How to Train Your Drone

Trying out new gear is always fun. Especially when it flies.
Jonathan Harper/

At the intersection of automotive enthusiasm and tech wizardry, a symbiosis has formed. Video-production companies used to spend tens of thousands of dollars to rent helicopters and pilots to chase and film cars from the sky. Now they just use drones.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I visited the Internet and ordered one such machine. I landed on the 3D Robotics Solo after quite a bit of shopping around. Forgoing industry leader DJI left me with few options, but the promise of open-source software and included autonomous flight modes sealed the deal. As a bundle, the quadcopter, two batteries and a gimbal rang up a total of roughly $1,500. Not bad when you consider the cinematic potential of the Solo.

The quadcopter itself showed up mid-summer, with a projected gimbal delivery a few weeks later. For those not familiar with the mechanics of shooting video from a pitching and yawing flying machine, consider this: A camera hard mounted to the bottom of a drone would transmit all the minute inputs and corrections from the pilot, of which there are many. The gimbal assuages these shakes and shimmies with three motors, one on each axis, to counter and eliminate any sudden movements while airborne.

So here’s the rub: The gimbal didn’t show up until mid-September. I spent all summer with this fantastically capable airborne filming platform, without the one key element that would truly unlock its potential.

But now, with the gimbal installed and stabilizing, there’s only one thing left to do: Go find some cars to practice on. Big open spaces are friendly to drones and cars alike, and of course a 500-hp BMW doesn’t hurt either.

More on that to follow.