I don’t review Australian-designed tech that often, so when I do it’s special. That happened last week with ROVA, a selfie drone designed by ASX-listed IOT Group. It’s manufactured in China but IOT Group says it designed it itself.
ROVA was launched yesterday in Sydney with much razzmatazz. IOT Group engaged high-profile publicity agent Max Markson, fresh from promoting an Arnold Schwarzenegger tour, and actor/model Ruby Rose. It is not a low-key drone takeoff.
Much has happened with IOT Group since we wrote about it last year. The company sacked its founder and executive director Simon Kantor, eventually settling with him. In June we reported that the 27-year-old Kantor was the brainchild behind ROAM-e, an amazing looking flying selfie stick that resembles a water bottle with two propellers spinning on top.
IOT Group promised an awful lot with ROAM-e. It would take a 180-degree photo of your face and follow you from in front, capture stills and video, and stream to Instagram.
It was reported that IOT Group had received more than 250,000 pre-orders, which it expected to fill before Christmas and that a production order was placed with Shenzhen-based AEE Technology.
The flying water bottle with all its tricks never rolled out, but there’s still a plan for it to appear by midyear after some tech issues are sorted out. That includes the safety of its spinning propellers and face-recognition technology. It may emerge more as an outdoor drone rather than an indoor one.
Instead, IOT Group worked with AEE Technology to build a more conventional and less ambitious selfie drone called ROVA, which I have been testing. It’s more conventional, because unlike ROAM-e’s dual propellers, ROVA is a regular looking quadcopter with four rotors.
There’s no automated selfie flight features such as following you from the front or above, locking on to your face or objects or orbiting you in a circle. You pilot yourself. With ROVA, I had to manually position the drone to take a still, or manoeuvre it while taking video. That begs the question whether ROVA is much of a selfie drone — if you have to fly it when you’re supposedly also in shot.
Getting ROVA ready to fly is easy enough. You download and install the iOS or Android ROVA app, connect a phone to the drone’s Wi-Fi, and then control it from the app, which I found intuitive to use.
I was able to take stills and shoot video. Stills are 12MP and video 1080p high definition at either 30 and 60fps. The drone is noisy, and doesn’t record sound. So I recorded commentary on my phone as I flew ROVA, and merged it with video later. iMovie on a Mac or Adobe Premiere Elements for PC and Mac are suitable editing packages.
ROVA is designed mainly for use indoors. It’s ability to fly high and far is limited by not having GPS tracking. Instead, it relies on an optical sensor to maintain its position above the ground and you need to fly within a couple of metres of the ground for it to work.
The ground, too, needs to have some texture. Carpet needs to have a pattern or a granular texture that the camera can lock on to. And it can’t be too dark. So ROVA wouldn’t be suited to shooting you and your friends dancing at a late-night disco.
On occasions I had trouble getting ROVA to hover without drifting when I was preparing to take images indoors. That made life difficult. I’d get it in position for a shot and it would drift away. I performed the drone calibration routine to try to overcome this, but with limited success. Practice, however, helped a bit.
You can fly ROVA outdoors, but only in optimal conditions. I tried this in the hope it would perform better in brighter conditions. There was no wind at the time. Alas, ROVA still drifted. Worse, on one occasion, it flew away and over a neighbour’s fence despite my efforts to control and land it. The app became unresponsive in flight.
The flying controls are identical to those of Parrot and other common drones: two joysticks with the left handling up, down and rotate, and the right forward, back, left and right. There are two flying modes: drone mode, where “forward” means thrusting forward as a pilot would see it, and selfie mode, where “forward” means away from you, as a spectator would see it, no matter ROVA’s orientation.
Each side of the drone has a small infra-red sensor. Turn collision avoidance on, and ROVA stays away from walls and obstacles. You can shoo it away with your hands. The downside is that ROVA can be destabilised by its own draft when near walls.
The good news is safety. ROVA is among the safest drones to fly indoors as there’s a permanent guard around the propellers that’s part of the structure. It prevents damage to both the drone and objects it crashes into. In my case there were many crashes, but nothing was damaged.
ROVA is presented nicely. It comes in an attractive zippable carry case, and the cube-shaped batteries are easy to install. You simply pop them in the top. You get two in the kit and a very compact USB-connected charger. Charging took about 40 minutes for about eight minutes of flight time.
The chassis has a slot for a microSD card with up to 64GB of storage to record media. You get a 16GB microSD card in the box. And there’s a microUSB port for data transfer. You can either connect a cable to download media or take out the microSD card.
While I think ROVA is one of the safest drones to fly, it doesn’t have enough in-built features to make taking selfies fun and easy. But it does offer an entry level experience for people wanting to be acquainted with flying a drone. You can preorder ROVA through Amazon.com or get it from the IOT Group website. (https://au.theiotgroup.com/products/rova).
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