Technology

GoPro to make a drone and virtual reality filming kit

Nick Woodman Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Woodman said GoPro planned to release a drone before July 2016

GoPro's chief executive has confirmed it will make its own quadcopter drones.

Nick Woodman described the remote controlled aircraft as the "ultimate" accessory for his firm's action cameras.

He made the announcement at the Code Conference in California, where he also unveiled new kit to that helps capture video footage for virtual reality helmets.

One industry watcher said GoPro's move into drones was "very significant".

"It's the fact that the company has such a strong brand," explained John Stapley from Amateur Photographer magazine.

"It's similar to what you can already see with action cameras. There are a lot of others out there but most people don't know they exist or don't have any interest in them because GoPro has become such a dominant name that it is 'the action brand' as far as they are concerned."

The risk for the firm, he added, was that other drone manufacturers would opt to partner with other camera makers to avoid supporting a competitor.

The world's bestselling commercial drone maker - China's DJI - has already decided to limit initial sales of its Phantom 3 flagship to a design that features its own proprietary video camera.

The previous generation had been launched instead with an optional mount for GoPro cams.

Image copyright DJI
Image caption The Phantom 3 (left) comes with its own camera, while the Phantom 2 (right) was launched with an optional mount for GoPro cams

Sales ascend

Mr Woodman said he planned to release the GoPro drone within the first half of 2016, and that it would be targeted at consumers.

"Quadcopters have a special place for us at GoPro because I was a huge radio-controlled plane enthusiast as a kid and I could never really get anyone involved in it with me because it was either too geeky or it took a lot of time to learn how to fly these things - you'd crash them all the time," he said.

"So, I was really surprised to see how quickly the general consumer was adopting quadcopters.

"Quads plus GoPro has been one of the most democratising combinations in terms of enabling people to capture professional quality content and see themselves in their environment in a way that they'd never seen before. It looks like you're in your own movie."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption GoPro cameras have proved popular with action sports enthusiasts and the media industry, but are increasingly being bought by other members of the public

Drones are expected to be one of the fastest growing electronics sectors over the coming years.

According to the US's Consumer Electronics Association, the global market for consumer drones totalled $84m (£54m) last year but is forecast to top $300m by 2018. The CEA adds that if regulators relax the rules for the use of such aircraft by commercial organisations, the market could further swell to $1bn by 2020.

That could represent a lucrative new market for GoPro.

Image copyright GoPro
Image caption GoPro plans to release a ball-shaped mount designed for virtual reality video capture later this year

The firm's existing cameras and other accessories generated $363m of sales over the first three months of 2015. That was up 54% on the previous year, but resulted in a relatively slim net profit of $16.8m.

Virtual reality mount

Mr Woodman also showed off a prototype mount that can hold six of his firm's Hero4 cameras, each pointing in a different direction.

He said the resulting footage could be stitched together using software developed by Kolor - a start-up it bought last month - to create a single 6K-quality 360-degree image.

This could then be used with virtual reality helmets - allowing a user to change their perspective by turning their head left and right and looking up and down - or via YouTube and Facebook, which are both adding support for interactive spherical videos.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWATCH: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg showed off its support for "spherical videos" in March

The Six-Camera Spherical Array add-on will go on sale later this year.

Mr Woodman acknowledged, however, that the high cost of buying enough cameras to fill it was likely to limit the mount's appeal to professionals.

At a subsequent event, Google also announced a more elaborate virtual reality capture device, which involves 16 GoPro cameras, as part of a tie-up between the two companies.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Google unveiled the Jump camera array at its I/O developers conference

The footage produced by the Jump camera array will be processed by the search firm's own software to produce panoramas, rather than spherical videos, that make use of depth data deduced by Google's algorithms.

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