If there’s one thing that multi-rotor RC craft are not, it’s easily portable.
When you have a machine that depends on wide spans of its rotary wings for stable flight, it means you have to live with the fact that your cumbersome bird might not fit in your trunk, bag or pocket.
They have the same problem on aircraft carriers, where space is at an absolute premium.
In order to squeeze in as many planes and choppers as possible, they designed aircraft with folding wings. This means that the craft has a small footprint while in storage, but can be unfolded when it’s time to fly.
In the last few years drone makers have caught into this idea in a big way. Today everyone sells at least one model of folding drone. There are examples of foldable drones in almost every price class, from nano-drones to huge professional flyers.
6 Top Foldable Drones Today
DJI Mavic Pro
The Mavic Pro has been getting a lot of love since release and we haven’t been any any different in our coverage. So it’s hardly as if it’s an obscure product.
Still, it IS a foldable drone and undoubtedly one of the best drones on the market . Foldable or not.
When folded up the Mavic Pro is 83x83x198 millimeters in size. That´s positively tiny and makes it easy to slip into a backpack or bag.
I especially like the folding design, with the front and rear arms folding under and over the main body.
DJI have also provided a clear shield for the camera and gimbal, which makes me comfortable with the idea of putting the drone in my bag without worrying that things will get damaged or scratched up.
If you want to know all the details of why the Mavic Pro is such a great drone, you’re better off reading our full review.
I’m always amused by the names that manufacturers come up with for their products.
I’m sure there is a perfectly sensible reason why this drone from Zerotech is called the “Dobby”, but I can’t hear that name without conjuring up that poor pathetic house elf from the Harry Potter series.
The Dobby arms fold out in a pleasingly solid way, at least based on the photos. Unfortunately, even when folded the props don’t get fixed in place, so it’s still a little more fragile than one would like for storage purposes.
I can’t say much for the design of the drone. It’s white, curvy plastic shell is clearly meant to evoke Sci-Fi techno utopia, but what they actually manage is creepy techno dystopia. That’s just an opinion though, you might like the Dobby. Who knows, it takes all sorts.
Not judging a book by its cover is a good virtue however and when it comes to specification the Dobby makes for a very interesting proposition. Which is of course why it’s on this list in the first place.
Like the DJI Spark (which does not fold) the Dobby is pitched as a selfie drone. It’s small enough to be held in your hand and has a flight time of only five minutes. However, the battery is removable, so you could take some spared along.
Ah yes, the GoPro Karma. This drone seems to have been named for irony, since GoPro must have kicked quite a few puppies in the past to deserve such a rocky product launch.
When the Karma first came to market it had a serious bug which caused unavoidable crashed of customers shiny new drone.
This forced the action camera company to recall all the units and three months later a newly-fixed Karma was back on sale.
Now that the Karma is back, we should give it a fair chance to prove itself again. It would be a good move too, because it turns out that they’ve come up with something quite special.
Despite the fact that GoPro have never made a drone before, the Karma is an audacious almost thousand dollar entry to the market. Usually I would put that down as a measure of hubris on GoPro’s part, but it seems like the Karma is good value for money even at that price.
In particular, the use of GoPro camera technology means this little guy can get some great footage. GoPro have also made some smart decisions when it comes to the gimbal and camera mount point. The Karma has it’s assembly on the front, which means you can get all sorts of intuitive angles and are in little danger of the actual drone being in the shot.
There’s no collision detection and only basic autonomy, but the Karma has the important notes down. It can only get better from here.
Hover Camera Passport
What the heck is this thing? When I said folding drones I mean ones that folded like origami or something. This drone from hover just folds up like a book or, wait for it, a PASSPORT! Yes, this is one of the weirdest drone designs I’ve seen, but when you think about it there’s a lot of method to this madness.
This isn’t the first drone we’ve seen where all the rotors are encased in a plastic grille thing, but usually it’s some weird ball or cube.
Here the left and right sets of rotors each form a “page” of the camera passport. So when it’s folded up it has the size and shape of a book. That makes stashing it pretty easy, although I would make sure there weren’t sharp objects that could poke through the grill in the same bag.
The drone doesn’t look like much. It’s just a flying rectangle. Still, I have to take off my hat to the practical design considerations here.
This is a utilitarian machine meant to do a job in a simple way. It uses facial recognition and autonomous technology to take off, take snaps and then snap in half. On purpose. So you can put it away.
Halo Pro Drone
We did a small feature on the Halo Pro Drone not too long ago. First off, this is one of the prettiest drones I have ever seen. Yes, I even think it looks better than the Mavic. So sue me.
Just like GoPro, this is Halo’s first foray into drones. Unlike GoPro,Halo has been making electric rideables rather than cameras. Is Halo on better footing? That’s debatable, but I think their experience in making robust smart electric vehicles was probably super-helpful.Like the Mavic, the Halo folds up tightly with the props safely out of harm’s way. It ships with a 4K, 30 FPS camera and a bunch of sensors and software features to really hammer in that modern drone reputation.
Halo Boards are really trying to do something next-generation with this product. It’s only shipping to customers late in October of 2017. But you can check out our article for a detailed breakdown over what’s so exciting about it.
DJI Spreading Wings S1000+
Let’s finish with the biggest, baddest foldable drone on the list. This is not your sister’s selfie drone. This is a monster of the skies that can carry some of the heaviest loads of any commercial drone.
This is a drone that DJI designed from the ground up to carry relatively heavy DSLR equipment. It gets its impressive lift from eight rotors, each mounted on an independent arm.
The S1000+ is made from some pretty high-grade materials, by which I mean carbon fibre. It’s a great choice since it’s incredibly strong yet still very light. Just a pity it’s priced as if made from solid gold.
To be honest, the S1000+ was one of the first folding drones that caught my attention. It’s quite a sight to see those eight arms fold down so that this beast will (barely) go into the back of a hatchback.
It’s one of the simpler folding mechanisms we’ve seen, with each arms just bending straight down. Thanks to that simplicity DJI says the S1000+ can be up and flying in as little as five minutes.
In flight there’s a little more “folding” going on, as the landing gear gets out of the way and allows stunning multi-angle shots. Despite being around for awhile now, I still think the S1000+ is one of the most versatile professional photography drones one the market.
It’s a pity about the fifteen-minute flight time, but that can be somewhat forgiven, since the S1000+ has a maximum takeoff weight set at a heft 11KG.
The Advantages of a Foldable Drone
There is one product category where foldable drones seem to be the most numerous: selfie drones. People love to take pictures of themselves with smartphones and so drone makers have come up with the brilliant idea of letting a drone do it for you.
The drone will fly off, turn to face you and take a snap. Usually this is all driven by some smart software that can recognize faces and gestures.
It’s a smart idea, but it selfies are popular because people have their smartphones with them all the time. Even when those goofy baggy cargo pants were still the norm (I’m guilty ya’ll), I doubt anyone was going to stuff a flying ninja star into their pockets. The same goes for a backpack. Not to mention, your gangly, starfishing drone is likely to snap something while being thrown around during your jaunt.
Folding drones then have two main advantages. Firstly, they make it practical to keep them with you. In the case of small selfie drones this is crucial. It also means larger drones can be transported in a backpack, in the trunk of a small car or even on a motorcycle.
The second advantage is that by folding the drone it makes it much less fragile during travel. The fragile rotors and other components can be kept safe while folded away, without the need to carry a bulky foam-molded case with you everywhere. It also makes “pocket drones” into something you’d actually want to stick in your pockets!
The Disadvantages of Foldable Drones
That all sounds pretty great, right? However, you always give something up when you do something new. Foldable drones are no different and there are quite a few downsides to them compared to their less-flexible cousins.
For one thing, folding mechanism add a lot of complexity to a drone. In other words, by adding multiple folding points there are now many more points of failure.
Every time you add another moving part to your machine, there’s one more thing that can go wrong. Although most moving mechanisms these days can be operated thousands of times before breaking, it’s just the physics of wear and tear.
Keeping it Real (Small)
There you have it, these are some of the most interesting foldable drones out there right now. The future of drones is certainly looking much more compact and feature rich. Soon the days of awkwardly lugging around a box or case will be behind us. Drones will stuffed away everywhere. Although, if you’re reading DroneGuru that’s probably already true for you.
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