There's a reason autonomous flying modes have been a key element of this year's big drone announcements: most people aren't that great at controlling them with what's in essence a legacy R/C plane controller. The Shift Drone overcomes that not with autonomy, but with a novel new control scheme. To fly it, you simply grab a stick-like box and wear a special ring on your thumb, which floats above the sensors on the top. Move your thumb up to go up, left to fly left, etc., giving you intuitive one-handed control. There's a 13 megapixel/4K camera on board, and an optional extension lets you control the camera and view real-time feed back via your smartphone.
Autonomous lawnmowers have been around for a few years now. But the Kobi Lawn Robot is far more than just a high-tech grass-cutter. In the summer, it can keep your lawn mowed, using weather forecasts to know when to cut and mulching the clippings to keep your yard healthy. In the fall, a separate module lets it clear both your yard and driveway of leaves, and during the winter, the snow module dutifully clears your driveway so you don't have to venture out in the cold — unless you want to, of course. It's powered by quiet, efficient brushless motors and a lithium-ion battery, and will automatically return to its charging station when it's running low on juice.
Having solved the problems of steady video and (mostly) autonomous flying, this year's crop of new drones are focusing on a third obstacle to regular use: size. The DJI Mavic Pro Foldable Drone offers a stabilized 4K camera, a range of 4.3 miles, and a flight time of 27 minutes, yet folds down into a package not much larger than a water bottle. The new FlightAutonomy system, outfitted with a slew of cameras, range finders, and sensors, can position, navigate and plan routes for the drone, avoiding obstacles at speeds up to 22 mph. A Sport Mode lets you hit speeds of up to 40 mph, and a new, optional dedicated controller has a built-in touchscreen, an improved video link system, and likewise folds down to let you carry the whole system in a normal bag instead of a dedicated case.
Leave your favorite mount behind and take to the skies with the GoPro Karma Drone. More than a simple camera drone, the Karma is actually a series of separate accessories that work together to deliver great-looking aerial footage. It starts with the quadcopter itself, which has a folding design, a top speed of 35mph, and a run time of 20 minutes. The Karma Grip stabilizer slides inside, doing its best to keep your video smooth whether it's attached to the drone, a standard GoPro mount, or handheld. Finally, the touchscreen controller lets even novices get up and running with ease. The entire kit packs into a backback case, and is compatible with the new GoPro Hero 5 Black, Hero 5 Session, and the Hero 4.
It looks like something out of a sci-fi nightmare, but the Prodrone Robot Arm Drone is far more useful than intimidating. Based on the company's existing large capacity airframe, this aerial tool has a pair of five-axis robotic arms that can perform a number of tasks, from picking up and moving objects up to 22 lbs. to cutting wires and flipping switches at altitudes — up to 5,000 feet — where direct human interaction is inconvenient or impossible. Capable of operating in nearly any weather, it's limited only by the person at the controls.