What Are Follow-Me Drones and How Does Follow-Me Technology Work?
Unless you’re racing one through an abandoned factory, controlling a drone is not hard.
Still, you do need to keep looking at your phone or controller and use at least one hand. This isn’t ideal if you want to do something else at the same time: narrate a video, climb a mountain trail, or juggle running chainsaws.
This is where follow-me technology comes in. Instead of having to steer the drone by controlling every single movement, you simply set it to chase you around like a friendly dog who thinks you have a pork chop in your pocket.
How Does Follow-Me Technology Work?
Unlike a faithful hound, drones can’t smell or even “see” in the way we do. Their senses are all electronic, so they have to use one of these follow-me technologies:
- Object recognition
- Radio-frequency controller tether
- GPS or GLONASS (GLONASS stands for “Russian GPS”)
Note that these capabilities are built right into the drones that have them – if your model doesn’t have follow-me technology, you can’t make it work that way by bolting on a few extra components. When looking for a new drone, don’t forget to look for extra capabilities you (or the few friends you trust enough to operate your buzzing baby) may want someday.
How Different Follow-Me Technologies Work
As you would expect, each of these methods have advantages and disadvantages, particularly in terms of how much each costs and how well it works.
Most drones’ primary sensor is the onboard camera. With some fancy programming, some of them can also learn to recognize and pursue a designated object: you, perhaps, a radio-controlled car, or an animal.
This follow-me technology has only been on the market since 2016 (thanks, DJI), but works surprisingly well. You may however run into trouble when visibility is low: when it’s too dark, in fog, or when obstacles like trees get in the way of the drone’s sightline.
This is perhaps the simplest way to get a drone to keep its camera on you (or another object) and stay close. Some drones are capable of triangulating the radio signal from the controller, whether this is Bluetooth, wi-fi, or some manufacturer-specific protocol.
Aside from having to keep the controller with you or whatever object you hope to film, there are two main problems with this method. Firstly, it’s difficult for a drone to estimate the distance between it and the controller, so orbiting shots may look a little wonky. Secondly, Bluetooth in particular is notoriously unreliable: if an obstacle gets between you and your drone, it may just wander off until the controller gets back into range.
Following the controller by going towards its location as determined by satellite is another method. This does away with the problem of the drone losing touch with either the visual image of the subject or an electronic signal. On the downside, GPS isn’t accurate enough to keep you centered in the frame, nor is it fast enough for action shots.
How Follow-Me Drones Work in Practice
Most drones with follow-me technology (at least, those worth having) use a combination of the above technologies. The strengths of one often cancel out the weaknesses of another. In addition, it’s a very good idea to invest in a model with some kind of obstacle detection and avoidance system (or alternatively, plenty of extra propellers and other spares).
More expensive drones can even auto-navigate around barriers and get you back in frame as quickly as possible. The type of drone you have also affects what kinds of shots you can get. You may be limited to having the drone tag along behind you showing only your back, orbit in a circle to show your surroundings, film in a constant direction if you want a particular background, and usually adjust altitude and orientation on the fly.
Whichever you choose, don’t expect its follow-me function to work like magic the first time you take it on a hike. Take it to an open area, try it out, and review the footage you get. Each drone has its own little quirks, and the best way of learning about them is to experiment a little.
Best Follow Me Drones
Some drone manufacturers have made follow-me mode a standard feature of their drones. However, only a few work best with this technology. Below are the four best follow-me drones you can get.
DJI Mini 3 Pro
At only 2.4 by 3.5 by 5.7 inches, the DJI mini 3 Pro is smaller than the other drones on this list; however, it’s as capable as they are. DJI developed this drone to be light and portable while upgrading its camera and adding front-facing sensors to navigate through obstacles. This drone is small but powerful.
This model is ideal for you if you are looking for a drone that weighs less than 250 grams, but is still able to take shots of a high quality, and can offer you all of the cool features that are found on larger and more expensive drones. If this defines what you are looking for, then this model is exactly what you need.
Why You Should Get the DJI Mini 3 Pro
The DJI Mini Pro offers the following features:
- 48-megapixel camera capable of shooting 4k resolution video at 60fps. The camera can tilt to record 9:16 footage making the drone suitable for shooting social media content.
- Weighs Less Than 250g At Take Off
- A battery that can last for 34 minutes between charges.
- Excellent obstacle avoidance
- A high-resolution camera that shoots 4K
- Lightweight and portable
- Vertically- tilting camera with photo and video support
- Its light weight makes it sometimes unstable in strong winds
- The extended battery pack is a paid addon
- Only 1GB of internal storage
DJI Air 2S
The DJI Air 2S weighs a little less than 600grams. It’s an upgrade compared to the DJI Mini 3 Pro since it has a better camera and improved obstacle sensors. It is, however, a tiny bit more expensive than the Mini.
Why Should You Buy the DJI Air 2S?
If you buy a DJI Air 2S, you’ll enjoy the following features:
- A 1-inch CMOS sensor that can shoot 5.4K video at 30fps and 4K at 60fps, making the drone ideal for photography.
- A signature feature known as “Mastershot” enables it to get the best shot at any given point.
- Active track and Spotlight feature, allowing the drone to follow the desired object easily.
The drone also has a larger internal storage capacity than the DJI Mini 3 Pro at 8GB, with the option of additional storage through an SD card. You can buy the base model at $1000 or the detailed fly more combo for $1300. The detailed Fly More Combo comes with additional batteries, neutral density filters, and a case.
Common benefits of using the DJI Air 2S are as follows:
- Takes videos at 5.4K resolution
- The drone has an AirSense transponder
- Excellent collision prevention and avoidance features
- Improved camera sensor
- 7.5 miles maximum video transition and can follow objects easily
Some of the drawbacks of buying the DJ Air 2S include:
- There are few image filters and application-based editing options.
DJI Mavic 3
The Mavic 3 is an expensive drone, but it is well worth the price.
DJI Mavic 3 comes in three versions, the Mavic 3, the Mavic 3 fly more, and the Mavic 3 Cine equipped with the Hasselblad sensor. The Mavic 3 has a takeoff weight of 895 grams, while the Mavic 3 Cine weighs 899 grams. The Mavic 3 is the solution if you are looking to take shots of the highest possible quality.
Why buy The DJI Mavic 3?
Buying a DJI Mavic 3 gives you the following features:
- A new dual-lens camera capable of recording 5.4K videos
- Lens capable of 14x optical and 28x digital zoom and taking 4K videos at 120fps.
- Collision avoidance sensors
- 1TB of internal storage for the DJI Cine Premium
The base model starts at $2050, which includes the drone, a battery, remote control, extra propellors, and a protective case. The Fly More Combo sells at $2999 and adds two more batteries, some filters, and a multi-charger.
The advantages of DJI Mavic 3 include:
- Dual lens Hasselblad sensor camera
- Different zoom modes
- 20MP raw stills, 4K and 5K video capture
- Improved flight times
- Excellent collision avoidance capabilities
- A premium, sturdy built
The disadvantages of using DJI Mavic are as follows:
- The drone is expensive even for the base model
- Battery life is average for the price
Holy Stone HS720
The Holy Stone HS720 is with a weight of 500g still a compact drone. It has a maximum range of 999 meters and has 2800 milliamp hours, good enough for twenty-five minutes of flight time. This drone is cheaper than the others in the list, but still very impressive.
Why Buy the Holy Stone HS720?
Anyone who buys the Holy Stone HS720 will enjoy the following features:
- Ease of operation due to its well-designed remote control with an LED display and programmable joystick functions.
- A 2K camera with image stabilization and a 100-degree wide-angle mode. The camera can rotate up to 90 degrees enabling users to take their shots from different angles.
- Ability to capture shots up to 70 kilometers with high-definition footage per hour.
- It comes with various flight modes, rivaling the DJI Mini 3 Pro.
Some of the benefits of the Holy Stone HS720 include:
- It’s affordable compared to the other drones on the list
- Has different flight modes
- Can do decent shots and videos
- Compact and sturdy design
- Simple to operate
- Well-designed remote control
Some of the drawbacks of the Holy Stone HS720 include:
- The camera quality is not as good as that of the other drones
- Lacks obstacle sensors
- Shorter flight time compared to the DJI models
The drones featured in this post guarantee the best experience to their users. With the information provided, you’re best suited to choose one that fits your needs and budget!