Apr 152015
 

LAS VEGAS—Drones are the new booth babes. That’s the only conclusion I can draw with after seeing how many exhibits at the National Association of Broadcasters’ conference here have been accessorized with camera-equipped quadcopters.

But at one of the larger and louder NAB Show exhibits, the drones aren’t decor. At this video-maker’s conference, 3D Robotics unveiled its new Solo drone, a $999 (and up) quadcopter with a new brain, backup autopilot, and Lego-like capacity for upgrades.

While many drones are better described as remote-controlled copters, the Solo is supposed to be smart enough to keep itself out of trouble. 3D Robotics says two 1 GHz Linux computers (one in the drone and one in the two-joystick controller) allow one-touch take-off and landing as well as a self-guided flight back once you press the controller’s home button.

The battery should allow for 20 minutes of flight, and the controller will nag you when it’s time to head home.

A separate autopilot keeps tabs on the flight so that if the Solo’s primary computer crashes, the drone won’t, and will instead return to its starting point. The controller also functions like an airliner’s black box, logging each flight’s parameters for later inspection or debugging.

3DR, founded by former Wired editor Chris Anderson, seems to have paid attention to the recent run of stories about drones behaving badly.

“We want to limit any of the possibilities of anything negative happening,” marketing vice president Oren Schauble said at 3DR’s booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center. “It always knows how to go home.”

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