For the first time since my son Isaac was born 10+ years ago, I won’t be home for Father’s Day. Instead, I’ll be travelling home from a three-day Poynter Drone Journalism School sponsored by DJI, the Google News Lab, The National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA) and the University of Nebraska (Lincoln) – which was pretty much the earliest proponent of drones as a powerful journalistic tool. It’s going to be a great seminar, but bad timing.
And so, the night before leaving, I asked Isaac if we could get out and do some drone flying. Isaac is a natural pilot, and has a couple of drones I’ve bought him over the past couple of years, including the very rugged Traxxas Latrax Alias, which is really quite a beast for the money.
From the start, Isaac showed chops in one area that took me forever to figure out with my first home-built: Reverse orientation, when the drone is facing you and the inputs of one stick get completely reversed.
But on this evening, we weren’t going to be flying with sticks. We were going to be flying by the palm of our hand.
If you guessed “Spark” – you win the prize. DJI’s new drone, now available in stores and currently shipping direct, can be controlled within a limited range by the palm of your hand.
It also has a number of intelligent features that Isaac’s toy drones could never compete with. Those features include tracking a subject while carrying out some pretty sweet aerial moves – all at the touch of a single virtual button.
On the way to the park, I told Isaac the drone would be taking off automatically from his hand.
“Cool,” he said.
It’s a *very* good thing we were having that conversation, because I suddenly realized I had not brought something nearly as important as the Spark, especially with a 10-year-old: Propeller guards! We turned around, picked them up, and were soon at the park.
“Those go on easy,” he noted as I put the guards on. Observant kid, because they really *do* go on easily.
I gave Isaac the most basic of instructions, which really amounted to this: Hold the Spark and power it on. Wait. When it’s powered up, make sure the camera is pointed toward your face. Then give the power button a quick double-tap.
Then came the moment of truth: A flawless power up, followed by that double tap. The two-axis gimbal twitched as the camera locked in on Isaac’s face. A moment later, the props started to blur. And then the Spark was airborne.
Before long, Isaac had the basic commands down like a pro. He could move it left and right, up and down, and wave goodbye to send it up and back.
(The waving part took a few tries, but we got it eventually.) Isaac was also able to convince Spark to take a photo of the two of us.
ALWAYS, ALWAYS CHECK
But his Father, on this day, had forgotten to check that the MicroSD card was inserted. D’oh! That’s one moment I really wish I’d captured.
But we did manage others. With a bit of instruction, Isaac was able to put Spark into three of four different selfie modes, where the aircraft locks on and records video while performing sophisticated moves. We tried the dronie, helix, and rocket – where Spark essentially heads straight up while keeping you framed in the shot. Isaac liked rocket best, and I was inclined to agree. You can check out our fun below:
We were fortunate to have a couple of batteries, because Isaac was certainly not done flying when we’d finished the first. Under optimal conditions you can squeeze 16 minutes of flight time. We were fighting a bit of wind, and the Spark came in under that.
Personally, I wished we’d had more time. But it was a great father-and-son moment. The great thing too, was that the Spark did all the work – leaving us to just, well, #SeizeTheMoment.
Next step? Maybe get that remote controller, and let Isaac take over the sticks. In sport mode, this thing can reach 50 kilometres per hour, and I believe he’s good enough to handle that in a nice open space.
As any father knows, kids grow up fast. In a few years he may well not be so inclined to hang out with his dad. These were good moments to seize, and we’ll be seizing more of them.
The Spark is now available wherever DJI products are sold. It’s also shipping online and you can order it here. The Fly More Combo is actually a better deal, and provides the extended range of the remote, along with another battery, charging hub, an extra set of propellers and the prop guards.
Having used the Spark solo, I can tell you these are all things that – at least at this household – we’ll want to be picking up.