Hexacopter and Drone technology is fast evolving and like the self driving car we now have a 6 motor Drone that can fly autonomously. It’s not surprising that we now have Drones that can fly themselves.
The Hexo+ is a six-rotored, semi-autonomous Hexacopter that locks onto and follows your iOS or Android phone. It’s designed for sports enthusiasts who want to be filmed from the air while they participate in biking, skiing, or other extreme sports. The Drone accepts simple commands from your phone; you can tell it how close to follow and when to swoop in or spin around you. It has about 15 minutes of flight time on a full charge, and can land on its own when the battery runs low. In the event of disaster, the landing struts and propeller blades are easy to replace in the field.
HEXO+ has a sleek design which is highly modular and easy to manage. Removing the legs makes it easy to transport and put into a backpack. The nose pops off easy to allow fast access to the battery, you can swap it out in less than 5 seconds. We’re a fan of the blue matte finish and the overall aerodynamic look and feel of the HEXO+.
When it comes to what’s under the hood we’ve got pretty standard fare, what really sets things apart is that the HEXO+ is autonomous and smart. A remote control is not necessary (though you can pair one if you want). The 3 axis gimbal which hangs on the belly of the beast is GoPro compatible. It’s not entirely unheard of for a brand-new Drone to come without a camera, but when you consider the $999 price tag, it would be nice. Having said that, anyone serious enough about filming their escapades with a Drone will already have a GoPro kicking around. Since the HEXO+ has been tested in a wind tunnel and can fly itself, we’re pleased they spent more on R&D over getting a camera right.
Hexo+ hardware details:
3-Axis Gimbal for state of the art image stabilization
Replaceable 5000 mAh 3S lithium-polymer battery
Universal charger adapter included
GPS antenna (compatible with GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS and SBAS)
WIDTH 17.1″ (435 mm) without propellers
LENGTH1 6.1″ (410 mm) without propellers
HEIGHT 9.6″ (244 mm), 4″ (103 mm) without feet
WEIGHT 1,5 kg including battery and gimbal
Maximum range of 300ft or 100M when using the follow movement.
Software – Autonomous Flying
The weakest link in any motorized vehicle–car, train, rocket, or Drone–is the human operator. So the Hexo+ from Squadrone System is among the first drones to pose the question, “Why not remove humans entirely and let the Drone fly itself?”
One might assume that a Drone that can fly itself would offer up quite a bit in terms of software interaction. But it doesn’t, there isn’t that much to the interface, you simply tell it which way to point the camera and how you want it to follow you.
The HEXO+ pairs with and locks onto the smarpthone which is the subject of the photos or film. Before taking off the Drone and smartphone both need to have secured a GPS signal and once that happens the Drone’s signals and internal processor take it from there.
All you need to do is select from a range of options that tell the camera to film straight on, to either side of the you, or directly behind you. After choosing the desired orientation, the application runs a quick diagnostic on the copter’s readiness to fly, and once the all-clear is given, a simple press of the take-off key finally initiates flight.
Directly from the application itself, pilots have the opportunity to tell the Drone exactly where and how it should fly. Considering the main goal of the Hexo+ is to record captivating video, the various movements grant precise control over capturing the perfect shot(s). Want to send the Drone around in a perfect, 360-degree circle? Simply choose either “360 — far away” or “360 — close” and the Hexo+ begins flying around the person holding the smartphone at the selected distance. The only issue I had with this was I didn’t predict the 360 flight circle and I almost put the HEXO+ into a tree, there is nothing to do but shut it down when something is about to go wrong. You are essentially powerless to control it since the whole point is that it fly’s itself.
Regardless of which aerial maneuver you choose, the Hexo+’s attached GoPro maintains a steady shot on the pilot controlling the application. Even if the wind decides to pick up a bit (like it was during the demo), the Drone’s 3-axis gimbal actively works to stabilize the image throughout the entirety of a flight.
The HEXO+ also comes with fail-safe programming peculiarities and with six propellers you’ll want to ensure a safe arrival if there are any issues. If you see something going on and want to stop HEXO+ immediately, you only need to hold down anywhere on the screen to initiate a shut down.
On initial start up you’ll need to make sure that you’re connected to WiFi because you’ll need to update the fimware and speaking of updates HEXO+ promises quarterly functional upgrades. And trust me, you’re going to be glad they are promising continued support. The step I described above, where your phone secures a GPS signal, needs work. I often had to wait 10-15 minutes for a signal to lock, at one point I thought I wouldn’t be able to shoot the review and would have to do some research for areas of the city which boasted particularly strong GPS availability and to see which smartphones offered the most reliable connection. Visiting the HEXO+ forums to see which Android handsets have the best success if something that you should do. We used the Huawei Mate 8 which wasn’t stable and the Samsung Galaxsy S6 Edge+ which I also didn’t have the best experience with. According to the forums iPhone’s tend to be the most reliable, which isn’t really a surprise, but if you keep reading through the pages, even they aren’t free of issues.
You’ll also want to check to see if your smartphone comes with a barometer so the HEXO+ can calculate altitude accurately enough to offer terrain following capabilities. Most modern smartphones will offer this feature, but if you’re planning on taking the HEXO+ on challenging terrain I’d want to provide it with every opportunity to succeed. My GPS issues were irritating, I can only imaging running into something similar with altitude in a remote area. Pair this with the fact that the HEXO+ doesn’t come with object avoidance and I’d be ensuring I didn’t somehow get stuck with a smartphone missing that features.
The HEXO+ will give you 10-15 minutes depending on what it’s doing, if the wind conditions are particularly bad and you’re moving quickly you might even see a little less. The battery takes about an hour to charge and since it only comes with one, you’re going to need to either made sure that you’ve got somewhere to charge close by or you are able to get your shot in a take or two.
When I started out with this review I thought to myself, if you’re not into extreme sports what would a normal person do with a Drone that can follow you around? The answers are pretty hilarious, if you haven’t watched my video review you should, stalking people on Tinder has to be my favorite. Having said that, if you’re into extreme sports, this is the Drone for you. You don’t need to rely on a friend (or professional) photographer or pilot to get your shots. HEXO+ is simple and easy to use with enough built in features to keep anyone happy. Add in the fact that you’ve got quarterly updates and who knows what else you might get.
The down side is 15 minutes of fly time (which is pretty average for a Drone capable of these speeds and wind stabilization). However, no obstacle avoidance when there is so much intelligence packed in seems counter intuitive.