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Will GoPro Inc's Karma Be Amazing, or All Smoke and Mirrors?

By Travis Hoium – Sep 17, 2016 at 12:00PM

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Monday is a big day for the action cam company.

The Session camera was GoPro's last big product launch, and investors are hoping Karma goes a little better on Monday. Image source: GoPro.

Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, could be the biggest day in the history of GoPro (GPRO). The company will unveil its Karma Drone, a product that will expand the company beyond action cameras and is arguably the biggest risk GoPro has ever taken. After last year's disastrous Session launch and a drop in revenue this year, there's a lot of pressure on the Karma and upcoming Hero 5. 

What's amazing is that there has been very little information released about the drone outside of a few short videos. But what those videos show could mean either a revolutionary product is coming on Monday, or that GoPro is using smoke and mirrors to build up hype.

Is Karma something we've never seen before?

Fellow Fool Steve Symington recently wrote about GoPro's first Karma teaser video, which was just a short shot panning across a miniature bus on the road, while a larger bus drove over it. He inferred that the video meant Karma will have finely tuned controls, a low profile, and "superior video, audio processing". My first reaction was that he was crazy to make so many inferences from a 22-second video. But then I saw this:

Maybe Symington was right -- maybe this is a drone with capabilities we've never seen before. 

Based on this video, Karma is small, has incredible obstacle collision sensors, incredibly tight flight control, and some sort of noise cancellation technology in the drone or in the video software. I've watched this video dozens of times looking for wires or some whirring sound that's present in nearly every drone video on the internet. Nothing. Either GoPro has an amazing drone coming Monday, or it's doing some video magic to (small-f) fool us.

The final peek is the video below, which again has audio from the bike riders without any discernible noise from the drone itself. That alone would make the Karma a revolutionary device. Better yet, we got about a two-second glimpse of Karma in the upper right hand corner at the very end of the video. Indeed, it looks low-profile, but that's about all we can see in a few grainy shots.

Noise cancellation and effective obstacle avoidance technology won't be enough to make the Karma a hit, but they would be a great start. We need to see what the final form factor looks like, how control of the drone works, the official price tag, and how exactly it ties into the Hero line of cameras. CEO Nick Woodman has said in the past that Karma will be compatible with older cameras, but how exactly will that work?

Expectations are high for Karma

I've been hopeful but skeptical that GoPro could build a drone that will compete with the likes of DJI and Parrot who have years of experience with this technology. And with new products entering the market at lower and lower price points, GoPro is going to have to wow consumers with the kind of product that could be a billion-dollar business almost overnight

Check back here Monday for a look at whether Karma is going to be the hit GoPro hopes it can be, or if it's flying too close to the sun. The future of the company could be riding on it. 

Travis Hoium owns shares of GoPro. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends GoPro. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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