Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about using follow-me drones for dog sports: think dock jumping, herding, agility, disc dog or fly ball. With the help of drones, you could theoretically conduct video analysis to make your routine more precise. So which follow-me drone would be best? If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
My hobby is competition dog sports. I have a promising young Malinois, and — with the help of drone video — I could tweak his performance. I’d like a drone to follow me so that I can analyze and improve my routines, which have quick twists and turns. For instance, in obedience, you do a quick turn, so I need to see how the dog turns with me and if he is is straight in the heel position afterwards.
Which follow-me drones are best for this situation? Can you zoom in tight & follow with drones?
What a clever use case for follow-me drones! First, check out my original guide to the best follow-me drone. In it, I outline the best two follow-me drones: the Skydio 2+ and the DJI Mavic 3. While I haven’t personally tried dog sports, I imagine both are excellent drones for your use case. To start, let’s compare some key specs across the two drones:
|Skydio 2+||DJI Mavic 3|
|Flight time||27 minutes||46 minutes|
|Max transmission range||200 m (or 6 km with controller)||15 km|
|Max flight speed||36 mph||42.5 mph (S mode)|
|Camera sensor||1/2.3” CMOS, Effective pixels: 12.3MP (Sony IMX577)||4/3 CMOS, Effective pixels: 20 MP (Hasselblad)|
|Sensing System||Omnidirectional and above/below sensors with|
super fisheye lenses for 360° view
|Omnidirectional binocular vision system, supplemented with an infrared sensor at the bottom of the aircraft|
|Takeoff Weight||800 grams||895 grams|
|Length (without propellers)||229mm||347.5 mm (unfolded)|
Notably the biggest difference is the price tag, as the DJI Mavic 3 is roughly twice the cost. What you’ll get for that extra price: longer flight time, longer transmission range and a way higher-quality camera.
The longer flight time might be useful so as to not disrupt your dog’s training session. But if you’re taking breaks, then buying spare Skydio batteries at just $90 each is likely far more worth it. That’s roughly 12 batteries for the price difference, and you almost certainly don’t need 12 spare batteries! The longer transmission range is probably irrelevant, since presumably you, your dog and the drone would remain in the same area.
What’s going to make the biggest difference for you is the speed and accuracy of the drone’s follow-me features.
The DJI Mavic 3’s follow-me features
As of January 2022, DJI Mavic 3 drones support DJI ActiveTrack, which is a function that debuted with the Phantom 4 all the way back in March 2016. Thus, DJI’s had quite a few years to iterate and grow its tracing tech, which enables the drone to follow a chosen subject through a shot. In fact, we’re now on Active Track 5.0.
DJI ActiveTrack allows you to fly in a few different recording modes of your choice:
With Trace mode, the drone can track your dog at a constant distance. In Spotlight mode, the drone doesn’t actually automatically trace your dog, but rather keeps the camera pointing at it during flight. You can use the remote controller to adjust how your dog is framed in the shot. And in Profile mode, the drone tracks your dog at constant angle and distance from the side. What’s neat about Active Track 5.0 is that you can set a specific following angle.
If your drone loses sight of your dog (perhaps, for example, he runs behind a large block of trees), then the drone will stop, hover, and try to relocate him. If it truly cannot find him, the drone will hover in place until Return-To-Home (RTH) is initiated.
You also mentioned wanting to zoom in. You’re in luck, as the DJI Mavic 3 will let you zoom in likely far more than you could ever need thanks to its 28x Hybrid Zoom. Here’s just how detailed you can get with your Mavic 3’s Hybrid zoom:
A couple notes with the Mavic 3:
- ActiveTrack is not available at video resolutions higher than 4K or frame rates over 60fps, so keep that in mind depending on if you need high quality video or to record at a high frame rate.
- You cannot change the distance from the subject.
- A strong GPS is required. Keep that in mind if you’re flying in GPS-challenged environments (though flying in most parks should be fine).
- If you’re flying in Sport mode, note that obstacle avoidance is turned off. Keep this in mind if high speeds are importance!
The Skydio 2+ drone follow-me features
Skydio drones use six 4K cameras to build a 3D map of their surroundings, deep learning algorithms to understand what they’re seeing, and advanced AI to predict into the future and make intelligent decisions. It’s capable of tracking up to 10 simultaneous objects of interest.
As far as the tracking features, you have choices, much like the DJI Mavic 3. With Point-of-Interest Orbit mode, you get a birds-eye view of what’s happening on the ground by orbiting the drone around a user-specified point on the map (such as your dog). With Track-In-Place mode, you can track a specific object from a long distance and keep them inside the frame from a fixed position in the sky.
Its full cinematic skills are:
- Motion Track (relative to subject motion)
- Fixed Track (relative to absolute orientation)
- One Shots (dronie, rocket, boomerang, and vortex)
- Cable cam (single pass, looping, or track)
You mentioned wanting to zoom in, and the Skydio 2+ delivers with 360 Superzoom, which allows you to zoom out for a 360° live view of your surroundings or digitally zoom in to see details of your dog’s movement.
A couple notes with the Skydio 2+:
- The controller and Beacon are sold separately (which means an additional cost).
- Skydio requires a stable GPS connection to fly greater than 10m/33ft. above the point of takeoff.
The bottom line: the best follow-me drones
I also wanted to give a shout over to DC Rainmaker, who did an awesome deep dive (literally, he gets wet) via a side-by-side comparison between the DJI Mavic 3 (regular version) and the Skydio 2 (note: he reviews the Skydio 2 rather than the newer Skydio 2+) in autonomous tracking modes. Definitely give this video a watch!
Ultimately, the Skydio 2 seems to perform better in terms of obstacle avoidance. Both can still ultimately crash. Another factor to consider: with the Mavic 3, you cannot change your distance from the subject, while you can on the Skydio 2.
Skydio’s camera quality is not as good as the Mavic 3’s but if tracking abilities is your priority, the Skydio 2+ is likely your best bet.
Happy flying, happy training and happy tracking! Woof!