Drone show attendees flock to new $700 model

The Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo brought hobbyists and builders together

3D Robotics gave a sneak preview of a comparatively cheap consumer drone at an unmanned aircraft convention in San Francisco this week.

The company's new quadcopter, or four-rotor helicopter, can be controlled from a tablet running an Android flight system or other similar app. The as-yet-unnamed drone will cost about US$700 and is aimed at an audience of hobbyists, even wedding photographers, who could attach a camera to the front and get sweeping shots from the sky.

You can see an IDG News Service video of 3D Robotics engineers flying two drones here.

"I think the bigger market is people who just want to do stuff, regular people like you or I," said Brandon Basso, a research and development engineer at 3D Robotics.

Some people attending the conference were there to learn how to implement drones for search and rescue.

"I'm not saying that a person can be replaced in the cockpit yet, but you can fly some of these (drone) missions at about a tenth of the cost, and you can fly them in weather where a human pilot wouldn't be out," said Colin Loring, a volunteer search and rescue pilot from Greenville, S.C. He intends to buy a drone for his group within a few months.

Larger commercial-sized drones were displayed but not flown at the convention. Drone maker MLB brought its V-Bat UAV vertical take-off and landing drone, as well as the Super Bat, which is made of Kevlar and has cameras with target tracking and 20X zoom lenses. Prices for those drones start around $120,000.

A national drone convention is slated for Aug. 12-15 in Washington, D.C. The California event's organizers say it's possible that the D.C. meeting will have protestors demonstrating outside against military applications of drones.

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