GoPro unveils its new Karma quadcopter, though restrictions on drones loom large
GoPro Inc., known for its rugged camcorder for outdoor adventurers, has unveiled a compact drone designed to record people’s treks from above.
The Karma enters the burgeoning market for consumer drones as one of the first models to be more than a toy, but the quadcopter is coming out a time when several cities and businesses are restricting such aircraft from their skies.
Where it is allowed, the $799 Karma, carrying a separately sold GoPro, is sure to produce majestic images, with dramatic shots lending interest to even the dullest of objects. The foldable drone comes with a grip and backpack, both of which serve as mounts.
“It’s so much more than a drone — it’s Hollywood-caliber stabilization in a backpack you can wear during any activity,” Chief Executive Nick Woodman said Monday during a media event inside an opaque tent assembled on the Squaw Valley Ski Resort’s parking lot.
GoPro Inc., known for its rugged camcorder for outdoor adventurers, has unveiled a compact $799 drone. The foldable drone comes with a grip and backpack, both of which serve as camera mounts.
Financial analysts expect GoPro to sell about 100,000 drones this year and generate more than $50 million from the sales. That might be small for a company that generates $1.5 billion in annual revenue from its virtual monopoly of the action camera industry. But it could restore the company to profitability after bungled product rollouts over the last year, including an overpriced GoPro model that confused consumers and a delay in the Karma launch.
“As long as it costs over $1,000 to buy one of these things, the market is going to be a niche,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst of Jackdaw Research. “But because they’ve also focused on ease of flying and other related features, it’s also a good fit for someone with no experience flying drones.”
A strong reception from critics and analysts could go a long way in repairing the company’s image with consumers and investors. The company’s shares had been down 70% since its July 2015 camera release.
Shares of GoPro rose about 2.3% Monday to $15.31.
The San Mateo company also announced the Hero5, the newest version of its signature line of cameras, and the smaller, cube-shaped Hero5 Session.
The Hero5, now waterproof without a separate case, includes GPS and a well-performing voice control feature. The Session now comes with the ability to shoot video in 4K resolution.
Both will work with GoPro Plus, a $5-a-month subscription service launching Oct. 2 for storing videos online, layering in licensed soundtracks and editing the production across several devices. Updates will be coming to GoPro’s suite of editing software too, in an attempt to address long-standing concerns about the cumbersome process of offloading files from the camera. Plug in the new GoPro for charging and it will automatically move files online.
“GoPro is finally easy,” Woodman said.
But it is the drone package, which Woodman first teased almost a year and half ago, that is sure to draw the most interest. Along with virtual headsets, drones are expected to be some of the hottest gifts during the upcoming holiday season. The Karma hits store shelves Oct. 23, and the new camcorders arrive Oct. 2.
Drone start-up Yuneec recently released the $500 Breeze, with an integrated camera and companion smartphone app that enables amateurs with zero flying experience to get aerial shots. It’s capable of automatically orbiting an object or following a person as he or she move about. Rival DJI is set to release a similar product this month.
The new drones are generally smaller and easier to fly than a flood of cheap drones that have hit the market the last two years.
GoPro’s Karma works in tandem with a controller that has two joysticks, a few buttons and a touch screen. It’s easy for amateurs to pick up and fly, with several pre-set routes to take neat selfies and videos with gradual reveals of landscapes.
Unlike the Breeze, Karma can’t automatically follow a subject around. But a passenger mode enables one person to shoot photos and video using a smartphone while another person flies the drone using the controller.
The battery lasts about 18 minutes, in line with competitors. The drone itself had no problems managing Squaw Valley’s gusty conditions.
As the first drone from a well-recognized brand with large, loyal following, it’s likely to find an audience.
“Most drones are recreational and fun,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said before the event. “This is the first time you’re going to do something other than race the drone or play with it. It takes it beyond a toy.”
On Monday, he praised the Karma’s price, including a $100 discount for buying it with one of the Hero5 models. But he expressed disappointment that the company didn’t include the capability at launch for Karma to pair with a tracking device.
People in the drone industry say a product like the Karma just reinforces that the gadgets are becoming a part of everyday life, seen at the beach, on mountains and even weddings.
But drone accidents have resulted in a few highly publicized injuries, including two years ago when a quadcopter plowed into the head of triathlete Raija Ogden, who hasn’t competed since.
“When I watch my husband racing triathlons and see a drone hovering over the swimmers, I tend to get slightly anxious,” Ogden said by email.
There are concerns that as more people fly drones and take them to more daring situations, injuries will mount. Already, some cities, parks and resorts, including Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, have banned drone use without special approval. Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would test a drone-disabling technology near certain airports.
In addition to safety concerns, worries include potential invasion of privacy and noise.
“In the current media age of live ‘snapping and sharing,’ we are more aware than ever of the constantly changing landscape of content capture and creation,” Mammoth Mountain spokeswoman Lauren Burke said in a statement. “That being said, providing our guests with a safe experience on the mountain is our No. 1 priority.”
For Karma demos atop Squaw Valley’s dirt slopes Monday, fliers were directed to specific airspace over a valley, away from people and gondolas.
Ogden suggested event organizers get participants’ written consent before allowing drones to hover overhead.
“Personally, I don’t know if I would ever sign such a consent,” she said.
Brian Blau, a technology analyst at Gartner, predicted that as time passes, safe uses of drones will expand.
“I’m certain that over time drone technology and airspace management will advance to a point that will allow for fun and safe personal drone operation in many cases where they can’t today,” he said.
2:20 p.m.: This post has been updated with comments from analyst Jan Dawson and details about the drone’s operation.
11:10 a.m.: This article has been updated with comments from analysts Michael Pachter and Brian Blau and additional information.
This article was originally published at 10:15 a.m.
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