The best follow-me drone for tracking sports like skateboarding, biking

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about the best follow-me drone for sports that can track your movement as you bike, skateboard, ski, snowboard — or whatever your hobby is. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

Do you have any suggestions for drones that I can set flight paths, and track subjects? I’m trying to find solutions for capturing video while skating or biking that I can shoot with while I perform.

Yes, there are surprisingly a solid amount of options for follow-me drones that can track you as you move at high speeds, such as on a skateboard or bike. The two biggest factors you’ll have to consider are

  1. Your budget
  2. How dense the area you’re moving through is (ie. are there trees, tunnels and power lines in the area? Or are you in an open area, like a grassy field or sand dunes?

We’ll break my two favorite drones down deeper later on, but of the follow-me drones out there today, here are any that I’d recommend in some capacity:

All of the above use vision sensors, recognition tech and complex algorithms to track you — no additional GPS tracker needed (and that’s a good thing). Before we dive into the best follow-me drones, I’ll explain why follow-me drones based on vision sensors are better than follow-me drones based strictly on GPS trackers.

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The Skydio 2 or DJI Mavic Air 2 are both excellent follow-me drones for athletes.

A brief history of follow-me drones

Before advanced sensor recognition technology was widely available in drones, the best follow-me drones used GPS devices like the Yuneec Wizard that synced with the drone. Thus, had you asked me this question in 2017, I would have recommend you buy something like the AirDog ADII, which had users wear a waterproof “AirLeash” tracking device that looked like a large watch.

Other drones had customizable flight path features, where the drone would fly a pre-programmed flight path. The AirDog II actually did both, able to fly in a manner that was a hybrid of the preprogrammed flight path, while still following you and keeping you framed in the shot.

But then the DJI Phantom 4 hit the scene in March 2016, and with it came a revolution. The drone had a sensor that could detect obstacles — and it was smart enough to stall its flight to avoid crashing into them. The DJI ActiveTrack function also debuted with the Phantom 4, making it easy to capture a cinematic shot while flying. That’s because — when enabled — ActiveTrack follows a chosen subject throughout the shot, whether they are walking along a trail, driving a car, or even swimming in the ocean. 

That said, the initial DJI Phantom 4 just had one sensor in the front. Useful, but not useful enough. Ever since then, dronemakers have been working to add more sensors to make their drones even smarter. And today, you have loads of options.

Screen Shot 2020 11 29 at 7.37.23 PM
The Skydio 2 followed me AND navigated itself around these dense trees.

The best follow-me drone for complex environments: Skydio 2

The best follow-me drone for people looking to track subjects quickly moving in complex environments, like forests or through tunnels, is the Skydio 2.

Equipped with six, 200-degree color cameras, Skydio 2 can see everything in every direction so it theoretically never crashes as it follows you. It costs $999. That said, if you think you’ll probably want to upgrade to get the controller and Beacon (two must-have accessories), your costs quickly add up. The Skydio 2 is great, but it’s expensive.

One big reason for the costs is that this drone has more sensors than any other drone in this guide. With so many sensors, it’s all-but-guaranteed to be completely crash-proof, even in crowded air (like around trees).

Unlike the aforementioned follow-me drones that were popular in the past, but that relied on following a device attached to you, the Skydio uses its cameras to lock onto you, while also watching everything around it so it doesn’t hit those things. Plus, it can calculate how to navigate around those things so it can continue on its path, following you as you ski down a mountain or bike through a tunnel.

You can see the Skydio 2 in action, here:

Based in California, Skydio is also one of the relatively few American drone companies out there.

Mavic Air 2 review camera sensor
Sally French, The Drone Girl, flies the DJI Mavic Air 2, which launched in spring 2020.

The best value follow-me drone for the money: Mavic Air 2

If you don’t need to fly in super-complicated environments (ie. you’re more likely to fly on an open field), then save some money.

The Mavic Air 2 is just $800, and in a lot of ways it’s better than the Skydio 2.

The drone uses the latest version of DJI’s ActiveTrack technology (that was the monumental tech first introduced with the Phantom 4 in 2016). With better pathfinding and a faster and more accurate prediction of lost subjects, the tech can still keep your subject in the center of the frame, even if they move behind a tree.

The problem: the Mavic Air 2 does not have 360-degree vision the way the Skydio 2 does. It can track subjects well, but it’s less self-aware of its own existence amidst other trees or bridges. Rather than the Skydio 2’s 6 sensors, this only has a forward, backward and downward sensor, so it’s not fair to call this drone crashproof.

Overall though, I like the Mavic Air 2 more than the Skydio 2, largely thanks to the seamless experience you’ve come to expect from DJI. From start to finish, the DJI Mavic Air 2 is easy to fly, with on-screen app text walking you through exactly what you need to do to have a successful flight. Plus, for just $799, you’re getting a high-quality camera with a 1/2″ CMOS Quad Bayer sensor mounted on a 3-axis stabilized gimbal that can capture up to 48 MP resolution. It’s also lighter and more portable (it folds up), which could be ideal for athletes on the go.

What drone do you prefer for action sports? Tell us in the comments, and happy flying!

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