Flying Karma

Our friend Werner from SF Drone school has had a chance to fly the new Karma from GoPro. Here are his first impressions.

Perhaps the first review from folks that have a bit of stick rather than keyboard time.

All eyes now on tomorrows DJI Mavic launch.

Pros :

  1. Flies very stable
  2. Easy to fly slow as well as fast speed
  3. Camera start and stop easy to use
  4. Gimbal controller speed very nice (adjustable via software)
  5. Controller feels very nice an solid, very well build
  6. The “Screen daylight” very nice
  7. The controller is very simple and very clean (Bauhaus style)
  8. The gimbal is built like a Russian tank, very solid
  9. The folding is very easy and simple
  10. Takeoff and landing is possible manually or automatic
  11. There are a couple of auto functions like dronie, cable cam and three more, very easy to use if you know what they mean
  12. The battery is solid and easy to remove
  13. Motors look like standard 23×12 motors ( DJI and 3DR ). Easy to replace
  14. The magic camera stick very easy and simple and easy to use.
  15. Back pack is solid and should last a long time.
  16. GEO Fencing

Negatives :

  1. Size, it is big but not too big
  2. The whole Karma body is made out of plastic, looks a little a big better toy drone
  3. No sense and avoid (front)
  4. No auto hover sensor ( 3 to 6 feet )
  5. Folding arms loo a little cheap
  6. The landing gear can get stuck when flying backwards low over grass
  7. The controller software it is not clear how to go back within the menu settings, until you discover that you have to tab anywhere on the screen

After using it a couple of time you will get the hang of it. But the first times it is a little confusing

  1. There is only one start / stop button video or still.
  2. You will have to use the mode button to change between video and stills and when you switch back you will have to press the mode button twice to get back to video

This is like the function on your GoPro camera. That is confusing for no standard GoPro users.

  1. 10×4 or 10×4.5 self-locking CW and CCW propellers, you will have to purchase via GoPro as DJI, 3DR uses 9.5 x 4 propellers.
  2. Still the GoPro fish eye unless you buy a corrected GoPro (different model) can not remember the name.
  3. Return after dronie function, could hit operator due to operator movement or GPS tolerance (NO sense and avoid)
  4. Did not test other preprogrammed functions ( could be dangerous, due to GPS tolerance (no sense and avoid))

Conclusion :

While the Karma flew very well and it is very stable in the air it will always be a GPS flying UAV. Yes you can / might lose your GPS signal, the Karma will not fall out of the sky. It will not stop in the air and it will start to drift therefore you will have to be able to fly the aircraft manually. Even a 10 to 15 knots of wind did not affect the aircraft.

The folding or unfolding of the airframe is very easy and is done with easy simple forth and back. You can even leave the propellers on the airframe when storing it, a nice touch. As well as the gimbal with the install GoPro fits very well into the Backpack. I noticed that you can only store one flight battery within the case, the second is stored in the Karma, but there is more space to fit a third or even a fourth in the lid. Then again I do not believe that the back pack was a last revision, there is plenty of space. It would be nice to have a specific place for the flight batteries. The controller fits right on top of the battery charger simple and is easy to use and yes the battery and charger have a special plug and socket. The flight battery is simple and will show you the remaining charge via led’s like any smart battery. The battery does get hot (warm) when you push the Karma which is okay as they all do. The charging time is about 45 mins or so again within in line

It is worth mentioning that the controller only shows you the remaining flight time and not the voltage, as well as that a female voice tells and reminds you that your Battery is low. I do not believe you change it to a male voice…. But I might be wrong here. The controller is easy to use and really gave me only one challenge “ how to go back “ or how do I get back into the previous menu. Too simple for my mind, just tab somewhere on the screen were is nothing displayed.

The selfie drone function menu is easy to use and made sense. The Karma flies away from you to a set distance within the software and will automatically return. The return might be a little tricky when you move forward

while the drone move backwards as it wants to fly back to the take off point (GPS) driven. As you all know GPS is not that accurate and therefore the drone can fly into you.  As the Karma does not have sense and avoid, this could be a problem so a caution screen or notice is need here. So pay attention here !!!!  You can take over at any point and stop the drone selfie of course.

I really like the GEO fencing function, it works via GPS and is a great training tool, but it only work when you have GPS coverage.

The controller is very easy and feels nice in your hands at first I thought I might have problems with the control sticks nope matter of fact they are very nice and transfer the commands nicely to the aircraft I flew. I am not sure if the gains can be adjusted, at this time. The touch screen is very nice and can even been seen in sunlight very very nice. I wish my android or iPad could be that easily seen. LOVE IT !!!

Again the menus are clear and simple and easy to understand there is even a (i) help function build in. There is a flight simulator, yes a full flight simulator running on the controller perfect to get you started. The control or better said the aircraft response more or less as if it would fly on a cam day. Nice touch are the graphics they look clean and work well. There is a second picture (PIP) which will display the camera view from the airframe.

All in all not a bad flying airframe but about two years too late, a little big for my taste and a very big accessory for you Hero GoPro camera 4 or 5 users. I have to believe the aircraft will be purchased more by Hero GoPro 4 and 5 users. I do not believe that there too many other customers out there.

I have to be real here starting at $799.00 without a camera and finishing at $1099 with a GoPro 5 does not hit the mark. Frankly a Phantom Standard 3 will do all this for $ 499 and for the top end a DJI Phantom 4 at $1199.00 will blow this airframe totally out of the water, just alone due to the sense and avoid safety trumps all.

The DJI Phantom or even the older version 3 (pro, advance) is able to hover between 3 to 6 feet above the ground the Karma does hover but low to the ground you have to adjust it all the time as wind and ground effect make it drift. This drifting can be a problem while setting up that drone selfie or cable cam shot. I am not a fan of the fish eye look on the GoPro cameras but there is a camera version or software will fix that. So tat means more work later.

Here is another kicker which will cause a problem for GoPro to sell their Kamas to GoPro camera users….. I just checked you remember that 3DR solo basic kit? Yes that is the company who tried to take on the DJI last year and failed. The basic kit is being sold right now for $ 399.00 without a gimbal with gimbal $ 599.00 so go figure. Thanks Best Buy….. you might have killed the Karma before it really hit the stores.

Here is another one for you dronies out there, September 27th DJI will have something new.

Never the less, I do like the GoPro Karma, I do like the 3DR Solo and I do like all the other DJI Phantom drones, but would I spend my hard earned money on the first and second NOPE. As they are already out dated before they hit the sales floor. I am openly admitting that I have flown the DJI Phantom 4, but as well as with the first and second I did not see the need to purchase the front sense and avoid function or the sport mode, as I already own two DJI Phantom 3 pros.

At the end I will have to purchase at least one or two GoPro Karma’s as I do need them for my flight school to train customers. Well again that really depends if there will be third parts writing APP for it.

For me it is just another training airframe to teach my customers to fly safe in the US airspace.

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).