The big challenge in getting started with drones is to figure out what kind of drone you need. Whether you want to capture video, race against other pilots or just fly around a local park will play a big role in determining what kind of drone you wind up getting — unless someone were to build a multipurpose drone capable of handling whatever task you wanted.
That's the thinking behind Teal, a new $1,299 drone that's now available for pre-order. Scheduled to land before Christmas, the Teal drone doesn't limit itself to just one use. Rather, it plans to rely on apps that will allow the drone to handle whatever task you want to throw at it. That means the Teal, which can reach top speeds of 70 mph, is designed to be as appropriate for pilots who feel the need for speed as it is for beginners.
The Teal looked anything like a novice-friendly drone as it zipped around San Francisco's Dolores Park on a sunny afternoon, entertaining onlookers with the occasional flip. But then again, George Matus was at the controls, and the 18-year-old Teal CEO is anything but a novice pilot. He started flying drones seven years ago, building his first device when he was 14, which is the same time he made the discovery that would lead him to create Teal.
"When I started flying, I was able to fly all the products out there," Matus recalled in between Teal flights. "I built a wish list of what I wanted [in a drone], and it required a different drone for each thing I wanted to do."
Teal hopes to solve that with apps that can make the drone a multipurpose monster. At launch, the drone will feature three built-in apps, with the most significant one being a command and control app. The basic control application will feature different modes, including one aimed at beginners that will allow them to get comfortable controlling the drone without fear of launching it toward the ground and sending it speeding off into the distance. As their piloting skills develop, they can try the app's other modes.
"One of the goals was to give [the drone] that speed, but to tame it down as needed for different consumers," Matus said.
Other apps available at launch will include a follow-me mode, which will use image recognition to have the Teal follow after a specific user, and a racing application that lets Teal users challenge each other to races along specific flight paths. In addition, Teal plans to release an SDK to app makers this fall so that they can create products that will add to what the drone can do.
You'll be able to control the Teal drone up to 300 feet from your iOS or Android phone. A Wi-Fi extender from Teal will boost that to 2,500 feet. The drone also works with RC transmitters giving you 2 miles of range.
Software only tells a part of the Teal drone's story. Inside, an Nvidia TX1 powers the drone, taking care of tasks like autonomous flight and image recognition. Teal's drone uses an inertial navigation system for GPS that combines an accelerometer, magnetometer, GPS receiver, barometer and gyroscope, which should lead to accurate and stable flights. What Teal doesn't offer at this point is any built-in obstacle avoidance features, though the company hopes to add those features in a future update.
The 13-megapixel camera on the Teal can record 4K video, either to the 16GB of built-in storage or to a microSD card. Because Teal designed its drone to be extensible, Matus tells me that drone racing enthusiasts will be able to swap in replacement tops that add an FPV camera.
You'll get 10 minutes of flight time from the standard battery; the drone will ship with two batteries, which promise fast charging. Teal will also offer a High-Endurance package with a battery that keeps the drone in the air for 20 minutes.
Teal makes a fairly compact drone — it's 9.8 inches from motor to motor and weighs in at 1.6 pounds. (That means you'd have to register the Teal drone with the FAA.) It was easy enough for Matus to tote it on a block-long walk from a cafe where we talked about the drone to a free space in Dolores Park where we could take it on a test drive.
All told, it's a pretty solid-looking package that will include the drone, two batteries, a charger, two sets of propellers and expansion cables. Much of Teal's promise depends on the apps that will support the drone, whether they come from the company itself or from third-party app makers. We look forward to seeing what's ready to test when the Teal drone arrives by year's end.