Emerging Tech


Flying Drone Buddies Can Capture Your Amazing Exploits

There are two new crowdfunded projects that are buildingself-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-flyingjumps and steep dives from angles previously available only toprofessional filmmakers with powerful cameras and helicopters.

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

Yet if you watch the video trailers for these projects, some ofthe coolest bits of footage are relatively mundane — like a skateboarderslowly weaving down a sidewalk, or an inflatable boat with an outboardmotor 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 frisbeein 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 theypreviously could only imagine, letting regular people evoke mood and anticipationlike 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 AirDogby Helico Aerospace Industries US.

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

Both Kickstarter projects feature trailer videos with sickperspectives and inspiring footage.

Differences Between the Two Projects

One key difference between the projects is how the two drones trackthe subject. The HEXO+ connects to your smartphone using an optimizedMAVLINK protocol, in addition to built-in trajectory anticipationalgorithms 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 setup your flight plan, but the actual signals from the subject come fromthe AirLeash, which is a waterproof computerized tracker that sendssignals to the AirDog to tell it where it is. The AirLeash can be wornon your wrist or strapped to a helmet, and it can even be used to helpyou adjust the flight or angle of the AirDog before you take off anddo something cool.

The AirDog video pitch:

In addition to variations in the overall design — the HEXO+ featuressix propellers and sleek aerodynamic design, while the AirDog uses justfour propellers and looks like a brightly colored flying X — the twohave overlapping but slightly different target markets.

The HEXO+ is designed for fast-moving action — like skiing downa wicked steep mountain — while the AirDog has more features forstatic sports or filmmaking, like “hover and aim,” which lets theAirDog hover in one spot but move the camera to track the subject. Youcan 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 yoursubject then use the smartphone app to adjust the trajectory of theAirDog.

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 filesfor 3D printing, a list of components, the autonomous flightcontroller, 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 dronewith a stabilizing 2D gimbal with a GoPro mount (GoPro camera is notincluded).

For $699, you can get a ready-to-film pack, with a HEXO+drone, gimbal with GoPro mount, and app, plus a GoPro Hero3 WhiteEdition HD camera. To get the better quality GoPro Hero3+ BlackEdition 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 isthe 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 manufacturingtimelines set up, greatly reducing the risk of a failed project (thoughsome 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. Andthe timeline from backer to delivery? May 15, 2015.

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

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

Chris Maxcer

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 WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.

1 Comment

  • Clarification: The AirDog, in addition to having some cool features that let it hover in one place or circle a certain area, can also film action at speeds pushing 40 mph.


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