We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. If taking high-altitude selfies or capturing action footage of your athletic exploits is your thing, try one of these auto follow drones. Boasting high quality image and video recording capabilities, their unique feature is virtual tethering that enables the camera to track its subject wherever it goes – be it rock-climbing, skiing or, well, you get the idea. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work.
10. DJI Spreading Wings S900
- A2 controller and z15 gimbal
- Advanced satellite navigation system
- Customer support is hit-and-miss
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
9. PowerVision PowerEgg
- Orbital subject tracking
- Cmos optical sensors
- Heavier than other quadcopters
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
8. Parrot Bebop 2
- Highly responsive controls
- Safe for indoor use too
- Low-light resolution could be better
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
7. DJI Inspire 2
- Landing gear retracts out of the way
- Various autonomous flight modes
- Tracks fast-moving objects easily
|Rating||3.7 / 5.0|
6. Hubsan X4 H501S
- Lightweight and easy to handle
- Brushless motors
- Up to 20 minutes flight time
|Model||H501S X4 FPV|
|Rating||4.1 / 5.0|
5. DJI Phantom 4 Pro
- Mp4 and hevc format motion capture
- Altitude hold for smooth recordings
- 128gb micro sd storage capacity
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
4. Yuneec Typhoon H Pro
- Builds 3d model of its surroundings
- Retractable landing gear
- 25 minutes maximum flying time
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
3. DJI Spark
- Extended transmission range
- Dual axis stabilized camera gimbal
- Precise speed and maneuvering
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
2. Autel Robotics X-Star Premium
- Magnetic interference protection
- Fast-charging power supply
- Over 1 mile live hd tracking range
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
1. DJI Mavic Pro
- Activetrack intelligent following
- Top speed of 40 mph
- Up to 27 minutes flying per charge
|Rating||4.8 / 5.0|
Drones, Quadcopters, and UAVs
One of the earliest unmanned aerial vehicles was used by the Austrian military to drop bombs over Venice. This primitive UAV was little more than a balloon filled with explosives. Today’s military UAVs are multi-million dollar, satellite-linked, and computer-operated systems capable of remotely projecting might all over the world.
These advanced and prohibitively expensive UAVs may look drastically different than modern consumer drones, but they share a number of advanced components, including GPS guidance and precision controls that employ a camera and video link in place of cockpit windows.
Drone is a broad term that applies to military, consumer, and commercial drones, while UAV is typically only applied to higher-end commercial vehicles and military models. Quadcopter applies to those vehicles based on the four-rotor design.
For consumer drones, commands are usually sent by radio, and many systems feature autopilot functionality and programmable flight maneuvers. Military drones can be radio guided, particularly on takeoff and landing, but while operating at a distance they are controlled by a satellite data link.
Consumer drones are based mostly on the quadcopter form factor, which uses four rotors for propulsion. For this reason, they are technically considered rotorcraft, and not fixed-wing aircraft like standard contemporary airplanes. Control is achieved in the quadcopter design by varying the speed of each rotor. Unlike conventional helicopters, quadcopters are unable to vary the pitch of their blades.
Among the largest and highest-powered UAVs is the Global Hawk, designed by Northrop Grumman. This surveillance UAV is used both by the Air Force, and by NASA, which value its high-altitude and long-range capabilities. The Global Hawk’s wingspan rivals that of a 737, and its Rolls-Royce jet engine can take it to the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere for as many as 30 hours. While there, it is used to survey the planet, snapping images of massive storms, and even measuring atmospheric pollutants.
Uncle Sam And Safety
The United States Federal Aviation Administration required consumers to register their drones…until it didn’t. Starting in December 2014 the FAA required all drones weighing more than .55 pounds and less than 55 pounds to be registered with the government. However, in May 2017, a federal court in Washington, D.C. determined the FAA’s drone registration rules were in violation of a law passed by Congress in 2012.
That ruling meant consumers operating a drone for non-commercial uses no longer needed to register the aircraft with the FAA. However, a reversal in late 2017 renewed the FAA registration requirement for some drones. The issue of consumer unmanned aircraft registration remains contentious, and users would be wise to review the current guidelines before flying anywhere beyond the shelter of their own homes.
The FAA also shared a number of rules for the safe and courteous operation of drones in a December 2015 notice. The administration advises flying below 400 feet in altitude and keeping the craft in sight at all times, to avoid losing control of its flight path. While consumer drones feature advanced auto-descent programs for loss-of-signal incidents, it is still unwise to push a consumer drone out to its maximum control distance. The FAA also warns against flying near manned aircraft, airports, and emergency response workers, and over groups of people, stadiums, and sporting events. Collisions with manned aircraft could prove deadly, and the high-speed rotors of quadcopters could cause injury to those they strike.
While the FAA learned that falling drones are not as dangerous as similarly weighted items, it still requires businesses to secure approval from the government before flying drones over people. Guards that shield quadcopter blades from outside contact are critical to safe flight over people, according to FAA research.
Of particular concern is the threat consumer drones pose to emergency workers. Commercial drones detected by firefighters flying in the vicinity of a southern California wildfire in 2015 led officials to suspend fire-fighting air missions twice in the span of a week. Firefighting aircraft, including large tankers and helicopters, fly at low altitudes, similar to those of commercial quadcopters. A mid-air collision could injure or kill workers in the air and on the ground, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
A Brief History Of Auto Follow Drones
While the quadcopter design is nearly as old as manned flight, it didn’t achieve popularity until the late 2000s when it was used by manufacturers of the first unmanned aerial vehicles.
Early quadcopters were proposed by some as an alternative to the fixed-wing design in manned aircraft, and praised for their vertical takeoff potential. However, the design performed poorly, and proved unstable and difficult to pilot relative to the fixed-wing configuration.
Today’s auto follow drones descend from these early UAVs, and were made possible by the proliferation of affordable and lightweight flight controllers, GPS units, cameras, and accelerometers.
Called drones because of the sound made by the first military unmanned aircraft, which was similar to a honeybee drone, today’s consumer UAVs are often powered by batteries. Battery power is not yet feasible for mainstream use by larger manned and unmanned aircraft, but it is acceptable for use with the smaller, less powerful quadcopter-based propulsion systems.
As quadcopters increased in popularity, consumers and researchers found myriad applications for their onboard cameras. On film shoots photography-focused drones replaced costly helicopter shots, and in disaster areas they can be used to re-establish wireless communications.
The onboard cameras were also used to track subjects in the first auto-follow drones, which can follow a subject without the need for manual control. As computer power and navigation camera technology improved, so too did auto follow drones.