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Flying Drone Buddies Can Capture Your Amazing Exploits

By Chris Maxcer
Jun 17, 2014 5:00 AM PT

There are two new crowdfunded projects that are building self-flying drones to follow you around and video your awesomeness. Geared for adventure sports like skiing, biking or motorcycle riding, these two drones will follow you at high-speed, capturing high-flying jumps and steep dives from angles previously available only to professional filmmakers with powerful cameras and helicopters.

Flying Drone Buddies Can Capture Your Amazing Exploits

For the outdoor adventure set, these flying cameras are simply insane.

Yet if you watch the video trailers for these projects, some of the coolest bits of footage are relatively mundane -- like a skateboarder slowly weaving down a sidewalk, or an inflatable boat with an outboard motor cutting a wake.

Since it was recently Father's Day in the U.S., imagine a father leading his kids across a grassy field with a frisbee in hand -- and that's it. Shot from the perspective of a flying drone, wow, suddenly the impossible-to-get perspective becomes real, giving amateurs a chance to get aerial shots they previously could only imagine, letting regular people evoke mood and anticipation like never before.

The HEXO+ video pitch:

The Automatic Flying Camera Drone Projects

The first of these two recent products is HEXO+ by Squadrone System.

The second is AirDog by Helico Aerospace Industries US.

In some ways, the two action-sports solutions are eerily similar: Both feature gimbals that hold GoPro cameras to deliver smooth video. Both will fly 40-plus miles per hour. Both will follow a subject autonomously, even landing on their own. Both feature iOS and Android apps to help set up flight parameters. Both have flight times of around 15 minutes per battery charge.

Both Kickstarter projects feature trailer videos with sick perspectives and inspiring footage.

Differences Between the Two Projects

One key difference between the projects is how the two drones track the subject. The HEXO+ connects to your smartphone using an optimized MAVLINK protocol, in addition to built-in trajectory anticipation algorithms that predict the next, most likely position of the subject. This helps create a more stable images that frame the subject.

The AirDog, on the other hand, uses a smartphone app to help you set up your flight plan, but the actual signals from the subject come from the AirLeash, which is a waterproof computerized tracker that sends signals to the AirDog to tell it where it is. The AirLeash can be worn on your wrist or strapped to a helmet, and it can even be used to help you adjust the flight or angle of the AirDog before you take off and do something cool.

The AirDog video pitch:

In addition to variations in the overall design -- the HEXO+ features six propellers and sleek aerodynamic design, while the AirDog uses just four propellers and looks like a brightly colored flying X -- the two have overlapping but slightly different target markets.

The HEXO+ is designed for fast-moving action -- like skiing down a wicked steep mountain -- while the AirDog has more features for static sports or filmmaking, like "hover and aim," which lets the AirDog hover in one spot but move the camera to track the subject. You can also set it to slowly circle an area like a skate park or backyard -- or simply hover in one spot and look directly down to video.

For situations with obstacles to avoid -- like trees or buildings -- you can run your course with AirLeash to record the position of your subject then use the smartphone app to adjust the trajectory of the AirDog.

Of course, both drones will also enable manual control, too.

The Rewards for Backers

The HEXO+ has a do-it-yourself kit reward for US$299. It features files for 3D printing, a list of components, the autonomous flight controller, and the smartphone app. The early bird base model is gone, but you can still back the HEXO+ for $599 and get a ready-to-fly drone with a stabilizing 2D gimbal with a GoPro mount (GoPro camera is not included).

For $699, you can get a ready-to-film pack, with a HEXO+ drone, gimbal with GoPro mount, and app, plus a GoPro Hero3 White Edition HD camera. To get the better quality GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition 4K camera, the price jumps to $999 (estimated retail price is $1,299).

The AirDog early bird option is gone. The next, and only, option is the AirDog unit itself -- not including a GoPro camera -- at $1,195 (estimated retail price is $1,500).

Will They See the Light of Day?

Both projects appear to have working prototypes and manufacturing timelines set up, greatly reducing the risk of a failed project (though some risk, of course, remains).

As for funding, the HEXO+ blew past its funding goal of $50,000. Backers have pledged more than $340,000 with nearly a month to go. And the timeline from backer to delivery? May 15, 2015.

In February, HEXO+ plans to spend a month testing with pro riders in action and release some of the greatest aerial footage clips. The team plans to make quality improvements in March with final testing and start of production in April.

The funding for AirDog and timeline is a bit different: AirDog backers have pledged nearly $130,000 toward a $200,000 funding goal with more than a month to go. As for delivery, AirDog plans a faster rollout -- AirDog units could make it into the hands of backers by November of this year.

TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at You can also connect with him on Google+.

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