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DJI debuts $499 Spark handheld drone with hand-gesture controls, 1080p video camera

At a live event in New York City's Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday, drone manufacturer DJI has released a new, small form-factor drone, called the DJI Spark —and AppleInsider is at the event.

A pilot can use hand gesture controls monitored by the drone itself to fly the unit. At the live event, the drone was be controlled in the immediate area with simple push, pull, and steering hand gestures.

Other gestures allow the pilot to control a steady range from the pilot, and the drone will actively track the user even in motion. Waving at the drone commands it to return to the user, and land in the user's out-streched palm.

Smartphone controls allow the user to control the Spark up to 100 yards away. An optional remote control allows the pilot to control the drone up to 1.2 miles away at speeds up to 31 miles per hour. Additionally, the optional DJI Goggles give a pilot a drone's-eye view.

DJI claims up to 16 minutes of flight time on a charge from a "high-density LiPo battery."

The camera has a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, and can capture 1080p stabilized video, or 12MP stills. A mechanical gimbal and DJI's UltraSmooth technology cuts down on vibration.

FlightAutonomy included with the Spark uses a forward-facing 3d sensor, GPS and GLONASS GPS positioning, and an inertial measurement unit, allowing the drone to detect obstacles up to 16 feet away.

Four "quickshot" flight options for automatic 10-second video creation are available by default from a smartphone controlling the drone. Rocket sends the drone straight up with the camera pointing at the ground, Circle rotates around the subject, Helix flies up and away in an enlarging spiral , and "Dronie" starts close to the subject and flies "up and away" from the subject.

The 300-gram drone is available in five colors: Alpine White, Sky Blue, Meadow Green, Lava Read, and Sunrise Yellow. An assortment of customization and charging accessories are available as well.

Preorders will begin on Wednesday, with shipments starting in the middle of June. The drone itself retails for $499. A Fly More combo has a drone, two batteries, four pairs of propellers, a remote controller, propeller guards, a charging hub, a shoulder bag and all necessary cables, and a carrying case for $699. Pricing for other accessories will be announced at a later date.