 MB photo capture capabilities. It also flies faster and higher, and at a retail price of $399, is $200 less than Passport. In essence, these UAVs are aerial selfie sticks that are stable flying indoors or outdoors, have many prosumer features, and are portable enough to fit into many computer bags.
Sourced from Yuneec
The selfie drone market is heating up fast. Zerotech debuted its DOBBY Pocket Drone at CES 2017 several weeks ago. It has standard 4K video, 13MP images, target tracking, and is one of the first UAVs to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
The Dobby Pocket Drone is one of the first UAVs to use the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. (Source: DOBBY)
Cleo is a prototype built by a Canadian company hoping to get funding from a Kickstarter campaign scheduled to start in March. It has a camera resolution of 13MP, shoots 1080p video, and weighs less than 3 ounces. It’s unclear if they will be able to raise enough money to bring Cleo to market but it does indicate the industry is trending toward smaller and lighter drones.
Cleo is a prototype. (Source: Cleo Robotics Inc.)
It is difficult to emphasize the significance of drone size and weight. GoPro has pitched Karma as part of their ecosystem, but if it really were an accessory, it wouldn’t require a separate carrying bag. Portability is a critical element when it comes to logging flight time and building content. Users are more likely to fly their UAV if it is accessed from the same camera or computer bag that they use daily.
Sourced from GoPro
Comments from GoPro at CES 2017 seem to indicate that they have fixed Karma’s electrical problems and will resume shipping in February. Once this has been accomplished and production has stabilized, GoPro should circle back and develop a pocket or selfie version of Karma.
Small, less expensive drones with prosumer cameras will generate far more content than more expensive UAVs. This plays into GoPro’s strength, which is providing mobile and desktop solutions for editing, enhancing, and storing user submitted videos and photos. GoPro’s brand and distribution network, coupled with their extensive editing tools, will enable the company to more easily gain traction in this market.
Timing is critical. DJI, the dominant drone manufacturer, has demonstrated they are more than willing to cannibalize their own product line if it helps maintain market share. It’s hard to believe they too don’t see the potential of the selfie market. GoPro’s user base may sustain Karma sales in the short term, but if they are going to achieve long-term success, they will need to be a major player in the pocket drone industry.