Drones aren't a big enough market yet to support a huge industry for hardware peripherals and third-party apps. But it's growing by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by the wealth of drone announcements at CES this year. 3D Robotics, the maker of the Solo drone, didn't have any big news at the show, but it quietly showed off a number of new accessories and software features that make its flagship unit a lot more impressive.
The most visually exciting addition is a reusable parachute that activates when it senses the Solo losing altitude at an unsafe speed. It adds about 250 grams of weight, meaning you'll lose two to three minutes of battery life, but that's a fair trade-off for something that could save you from wrecking your drone completely.
The coolest new tool is a Kodak camera that allows you to capture 360-degree videos. The attachment places a circular camera lens on the top and bottom of the drone. Its software automatically edits out the body of the drone and stitches the two images together. This final footage looks amazing inside of a VR headset, where you can cast your gaze around as you fly through the air. Both the camera and the parachute are being promised for sale in 2016.
On the software side, Solo already has the best autonomous flight capabilities among the consumer drones we've reviewed. At CES it announced the addition of a powerful new feature, multi-point cable cam. This allows you to sketch out complex shots with multiple camera moves and points of focus. 3D Robotics also added the ability to save these shots so you don't have to recreate them from scratch after you close the app. The company says its new software should roll out in a month or two.
The second new software feature is called Free Look. It uncouples the drone's positioning from the camera controls, so that you can set the Solo to follow someone, and use the controller to manipulate the camera and perfect the framing. You can also make minor adjustments to the Solo's positioning, tweaking the distance, height, or angle at which it's following the subject.
We'll have to spend some time with these new features before we can say definitively how well they work and how much they add to the overall package. But the promotional video makes a very compelling case that the Solo is now head and shoulders above any other consumer drone in terms of autonomous flight features that help you craft and capture beautiful shots.