Drone licenses, registration and more: 5 things to know about incorporating drones into your photography business

The best follow-me drone for tracking sports like skateboarding, biking

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about the best follow-me drone for sports that can track your movement as you bike, skateboard, ski, snowboard — or whatever your hobby is. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

Do you have any suggestions for drones that I can set flight paths, and track subjects? I’m trying to find solutions for capturing video while skating or biking that I can shoot with while I perform.

Yes, there are surprisingly a solid amount of options for follow-me drones that can track you as you move at high speeds, such as on a skateboard or bike. The two biggest factors you’ll have to consider are:

  1. Your budget
  2. Camera quality

We’ll break my two favorite drones down deeper later on, but of the follow-me drones out there today, here are any that I’d recommend in some capacity:

All of the above use vision sensors, recognition tech and complex algorithms to track you — no additional GPS tracker needed (and that’s a good thing). Before we dive into the best follow-me drones, I’ll explain why follow-me drones based on vision sensors are better than follow-me drones based strictly on GPS trackers.

A brief history of follow-me drones

Before advanced sensor recognition technology was widely available in drones, the best follow-me drones used GPS devices like the Yuneec Wizard that synced with the drone. Thus, had you asked me this question in 2017, I would have recommend you buy something like the AirDog ADII, which had users wear a waterproof “AirLeash” tracking device that looked like a large watch.

Other drones had customizable flight path features, where the drone would fly a pre-programmed flight path. The AirDog II actually did both, able to fly in a manner that was a hybrid of the preprogrammed flight path, while still following you and keeping you framed in the shot.

But then the DJI Phantom 4 hit the scene in March 2016, and with it came a revolution. The drone had a sensor that could detect obstacles — and it was smart enough to stall its flight to avoid crashing into them. The DJI ActiveTrack function also debuted with the Phantom 4, making it easy to capture a cinematic shot while flying. That’s because — when enabled — ActiveTrack follows a chosen subject throughout the shot, whether they are walking along a trail, driving a car, or even swimming in the ocean. 

The Skydio 2 followed me AND navigated itself around these dense trees.

That said, the initial DJI Phantom 4 just had one sensor in the front. Useful, but not useful enough. Ever since then, dronemakers have been working to add more sensors to make their drones even smarter. And today, you have loads of options.

These days, the best follow-me drones have omni-directional obstacle avoidance sensors. That’s a huge upgrade from just a few short years ago when drones started with just sensors on the front, and then got sensors on both the drone and back. Now, the best drones have sensors on all sides, making them smart enough that they can navigate through forests, under bridges and in other dense areas, sense the obstacles near them and find ways to navigate round them.

Our picks for the best follow-me drone both have omnidirectional obstacle avoidance capabilities, and are one step short of being crash-proof (They are, but the lawyers won’t let them call it that. Plus, inevitably someone will find a way to crash it).

Skydio 2 drone
Skydio 2 Pro Kit Upgrade

The best follow-me drone for most people: Skydio 2

The best follow-me drone for people looking to track subjects quickly moving in complex environments, like forests or through tunnels, is the Skydio 2.

Equipped with six, 200-degree color cameras, Skydio 2 can see everything in every direction so it theoretically never crashes as it follows you. It costs $999. That said, if you think you’ll probably want to upgrade to get the controller and Beacon (two must-have accessories), your costs quickly add up.

Unlike the aforementioned follow-me drones that were popular in the past, but that relied on following a device attached to you, the Skydio uses its cameras to lock onto you, while also watching everything around it so it doesn’t hit those things. Plus, it can calculate how to navigate around those things so it can continue on its path, following you as you ski down a mountain or bike through a tunnel.

You can see the Skydio 2 in action, here:

Some other specs:

  • Drone weight (including battery): 775 grams
  • Flight time: 23 minutes
  • Max Wind Speed Resistance: 25 mph
  • 3D World Model Update Rate: > 1 million points per second
  • Camera Sensor Type: Sony 1/2.3” 12.3MP CMOS
  • Lens: f/2.8, 20 mm (at 35 mm equivalent)
  • Communication Range to Phone: 200m
  • Communication Range to Beacon: 1.5 km
  • Communication Range to Controller: 3.5 km

Based in California, Skydio is also one of the relatively few American drone companies out there. Skydio does not sell its products through any third-party vendors, and its drones can only be purchased directly through the Skydio website.

DJI Mavic 3
The DJI Mavic 3

Upgrade pick: DJI Mavic 3

If you have a fat budget, then go all the way in on the DJI Mavic 3. Besides its multiple vision sensors (six fish-eye vision sensors and two wide-angle sensors) with an extended sensing range to precisely sense obstacles in all directions, this drone has some pretty sweet tech specs that make it far better than the Skydio 2.

If you want not just a follow-me drone but a high-quality camera, this is your pick. The DJI Mavic 3 has an integrated dual- camera system that combines the best of its predecessors, the Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom into one with both a custom Hasselblad L2D-20c aerial camera and a 28x Hybrid Zoom Tele Camera.

The professional-level, 4/3 CMOS Hasselblad camera uses a 24mm prime lens and offers higher dynamic range and resolution, allowing for reduced noise in low-light environments. The Zoom component has a 162mm long-focus lens.

The camera is awesome, but here’s another standout feature for action sports: the battery life. You don’t want to lose out on the action because you had to fly your drone home to replace the battery. The DJI Mavic 3 battery life is an incredible 46 minutes and can achieve a max flight distance per battery charge of 30 km.

What drone do you prefer for action sports? Tell us in the comments, and happy flying!

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