Now that we’ve given you a solid foundation (if you’ve been reading our blog, you’ve been educated on Snap’s design, power, gimbal, and control options) let’s talk about the fun stuff: the flight modes we’ve programmed into Snap to make it easy for you to capture amazing aerial footage.
We have two types of autonomous flight modes: tracking and pre-planned (canned) flight modes. Tracking modes keep you, or the subject of choice, in frame automatically and provide you with the tools to constrain Snap’s motion to a point, curve, or surface, so you can get the shot you want and keep Snap’s movements predictable. Pre-planned flights let you capture classic shots, like really big out-and-back shots and orbit shots, with the smoothest possible movement and just a tap or two on your phone.
These autonomous flight options will allow you to capture footage hands free, with your phone in your pocket, backpack, fannypack…(you get the idea). Seems nifty, right? For the flyer it will be easy-to-use and intuitive, but incorporating all of that tracking tech into Snap was a bit more complicated — we’ll try and keep our explanation short.
Snap tracks you using both GPS (and your phone’s inertial sensors) and computer vision. Computer vision is most effective at close range and GPS tracking works best when Snap is farther away. We fuse both to get the best possible results, regardless of Snap’s distance.
With computer vision you draw a box around what you want to track in our app, and then machine learning and artificial intelligence helps Snap continually recognize that shape and track it. To get the best results from computer vision, there needs to be a large number of pixels available — this is why computer vision is best used for close-range tracking.
We utilize both your smartphone’s GPS transceiver and Snap’s own GPS transceiver to track you from farther away. When Snap is 100 meters away, GPS is able to estimate your position quite well, but if you were only four meters away, the camera can’t tell exactly where you are in the frame (that’s where computer vision comes in).
The GPS on most phones (like the iPhone) only updates once a second, which introduces some challenges for super smooth tracking. To compensate for this, we predictively model your location throughout that second using your velocity and heading at the last update. To further refine our estimate, we use the accelerometer on the phone for inertial updates so we can track direction changes during that second. Our CTO, Joe van Niekerk, designed the first 3D-motion tracker for action sports, so you can be confident that Snap’s tracking technologies will be cutting edge.
These different tracking technologies are used in concert in what we call “sensor fusion.” Each tracking method has its own strengths and weaknesses but when used together, they enable Snap to maintain the best tracking estimate possible.
Now for a closer look at Snap’s tracking modes. Note that all videos were shot at 720p.
Snap hovers in place and yaws and pitches the camera in order to keep you in the frame.
When to use: This mode is useful when you know exactly where the action is going to happen, or when you fear Snap could hit an obstacle. Let’s say you’re cruising around a pump-track on your bike and you want to capture your ride. Air Tripod is your ideal mode because you know exactly where you want to film and you can set Snap to hover in place. As an added bonus, you can fly Snap in this mode and it automatically controls yaw and pitch of the camera to keep you in frame.
Snap follows you along a predefined path you set, providing you with the most artistic control over the shot, as well as a tool to make sure you steer clear of obstacles. You can choose to maintain a consistent distance or angle.
When to use: You’re out for a solo mountain bike ride at dusk and you want to capture action from both sides of the trail. You define a virtual wire in 3D space, by simply pointing the camera on your phone, and then fly Snap to the desired starting point. This will lock in Snap’s orientation to you, so you can get the exact shot you want.
Snap moves relative to you, maintaining a consistent distance and angle.
When to use: Snap’s Free-Form Following tracking mode is perfect when you have plenty of open space and don’t know exactly where you are going to go. Want to film your after-work soccer scrimmage? This is the tracking mode for you.
Snap is also equipped with several pre-planned flight modes.
We determined the shots that people want to capture but are manually hard to fly, and we created pre-defined modes to make it easier. With a pre-planned flight mode, you are unrestricted by your smartphone range and are only restricted by battery time. We also wanted to make them easy to set up: using the app you can define the shot in seconds, with no prior training.
Out and Back
This mode allows you to take big, location-setting shots. Using your smartphone app you set your parameters and see a preview in 3D space. Out and Back allows you to go big, unrestricted by range. While flying you can dynamically control the speed, start and stop, and the yaw and pitch.
When to use: Out and Back is a great option when you want a really big shot and you want to beautifully capture the context of your setting.
Using Orbit, Snap smoothly circles around you. Similar to Out and Back, you use the app to view a preview in 3D space, and then while flying you can dynamically control the speed, start and stop, adjust your diameter, and control the yaw and pitch.
When to use: You hiked up to one of your favorite vistas and you want Snap to fly smoothly around you — use orbit.
As a reminder, Snap is equipped with ground-facing sonar for ground avoidance and magnetic connectors so that it can safely break apart in the event that it does hit something. Full-blown obstacle avoidance is an accessory that will be available in the future.
These autonomous flight modes are intended to make the types of shots you want to capture really easy. That said, we’d love to hear from you if there’s another shot you think could be an ideal fit. We’re confident that they will be some of your favorites and inspire you to try out something new. We can’t wait to see what you create!
Tobin, Joe and the Vantage Robotics team