Autel Robotics may not be the first company you think of in terms of drones, but we’re here to help change that. With a passion for putting cameras into the sky in a number of efficient and function ways, Autel drones are few, but versatile and powerful.
Best of all, Autel robotics build drones that easily span the distance between hobby flyer and commercial professional. Modular cameras, multiple remotes and more make Autel drones functional for many users, now let’s see if there is a drone in there for you, this is our brief Autel Robotics drones guide.
Many of our readers will be happy to know that Autel Robotics, operates out of Washington Sate. They are, technically, an American company, but they are owned by Autel Intelligent Technology in China. This parent company makes automotive diagnostic tools. Your contact with Autel Robitics will be in the U.S., but your actual drone will be manufactured in China.
It’s up to you to determine if this makes Autel Robotics’ drones locally made or not. One thing is certain, however, buying one of their flying machines keeps an American employed. This is, perhaps, the only brand that can say this, whether it matters to you or not.
Considering that Autel Robotics promotes as having just two drones on the market today, we’re going to be generous and say there are three. More if you count drones not for sale in stores.
As mentioned, Autel drones best support commercial and professional operations, we speak of things like crop and pipeline inspection, mostly. Their VTOL and fixed wing craft travel at high speeds to cover ground. The quadcopters can be equipped with numerous cameras to fly for fun or for detailed and close up inspection of towers, bridges and more.
VTOL and fixed wing
I’m sure you’re familiar with this already, but just in case, VTOL stands for Vertical Take-Off and Landing. Logic says that all quadcopters are VTOL craft, but the acronym applies generally to fixed wing type craft that have vertical take-off capability. Basically, we’re talking about airplanes that can hover.
When we met up with Autel Robotics at CES 2017 they had two prominent pieces in their booth, both VTOL craft, one of which being the Kestrel. It’s possible I took more photos of the machines for my own use than anything. These large, fixed wing craft with huge camera domes up front captured my attention, to say the least.
Kestrel is the larger of the two, and at the time, the only of the two ready to actually fly.
Kestrel combines more than a few concepts into one, creating a craft that, to my mind, can do it all. Propellers are mounted on each airplane-style wing, one up front, one out the back on small ‘engine’ mounds. These propellers articulate, able to shoot straight up for vertical take-off like a drone, then they turn forward and back to propel the craft horizontally.
The unique thing here is that the propellers are not always running. In particular, the rear propellers stop turning and fold backward, or upward, depending on how you look at it. Minimizing air drag and reducing battery consumption to get you upwards of two hours of flight time. The nose cone is modular, allowing you to affix different camera modules and more. The professional looking dome camera articulates for the best view, particularly handy when you’re zipping by at up to eighty miles per hour. Rather, you should expect to operate at around 43 mph for best efficiency.
The wings are large enough and the craft balanced like a glider. So, like a glider, you can completely power down the propellers and soar the skies somewhat indefinitely.
I wanted to tell you that none of this was too good to be true. I wanted to point you toward a reasonably priced purchasing option. Sadly, I must inform you that the Autel Robotics Kestrel is currently not to be found for sale through any normal retail channels. Contact them to see what they can do for you, but make sure you’ve got at least $5000 ready to get started.
After the novel that is the Kestrel above, I will keep this short. At CES 2017, Autel Robotics had a prototype fixed wing VTOL craft on display. The absolute easiest way to describe it is as a smaller Kestrel. Two leading propellers at the tips of the wings are matched by a rear propeller on the body near the tail and a front propeller right at the nose, over top of the hanging camera gimbal.
The concept is roughly the same, the wing mounted propellers articulate to provide upward or forward thrust. The camera is interchangeable and more. Truth is, we’ve not heard anything further in terms of this drone making it past prototype stage, you know we’re interested, but we have nothing to add at this time.
If the Autel Robotics DragonFish does make it to market, expect a smaller price than the Kestrel. We’re thinking you could take to the sky for less than $2000 before camera.
Autel drones you can buy
Starting their adventures in 2014, the X-Star was Autel Robotics’ first retail offering. They’ve iterated the quadcopter a few times, all while maintaining the iconic ‘drone’ design familiar to the DJI Phantom line and more.
Today, you can pickup a WiFi version of the Autel drone. The X-Star offers a 12 MP camera, up to 25 minutes of flight and about half of a mile of effective range. It can fly further, but WiFi connectivity is pretty choppy in most parts of the world, I like to play it safe.
Stabilized 4K video from a 3-axis gimbal is all controlled by the dedicated remote control. Attach your smartphone or tablet to enjoy 720p FPV video stream.
Autel Robotics is out of stock with their listed price of $499, but you can hop over to Amazon with a few remaining buying options starting at about $899 for the Autel Robotics X-Star WiFi.
Admitting this is an iterative update in the line, we are confident in saying that the X-Star Premium is far more capable than the previous drones from Autel Robotics. This is a sturdy drone with a superb controller, modular cameras and more.
The accessories available for the X-Star Premium add to the experience, particularly that nice backpack and the optional remote control with built-in display. Actually, that’s all fun and games compared to the folding joysticks on the optional remote. Keeping things small and protecting them from damage, smart work!
In many ways the X-Star Premium spec sheet reads the same as the cheaper WiFi version, but not when it comes to the cameras. The default camera is the same, at least as far as the spec sheet goes, but the Premium is best to handle the other cameras available. FLIR Duo and FLIR Duo R cameras offer infrared imaging, there are zoom lenses and more.
Most of the camera options cost more than the drone, which is actually my initial point about Autel drones: for a reasonable price you can enjoy a solid and functional hobby drone, then spend a little more to get high-performance cameras and put your drone to work. Hobby pilot or commercial inspection professionals can be the same person.
Check out the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium for $749 on Amazon today.
Autel drones wrap-up
Despite having just one style, if not just one configuration of drone available for sale, the versatile and modular X-Star Premium is a drone that many can enjoy. Few drones offer this many degrees of functionality with just a simple camera change.
We think the X-Star Premium is a solid offering for the price, well worth your consideration.
The Autel Robotics head office is just a few miles off the path for me when I visit friends in Vancouver, Canada. It’s also not very far from the Amazon retail store that has yet to launch to the public, and maybe never will. Eventually I’ll stop in to see the office, to see Autel Robotics drones in their production setting. Stay tuned for that.
What do you say, is this one drone really all you need out of a quadcotper?