There are many variations on the theme of the flying camera coming to market these days. Most are quadcopters that you pilot with a remote control or mobile app. Some can follow you and take commands from a wearable device that lets it track your movement. Today a company called FotoKite is launching an IndieGogo campaign for the Phi, a new take on the flying camera with a form factor that cuts down on size, cost, and complexity.
I got to check out the Phi at our office. It has a folding design that lets it fit into a tube the size of a large thermos. To launch, you simply unfold the drone, hold it up, press a power button, and flick your wrist. It flies out and hovers, keeping tension on the line. You can reel it in or let it run just like a kite. To steer, you press a button on the handheld remote and tilt your hand.
Because it doesn't have GPS or landing gear, the FotoKite's battery life is about 15 minutes, and that includes power for a GoPro you attach. The team says it's planning to integrate the GoPro with its remote, so that you can start and stop recording and adjust shutter settings while the drone is in the air. It also lets them keep the price low, with backers getting the unit for $349 on IndieGogo.
Drop dead simple
Fotokite already has some more powerful versions in operation for media organizations like the BBC. Those use a tether connected to a powerful battery and mobile network, so that the FotoKite Pro can be used for live broadcasts from the field. Founder and CEO Sergei Lupashin was actually inspired to create the product after seeing drone footage of Russian protests filmed from the air.
The version of the Phi we saw was 3D printed and used soft propellers you could stop with your hand and not risk injury. Overall it was a very cool attempt to simplify what can still be a tricky and dangerous product. When we can keep it for a fews days to play with, we'll have a better sense of whether that tradeoff is worth the risk of clotheslining a passing jogger with your drone on a leash.