Looking Ahead to 2016

What Should 2016 Hold?

Now that 2015 is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start thinking about what we want to see in 2016. There were a number of missed opportunities that can be turned around for the new year, and maybe even a chance for something completely new. Whatever the case, here are some things I want to see in the next year.

Horizon Does Drones Right

I talked about it a bit in our Hits & Misses of 2015 article, but Horizon is a little inconsistent with their drones. Their Blade Chroma is a fantastic camera-equipped quadcopter, but then you look at the Glimpse and Nano QX3D, neither of which sold well, and you start to wonder exactly who’s making the decisions around the Horizon campus. Here are some key things they can do to truly compete in the drone market space:

Address the Competition

Dromida Vista

Dromida Vista

Our top selling multi-rotor (hell, product) wasn’t a Horizon product in 2015, but a product from their primary competitor, Hobbico. Not because it was better, nor because it was priced cheaper; it was simply because it existed. The Dromida Vista, and the Dromida Ominus before it, has been out for more than one and a half years, and still Blade has no answer for it. What the hell?

There’s no shame in acknowledging that someone got there first, so long as you don’t just give up — that’s not what Horizon did when the DJI Phantom struck a chord with the American populace. They took their time and released the Blade 350QX — which, at the time, was technically superior to the Phantom. They didn’t just cede the territory to DJI, they fought back. But here, they’re not fighting at all.

There exists an opportunity for Blade to bring out their own sub-$100, durable drone with a flip button capability. Maybe it’s priced slightly higher than the Dromida Vista, but that’s okay, because Blade is known for making great products, and the polish that this drone will have more than makes up for the difference in price. Obviously, there’s a demand for a product like this, because it made our top spot for the year. Horizon is missing out on all of those sales because they aren’t even in the game.

Fill The Gaps

Right now, our camera drone selection goes from the HobbyZone Zugo to the Blade Chroma. That’s a price jump from $70 to $1,000. Why in the hell is there nothing in between that?

HobbyZone Zugo

HobbyZone Zugo

No-name Chinese companies and predatory toy makers are filling that gap with junk products and no support. More and more, customers are coming in with sub-par products they bought online because we didn’t have anything they were looking for. Not everyone can afford the Chroma, but that doesn’t mean they are willing to settle for a Zugo.

Blade has to come out with something in the, say, $300 range with a camera as a Ready-to-Fly package. It should be brushless, maybe around a 300-size quadcopter (meaning it measures 300mm from corner to corner, diagonally), and Blade quality. The camera can still be a 720p camera, and it doesn’t have to have gimbal stabilization. Maybe they could even offer a version with a gimbal for around $600. That would fill the space between the two extremes, and give hobby shops that aren’t willing to compromise on quality an option for their customers.

Stop Pandering to the Crowd that Doesn’t Care

One thing I’ll never understand about Blade is their insistence in going after the hardcore market. It’s never been their strong suit, and the hardcore crowd doesn’t appreciate Blade products. We saw this when Blade decided to make a play for the high-end collective-pitch helicopter space, bringing out their Pro-Level kits. Wanna guess how many of them are still being sold? If you guessed none, you’re right.

Meanwhile, the Blade R&D guys are ignoring the mass-market (see my first point). While they continue to make racing drones for a following that will never be big (judging by how much market share R/C surface racing has), they lose their market share in the highly competitive space of general purpose drones. Now that the drone market has exploded, almost every retail business is selling something called a “drone”. Horizon and Blade have to be as good as ever to keep up and compete; to make sure they stand out from the crowd and grab as many customers as possible.

So Blade, please stop making Mach 25s and Vortexes, or at least contain yourselves to one racing drone, instead and do what you do best: make the next great consumer drone that anyone can fly. That’s where the money is. Otherwise, you’re going to start losing the trust we dealers have in Blade, and you’ll see more of your competitors end up in the top spots.

Open-Source ID

Traxxas’ ID connectors are technologically a marvel. They cracked the code and figured out how to make LiPo batteries as safe as NiMH batteries for the mass market. It was a brilliant move, and one I applaud, but they refuse to make it open for any manufacturer to use, and an innovation like that shouldn’t be kept locked away when it could be a huge benefit to all of R/C.

I understand that Traxxas needs to make money on their invention, but there is a greater good that needs to be addressed as well. People’s safety shouldn’t be held for ransom. So I hope that someone comes along and creates an open standard for a battery identification process that speed controls, batteries, and chargers from every manufacturer can use.

People’s safety shouldn’t be held for ransom.

Traxxas hides behind their concern that if they license the technology, improper implementation could cause fires and impact safety negatively, and while there is some truth to that, there’s nothing in place keeping Traxxas’ LiPo factories from doing the same thing. No matter how closely the quality control is monitored, mistakes will be made. It may be true that the more factories making these batteries increases the chance that mistakes occur, but it’s also true that more access to these safety measures will keep more people safe. On balance, I think the latter option the best one.

I really think Traxxas’ engineers did a wonderful thing, and they should be proud that they were the first to do it, but for the company to keep the solution to the safest use of LiPo batteries to itself seems evil. Whoever creates an open version of this technology will earn the praise of the industry, and rightfully so. It’s time LiPos became as safe as any other battery. I hope the industry makes it happen this year.

AMA Removes the Stick from Its Butt

Recently, the federal government has required the registration of all model aircraft (legally referred to as UASs) with the FAA if they meet certain criteria. The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA for short) has sent a letter to all their members, telling them NOT to register because the AMA intends to fight the “unnecessary and burdensome regulations.” The AMA has since backed off on that stance, not because it’s seen the light, but because it doesn’t expect to win before the regulations kick in, as if winning was an option.

Generally, I support the AMA. I think that the work they are doing is important and necessary, but they are on the wrong side of history on this one. There is no precedence for the government deferring to an NGO for some of the population, but not all of the population. Either the government regulates or they don’t; they can’t regulate only those that aren’t AMA members. This is just the AMA posturing and pretending the government is going to pay attention to them. They need to save face with their more extremist members, who threaten to quit the AMA if they don’t do something to protect them from the terrible government. I don’t see any way in which these regulations are either “unnecessary” or “burdensome”, having completed the registration process ourselves. It took all of five minutes.

This was good regulation. It was necessary, and anyone who thinks otherwise is living in the past. This isn’t the start to some nefarious plot to rid the world of recreational model aircraft pilots. It’s just one more way that pilots are being held accountable for their actions. If you think that’s a bad thing, then you probably shouldn’t be flying in the first place.

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What do you guys think? Are there any other things you’d like to see in 2016? Am I off-base on my hopes for the new year? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to check out all of our 2015 Year-End Content below!