What fits in your pocket, flies like a bird, has GPS, optical flow and ultrasonic stabilisation plus moving subject tracking? It appears the Dobby Drone does! Andy Willmott sizes up the world's smallest full feature personal drone.
PRODUCING a drone with the feature list that Dobby boasts is no mean feat, but it appears Zerotech were up for the challenge.
The Chinese company behind Dobby are not new to the scene. They produce some fairly high end flight controllers, gimbals and complete commercial drones.
The marketing behind Dobby makes it look like a wonder drone of the future, it was time to see how it performed in real life.
Smaller than many smartphones, Dobby packs a lot into a tiny package weighing just 199g including the battery. The brain running Dobby's core systems is a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quad Core 2.3Ghz processor and Adreno330 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) with 16Gb for storing captured photos and footage on board.
It is hard to believe they have squeezed a GPS+GLONASS Dual Satellite sensor on board for outdoor positioning and optical flow plus ultrasonic sensors for indoor positioning or up to 3m off the ground. This means stability like no other drone of its size, as well as a return-to-home feature.
As there is obviously no gimbal on the camera, being such a small drone you would imagine the video to be shaky and all over the place.
To correct this Dobby has a digital 3-axis Electronic Stabilisation System (EIS), shooting video at 4K, but with stabilisation you get a 1080HD output.
The camera is on a manually adjustable mount, and you need to have it on the correct angle and height (10-20m) to achieve good results. It shoots stills at 13 megapixels.
To keep Dobby ultra-portable it relies on your smartphone to control it via 2.4 or 5Ghz Wifi, so you are limited to a typical Wifi range and you need to be careful not to fly too far else you will lose control.
The App, called Do.Fun is easy to use and has various settings you can tweak as well as letting you install regular firmware and software updates.
Before you take off you need to decide between INDOOR and OUTDOOR flying, as this tells Dobby which method of stabilisation you want to use. Unless you have more than 7 satellites you will only be able to take off in INDOOR/non GPS mode.
You also have a choice of how exactly you control Dobby in the air. The default control method is Motion Sensing. Up and down is controlled by touching the screen, but directional movement is controlled by simply tilting your phone in the direction you want to go.
Alternatively, you can select Swipe Screen which lets you control the drone through a few pinch and swipe gestures on your screen. Or if you like regular RC controls you can select Rocker and fly with virtual RC sticks which is my preference. The nice thing is you can switch between control modes on the fly whilst the drone is in the air.
Another setting which is important is aircraft orientation. As this is a selfie drone, the default is that the rear of the drone has the camera pointing to you, which is different to pretty much every other drone I have flown. If you prefer it the other way around you can easily switch the orientation in settings.
Dobby comes with some quite effective springy prop guards which clip on super quickly. Once you are ready just hit the take-off button, then confirm and you are in the air.
" The nice thing is you can switch between control modes on the fly whilst the drone is in the air."
Dobby rises to about a metre off the ground and waits obediently for you. The ground sensors make this drone extremely stable indoors compared to the cheaper toy drones. You can give it a push in any direction, up or down and it returns to where it was. Very impressive!
Equally accurate is actually flying Dobby indoors, although there may be a little drifting depending on what you are flying over and if there is a breeze. Some surfaces are not as easy for the optical sensors to lock on to.
Indoors you are limited to manual flight, but it is certainly easy to fly and avoid crashing if you are careful. Being so stable makes it easy for beginners to have a go and not go crashing into a wall.
When it comes to landing you can choose ground or palm landing. Palm landing is actually pretty cool, after selecting, just hold your hand under the drone and it lands nice and softly.
Once you have GPS lock you are good for outdoor flight. Again this drone Is nice and stable outside. It is small though, so of course in a bit of wind it is going to get pushed around, but in a low breeze it can deal with it easily and hold position within about a metre or so.
Dobby is designed to be a selfie drone, so you are not going to be flying too far or too fast, you need to keep it relatively close to stay in Wifi range. If you are in a nice open space though you can try some of the autonomous features.
Selecting Orbit gives you the option of distance and height. Dobby repositions as you adjust and when ready you select a direction and it starts the orbit. The camera is a fixed angle so you need to make sure you are in shot, and I actually found the centre of the orbit to be a little different to where I was standing.
Not sure if this was my fault or if the GPS had not locked correctly, but it did do the circle smoothly and the footage in a little wind still looked good.
Draw a box around your target and start tracking. Dobby obediently follows, keeping you in shot.
It seemed to work fine at walking pace, and even when I turned and walked towards it, it moved to the side and followed as I walked past. Jogging speed is a little trickier for Dobby and it lost me when I picked up the pace.
But as long as your height is set right it manages ok at walking pace. I found around 10-20 metres worked well.
I don't think you are going to be able to go mountain biking and have Dobby follow you, but it is intended more as a personal drone and not for action sports, so I won't take any points off there.
With the image stabilisation I found the footage in review was also nice and smooth. I expect through software updates this feature will improve in performance too.
I think this feature is more of a novelty. When you select the feature you get the warning "This feature is only for fun..." And to be honest I didn't find it effectively track me as I moved out of sight. But really the target tracking is what you would use practically.
|GoPro Karma Drone Quadcopter Specifications|
|Radio control type||WiFi 2.4/5Ghz|
|Battery||970mah 2S Lipo|
|Operating range||Varies on Wifi quality, up to around 100m|
For such a small drone, Dobby performs well. It is obedient and stable. It is not super fast but it is designed for selfies so it doesn't need to be.
You get around 9 minutes in the air which seems plenty for taking selfies and having a little fun. Best to grab a couple extra batteries though.
Dobby is unique. It is awesome purely for the fact that it literally fits in your pocket and has high spec features like GPS and Optical Flow/Sonic sensors. Even beginners will be able to have fun flying indoors or out. You won't get pro level video out from it, but it is perfectly good for fun. The range is a little limited due to Wifi, but accepting that, it's a real cool drone and will certainly impress your family and friends.