The Sony Airpeak drone has officially landed, with Sony giving us our first glimpse of the new flying machine at CES 2021.
And what an entrance it was, with Airpeak filmed soaring above a snowy landscape and carrying a Sony A7S III, as it kept pace with a prototype Sony Vision S car at a race track.
The short demo video emphatically answered our main question about Sony Airpeak – what kind of drone will it be? With its mildly terrifying wingspan, nifty retractable landing gear and high-end Sony Alpha payload, there's no doubt that this will (for now) be a drone for professional cinematographers.
That's a slight shame for those of us who were hoping Sony might tackle DJI head-on in an aerial photography dogfight, with an equivalent of the DJI Mavic Air 2.
But Sony has left the door open for future iterations on its Airpeak brand – could we still see a consumer drone fly from its Alpha bunker? And what else did the CES 2021 demo teach us about the first Sony Airpeak drone?
Here's everything we know so far about the exciting airborne Alpha...
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Sony Airpeak drone release date and price
At CES 2021, Sony confirmed the Airpeak launch date that it mentioned in its first official announcement back in November 2020.
In a short statement, it said "Sony will launch a new business targeted for professional photography and video production in the spring of 2021". For worldwide readers, that means we should get more information in March or April 2021.
Interestingly, Sony refers to Airpeak as a "project" and "new business", rather than a standalone product. So it's certainly possible that the drone shown in the CES 2021 demo will be the first of a new range if Airpeak drones.
In previous years, Sony has given 'project' status to new platforms that slowly develop into fully-fledged products. For example, Sony's Project Morpheus announcement in 2014 was an early prototype system for what ultimately became PlayStation VR two years later.
Sony Airpeak is a different division, of course, and appears to be pretty fully-realized already. But it's likely to be the start of a a big new sub-brand that could ultimately be home to several drones.
Sony Airpeak is clearly a very high-end drone that will likely go head-to-head with the likes of the DJI Inspire 2.
So far, Sony hasn't given revealed anything about possible Airpeak pricing and, with so few concrete details, it's tricky to estimate a ballpark figure.
The DJI Inspire 2 is available in various bundles, depending on which of its Zenmuse camera modules you go for. And It's not yet clear whether or not Sony will sell the Airpeak drone bundled with an Alpha camera like the Sony A7S III or A9 II.
But even without a camera, the DJI Inspire 2 starts at $3,299 / £3,059 / AU$4,699. That's a very general idea of how much this level of professional drone costs, but we'll update this page when we hear more about official Airpeak pricing.
Sony Airpeak drone news, rumors and features
So far, Sony has kept an impressively tight grip on rumors surrounding its Airpeak drone project. The only information we have so far is from the official Airpeak page and the teaser video (below) shown at CES 2021.
On November 9 2020, Sony said that it had "launched a new project for drones in the field of AI robotics" and that Airpeak will "support the creativity of video creators to the fullest extent possible, aiming to contribute to the further development of the entertainment industry, as well as to improved efficiency and savings in various industries".
Sony then followed this up at CES 2021 with this slightly more precise announcement: "As the first phase of this project, Sony will launch a new business targeted for professional photography and video production in the spring of 2021." This would include a drone whose payload could include "an Alpha mirrorless camera to capture high quality, full frame aerial photography and video." You can see this in action in the video below.
Despite its size, Sony says that Airpeak is "the industry's smallest class of drone that can be equipped with the Alpha system" and that it "aims to contribute to the world of entertainment while also pursuing new possibilities for creative expression".
In terms of official information, that it's so far. But there are clearly many more Sony Airpeak secrets to reveal.
For example, in the early images we can see that it appears to have what look like pairs of obstacle avoidance sensors on the front and rear, plus another camera above that.
The interesting part of the Sony Airpeak announcement is that it's in "the field of AI robotics". It's not clear yet how all these additional cameras and sensors will help the pilot fly or shoot with the Airpeak drone, but we're looking forward to finding out.
Rivals like the DJI Inspire 2 can detect and fly around obstacles using infrared sensors, and use advanced visual tracking algorithms to lock onto subjects. Sony Alpha cameras are already masters of the latter, but it'll be interesting to see how this all integrates with the Airpeak system and where Sony might make new leaps.
Also, while the Airpeak gimbal has clearly been optimized for Sony cameras like the Sony A7S III (below), we're keen to hear exactly which cameras it'll support and if (as seems likely) this will be restricted to Alpha models only.
Will we see other Sony Airsense drones?
The arrival of such a high-end professional drone would be appear to dash earlier hopes that we might see Airpeak rival some of DJI's popular consumer drones, like the DJI Mavic Air 2.
Sony has also called Airpeak a new business targeted at "professional photography and video production". But there was a small glimmer of hope for hobbyists when Sony said that this was just the "first phase of this project".
Could we eventually see a Sony drone that's the flying equivalent of a Sony RX100 VII, rather than a professional rig for filmmakers? We'd love to see it, but for the timebeing it looks unlikely.
That said, Sony has given us a glimpse what that concept could like with some patents over the past couple of years. Of course, patents don't necessarily lead to final products – in fact, more often than not, they remain wireframe concepts. But they at least show that Sony has been considering a more consumer-focused drone.
The first patent for a Sony drone was picked up by Sony Alpha Rumors back in 2018. This showed a folding design where the rotors all fold into a square holder, which is fronted by a touchscreen controller. The idea being that you can detach the touchscreen holder in order to fly the drone.
This concept was further developed in another patent in October 2019 which hinted at other features like gesture control – for example, one page contains an idea labelled "stretch out palm under flying device".
Interestingly, much of these patents refer to a device that has more in common with entry-level drones like the AirSelfie 2, which arrived back at CES 2018, rather than a aerial powerhouse like the new Sony Airpeak drone.
But one thing is clear from both the patents and official Airpeak announcement – Sony's idea of a drone is an AI-powered flying camera that does a lot of the heavy lifting, in both flying and image-taking terms, for you. Whether Sony applies this philosophy to a DJI-rivaling consumer drone, though, remains to be seen.