Sony has finally unveiled and announced its foray into aerial robotics the Airpeak S1. The $9,000 professional drone promises exceptional flight performance, obstacle-detection systems, and “heavy-lift” capabilities in a device just slightly larger than a DJI Inspire 2.
Sony touts the Airpeak S1 as the smallest drone capable of handling the load of a full-size mirrorless camera and its accompanying large prime lens, a combination typically reserved for larger “heavy-lift” quadcopters like the DJI Matrix 200. The S1 can carry up to five pounds of camera gear and can accelerate from 0 to 80 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 95.9 miles per hour. Sony says this is faster acceleration than DJI’s Inspire 2, and top speed is above DJI’s heavy-lift-capable Matrice, which tops out at 50 miles per hour.
Much of what Sony has accomplished here, it says, is due to the tightly integrated system. Due to its broad expertise in a wide range of electronics, the S1 uses its own motor, propeller, control system and sensor technology. The S1 is supported by a standalone controller and a dedicated app (which will only launch for iOS, without knowing if and when it will come to Android) and includes onboard obstacle detection.
[Airpeak S1’s] Newly developed propulsion system focuses on the responsiveness of the aircraft for the most intuitive flying for professional makers. The Airpeak system is optimized to ensure stable flight even in high winds.
as shown in past videos, Sony praises that the S1 is the most stable drone in its class even in adverse conditions. It has a maximum lean angle of 55 degrees allowing it to perform extreme lean angles with a high degree of maneuverability. In addition, it can withstand winds of up to 44.7 miles per hour.
Specifically with regard to wind resistance, Sony says the Inspire can’t maintain a flat angle or pitch in the same environment, and the Matrice 200 – while much more stable than the Inspire – can’t maintain a fixed position at wind speeds than where the S1 was made. That is why Sony states that the S1 performs better than both.
All that speed, power and stability comes at a price: the S1 is only capable of a maximum flight time of 22 minutes without charge and only 12 minutes when equipped with an Alpha 7S Mark III and a 24mm f/1.4 lens.
A range of sensors
For collision detection, the S1 is equipped with Sony image sensors in five key locations: the front, rear, left, right and bottom of the aircraft. Sony says its “Vision Sensing Processor” processes camera data at high speed with low power consumption and, in conjunction with its proprietary algorithms, can accurately estimate the plane’s spatial position and orientation in real time. The company says this enables stable flight even in environments where the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) reception may be impeded, such as indoors or under bridges.
Sony says it uses the five directional cameras to define the 3D space in which the drone flies for optimal control and stability.
The Airpeak S1 is also equipped with a unique, internal, high-performance flight control system that Sony claims integrates all sensor information such as that collected from the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), direction, barometric pressure and infrared range to optimize its flight and propulsion.
The sensors and built-in electronics work together to brake the S1 on obstacles in multiple directions. This language seems carefully crafted, as Sony doesn’t claim it can avoid objects, but rather avoid collisions with them, which sets it apart from the collision avoidance expectations set by industry leader DJI. Still, Sony says those stereo cameras and an infrared range-finding sensor mounted on the top of the drone detect obstacles near the aircraft and have it slow down and stop automatically based on the aircraft’s behavior and environmental conditions.
Sony launches the Airpeak S1 with the Airpeak Flight app, an iOS and iPadOS-only application (at launch) that connects to the drone and controls the camera and gimbal, and provides an operator with status information, such as flight distance and remaining battery power and you can change various operations and settings.
Together with the app, the S1 is controlled by a supplied controller. In this way, the drone supports dual control mode, so that one user can control the flight while another can focus on the camera control. A camera mounted on the nose of the aircraft can be tilted from the remote control to allow the pilot to better monitor the environment and flight path.
Sony is also launching the Airpeak Base web application, which enables integrated flight scheduling management, fleet management and a log viewer.
Operators can create advanced flight plans and automatically fly the aircraft repeatedly along the same course in an “on rails” experience. The drone’s position (latitude, longitude and altitude) and speed can be pre-programmed along a timeline, and the pilot can even specify the orientation of the gimbal and the timing of the video or photo capture process. Flights can be reproduced identically to previous flight logs, allowing for multiple recordings in professional scenarios and also alleviating the stress of short battery life – the S1 can be landed, fitted with a new battery and returned on the same recording path.
Sony also announced Airpeak Plus, a cloud-based service that enables the use of AirPeak Base and includes a protection plan that covers accidental damage to the drone.
Sony says the Airpeak S1 will be compatible with a number of Sony Alpha cameras, including the Alpha 1, Alpha 9 Mark II, Alpha 7S Mark III, Alpha 7R Mark IV and the FX3. It will also work with a number of lenses from 14mm to 85mm focal range. When connected to the S1, both the USB port and HDMI are connected.
Sony has not tested or published any information regarding the use of any third-party camera. Sony notes that compatibility isn’t necessarily impossible, but isn’t providing further details at this time. A Sony representative noted that the ability for the app and controller to send data to the aircraft and then through the gimbal to the camera is theoretically the only limiting factor, as the drone itself and gimbal are likely a third-party camera. able to physically.
The Gimbal is not included
The gimbal is the only part that Sony does not specifically manufacture, and is a custom Gemsy Gimbal T3. That Gimbal is also not included in the purchase price, and while that particular gimbal is mentioned for $1,750 on Gemsy’s websiteSony says any custom work done on it could make the final S1 design price different, which was not provided at the time of publication.
Sony has not tested the signal range of the Airpeak S1 and therefore has not given any expectations at the time of announcement. The company also could not answer whether the drone was able to automatically return to its launch location in the event of a disconnection. Sony representatives did note that the drone has a “back home” option, so if it’s not an automatic feature at launch, it could theoretically be added via a firmware update.
It is also striking that Sony does not intend to geo-fence the drone at all. The S1’s ability to fly in any airspace has not been locked down by the manufacturer, and at the time of publication, Sony placed full responsibility for flight location on the pilot. This in contrast to DJI, which has prevented default flights over certain locations such as airports, unless specifically unlocked by the company with appropriate approvals from the FAA.
Finally, Sony specifically noted that the Airpeak S1 will be made in Japan. The company says it may address some of the concerns associated with products manufactured in China.
The Airpeak S1 will sell for $9,000. It will be available for pre-order and will ship to customers in the fall of 2021. It comes with the main plane, four propellers, a remote control, two batteries and a charger. Additional propellers are available in packs of two, along with spare batteries and chargers. As mentioned, the gimbal is also sold separately. No pricing for accessories or replacement parts was provided at the time of announcement.