According to The Wall Street Journal, GoPro is developing a line of quadrotor consumer drones that will carry HD cameras. To people that follow GoPro, this shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.
GoPro is good at making cameras that capture extreme sports and adventure activities. These cameras can be mounted on helmets, cars, bikes, snowboards, jackets, yachts, or virtually any accessory that can capture images and video for any adventure or sports activity. Many of GoPro’s products end up as wearable cameras as they are attached to the body in some way.
Simultaneously, consumer drone manufacturers have been embracing GoPro cameras. Aerial photography is one of the most popular use cases for consumer quadrotor drones. All the well-known consumer quadrotor drone makers including Parrot, DJI, and 3D Robotics offer integration of GoPro cameras with their drones. DJI, one of the largest consumer drone suppliers in the world, based in Shenzhen, China, offers its own camera-equipped drone. And for the DIY enthusiasts, there are YouTube videos on how to attach a GoPro to an existing drone.
So what does this all have to do with wearables? With GoPro making drones, it has the opportunity to enhance the integration of cameras with drones. GoPro can innovate on not just the physical integration of the camera but also on how the two function as a cohesive software and hardware unit.
But GoPro can go even further. Wearable cameras are meant to capture a First Person View (FPV), but attached to a drone this can be extended to a Third Person View (TPV). With its drone announcement, GoPro has an opportunity to set free the fixed FPV body wearable camera, and transform it into a TPV flying camera. Imagine a wearable strap transforming into a camera-equipped drone and flying off your wrist. One company called Nixie is already working on realizing this concept. I believe that could make Nixie a possible acquisition target for GoPro. Along similar lines, Kickstarter projects like Hexo+ and AirDog are working on autonomous drones that follow you and allow for some amazing video selfies from the air.
We are at the very initial stages of what is possible with drones and cameras. Drones will get cheaper, smaller, lighter, and more portable and they will see improvements in battery life. Camera technology is also getting miniaturized with ultra HD 4K imaging now possible from an affordable matchbox-sized camera like the GoPro Hero4. A few years back, this kind of technology was only available to large Hollywood studios and professional filmmakers.
In the early days, adventurers and extreme sports enthusiasts are likely to be the main users for camera drones. But as drone and camera technology gets miniaturized and possibly integrated into a wearable form factor, the possibilities are much broader. A wearable drone camera will make the technology highly accessible and usable, making it attractive to the general consumer.
Just as smartphones and Instagram revolutionized photography, GoPro and drones could have a profound effect on video filmmaking. Everyone could strap their own wearable drone cameras and take them to the beach, vacations, concerts, or simply on an evening stroll. Selfies could take on a whole new meaning, and we could all become professional filmmakers in the future, just like we pretend to be professional photographers today.
As mentioned in an earlier post, wearable cameras need a specific use case and context for them to become successful. In this case, the very definition of a wearable comes into question, with the camera detaching itself from the wearer and becoming free. At the heart of it, wearables are about understanding ourselves better. In order to enhance that understanding, how about transitioning wearables from being an “on-body” experience to becoming an “out-of-body” experience. If I were GoPro, that’s an opportunity I wouldn’t want to miss.