Folding design. Tracks and follows your movements from the air. GoPro Hero5 integration. 3-axis gimbal stabilization. Automated scenic shot modes. App supports mission planning.
Expensive. Lacks obstacle avoidance. No manual flight capability. Use of GoPro limits tight shots.
- Bottom Line
The AirDog II is an autonomous drone designed for extreme sports and outdoor fanatics. It's more expensive than competing models, but it flies itself.
We saw the first version of the AirDog a couple of years ago at CES. At the time, its folding design made it stand out in a crowded quadcopter market segment, as did its promise of completely automated flight and subject tracking. But its design limited where you could use it—without obstacle avoidance crowded landscapes littered with tall trees were out of the question. The new AirDog II ($1,500) adds a mission planning option, so you can ensure the drone doesn't stray from a safe path, and also has some automated scenic shot options. You still can't fly it manually, and despite the high price you'll have to add a GoPro, making it a pricey and specialized prospect.
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The AirDog II is about the same size as the GoPro Karma, with a similar folding design and fairly low profile thanks to a nose-mounted three-axis gimbal. When open it's about 20.3 inches by 13.8 inches (WD), and folded it measures 8.5 by 14.9 inches. The drone weighs 4.4 pounds without a camera mounted. Like the Karma, the AD II uses a GoPro Hero5 as its camera. It doesn't ship with one, you'll need to supply your own.
The aircraft itself is white, with purple arms that fold in for transport and out for operation. It doesn't stand apart from the crowd as much as the first AirDog, which is yellow and purple, but certainly differentiates itself from more conservatively designed drones.
You don't get a traditional remote with the AirDog. Instead there's a wrist-watch style AirLeash, which has its own GPS to track your location and a few controls to tell the drone to perform certain actions—takeoff, landing, start following, and stop following, for example.
The drone is designed with extreme sports in mind. Its autonomous operation and follow capabilities are meant to follow you while you're out doing things like surfing, skateboarding, and biking. It's one of the few quadcopters on the market with a weather-resistant design. It can fly at up to 45mph and operate in winds as high as 34mph.
Battery life is dependent on how fast you're moving on the ground. If the AirDog is following you at a lower speed you can expect it to keep track of your movements for up to 20 minutes. But if you're tracking faster action, you may only get 10 minutes of aerial footage before it has to land. That's a big disappointment when compared with other drones in this price range, like the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, which netted 25 minutes of flight time in our tests.
Features and Functionality
Like its predecessor, the AirDog II is built to follow you around, grabbing epic aerial views of your outdoor activities. You've got 11 modes to choose from, each tuned for a different activity. They include Backcountry, Behind a Boat, Downhill Skiing, Kiteboard, Race Track, Skate Park, Snow Park, Surf/Sup, Trail, Wake Cable, and Windsurf.
There are some physical improvements over the first model, of course. The gimbal is now a three-axis design, so video is steadier, and it works with the latest GoPro Hero5 Black action camera. That'll net footage that's a bit more stable when compared with the AirDog's 2-axis gimbal system.
The new version is also a little smarter. It incorporates elevation data from Google Maps, so it shouldn't crash into the side of a mountain. And if you're flying in an area with trees and other obstacles surrounding a path, you can program a set path for the aircraft to follow from the app, using satellite imagery to guide you. You'll have to know where you're riding ahead of time, of course, and spend time planning a mission for the drone, but it lets you take the AirDog II places where the original simply couldn't go safely.
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You also get some built-in shots to capture scenery. On takeoff, the AirDog II can be set to pull back for a wide shot of your location and sweep in a direction to grab a panoramic view, before locking on to track you.
Despite not having its own integrated camera, the AirDog II does promise pretty tight integration with a GoPro. The feature wasn't working when we received a demo of the aircraft, but by the time it launches in the fall you should be able to start and stop recording from the AirLeash. This is a feature the original AirDog lacked.
As was the case with the GoPro Karma, the use of a Hero5 Black has some pluses and some minuses. On the plus side, you can detach the camera and use it for terrestrial shots. But on the minus side, utilizing the full 4K resolution nets an ultra-wide field of view that's not ideal for aerial work, and it introduces some serious fish-eye distortion. You can get a more moderate angle that's better for showing details on the ground, but doing so drops resolution down to 2.7K.
The AirDog II is designed as a pure Follow Me drone. If that's what you're after, and you're not scared of the price point, it could be appealing, and you can nab it on Kickstarter at a discounted price. But you always take a risk when buying a product in funding stage. With an established company like AirDog, you'll probably end up getting the drone you pay for, but we've seen other hardware projects receive full funding and never ship.
At $1,500, the AirDog II seems like a tough sell. I've seen it in action once and it worked as advertised, staying on a preset course so it avoided trees and other potential danger points. But you can get a DJI Phantom 4 for less money, with an integrated camera that's better suited for aerial work than a GoPro, forward obstacle avoidance, and a follow function that uses subject recognition to track your movements. There's also the Mavic Pro, which puts similar capabilities into an extremely portable package.
Now, AirDog's founder is quick to point out that tracking with machine vision isn't ideal. DJI's Active Track requires a good deal of contrast to keep locked on to a subject, and can lose its lock. But it works pretty well. My main concern, overall, is that as lovely an idea of a drone that you don't have to fly is, there are still some inherent dangers here. If you mess up on planning a route, the drone could crash into something. And since you're going to be concentrating on whatever activity you're doing, you may not be able to pause its flight to prevent an accident.
For open areas, away form other people, letting a drone track you is a modest risk. You're more likely to hurt yourself when mountain biking in open terrain than the AirDog II is to fly into something. But for anything else, you should have a pilot at the controls, ready to take command and abort an automated maneuver if danger is imminent. I would have liked to see some sort of obstacle detection system integrated into the AirDog II as an additional safeguard.
The AirDog II launches on Kickstarter today with an early bird price of $1,199 and promised delivery in October to the first 500 backers. After the initial run of products are gone, the price jumps to $1,299 and delivery slips to November. Once the Kickstarter campaign ends, you'll need to pay $1,500 at retail to own an AirDog II. We'll follow up with a formal review when the AirDog II goes on retail sale.
By Jim Fisher Senior Analyst, Digital Cameras
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H Photo, where he wrote thousands upon thousands of product descriptions, blog posts, and reviews. Since then he's shot with hundreds of camera models, ranging from pocket point-and-shoots to medium format… More »
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