What’s Next for Drones: Super Selfies, GoPro Karma and Fuel Cells?

Depending on whom you ask, drones are either the most fun you can have with a gadget, or a menace in the skies. Next year will see exciting new advances in the category ─ including GoPro's first drone ─ but also new rules for pilots.

Credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In late 2015, the FAA began requiring that drone owners register their devices online, partly because of alarming drone sightings around airports and other places these devices shouldn't be. Only drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams, or a bit less than 9 ounces) need be registered. That doesn't cover toys, but it does include aerial video drones like the DJI Phantom 3.

Any time there is a lack of clarity in public policy, that can stymie innovation. -- Shawn DuBravac, Consumer Technology Association

"There is massive confusion there," said Shawn DuBravac, chief economist for the Consumer Technology Association. "Any time there is a lack of clarity in public policy, that can stymie innovation and stymie uptake of technology, so that's something policymakers need to be cautious of."

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Regardless, the CTA expected 400,000 drones to be sold over the holiday season alone.

"You'll see continued expansion of the drone category," DuBravac said. "We focus so much on aerial drones, but obviously you'll see the toy piece of it continue to expand."

Looking ahead, drone makers are working to address some of the pain points owners have had so far, as well as dream up ways to get fliers hooked. For instance, at CES 2016, Intelligent Energy is showing off a fuel-cell-powered drone that's supposed to last several hours instead of only 20 minutes. Fleye, which is on Kickstarter, is a spherical flying robot that's designed to be safer than traditional drones because its blades aren't exposed.

The $199 Onagofly looks especially fun, a palm-size quadrocopter that will follow you around and snap pictures of you ─ but only when you're smiling. The drone will leverage the GPS connection in your smartphone and shoot 1080p video.

The most anticipated drone of 2016 could be the Karma, the first drone from GoPro. The action-camera company has posted only a teaser video thus far, with aerial footage, but GoPro describes the Karma as an "ultra-portable folding drone." You can bet that you'll have to register this puppy with the FAA.

GoPro recently acquired Kolor, a company that develops 360-degree video software to combine footage from multiple cameras into a single clip. The company's founder is now GoPro's senior director of immersive media solutions.

"The few details that we have seen of the GoPro drone so far look promising, and GoPro is definitely a company that knows all about video," said Richard Baguley, a contributing editor for Tom's Guide, who has reviewed all the major drones. "But do they know drones? That remains to be seen, and it is a very competitive market."

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Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.