A drone on a leash… sounds weird right? But the idea isn’t all that crazy. Right now, quadcopters and drones in general are viewed as dangerous, especially when flown indoors. The views aren’t entirely false, as I have personally watched friends just miss being injured by the spinning blades. Fellow Resource Writer Mike Wilkinson calls the Inspire amazing, but also a “flying death machine.” The makers of Fotokite Phi wanted to try and make drone flying easier and safer, and their answer was the leash.
Inspired by drone operators during the Russian protests in 2011, Sergei Lupashin set out to make a drone that is safe and easy to use. The result is the Fotokite, a tethered quadcopter, providing a more userfriendly quadcopter with a unique take on safety for both the operator and the people nearby. The Fotokite Phi is based on the same technology that CEO Sergei Lupashin demo’ed on the TED stage in 2014, which is also currently being used by major news outlets such as the BBC for their broadcast coverage and special programming.
Sergei Lupashin originally implemented the drone on a leash concept when he and his team built the Fotokite Pro, a high-end aimed product designed for broadcasting and television use. They wanted to make something more affordable and approachable for the everyday consumer hobbyist, and the Phi was born.
Thanks to the tether, we’ve been able to considerably reduce the cost of manufacturing the Phi without having to compromise on quality. With its physical connection to users, the Fotokite always knows where you are and stays in place as you move. Between the leash and the camera at the bottom, it’s a cross between an airborne pet and a steadicam in the sky.
Fotokite is the only drone on the market that doesn’t rely on remote piloting or GPS, making for a simpler, more intuitive user experience. To launch the Fotokite Phi, the user simply points it in the direction they want it to go and gives the device a short shake. The onboard GoPro is powered by the Phi and automatically turns on when flying. The Fotokite’s core algorithms, which were developed by Lupashin during his PhD work at the Flying Machine Arena at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and are protected by a patent application, enable the device to fly itself on the end of the tether, controlled by simple gestures, with no need for a remote control or GPS.
The Fotokite Phi easily fits into a backpack or suitcase. It weighs 12 ounces, including the GoPro 3/3+/4 camera and battery, and is the lightest GoProcarrying quadcopter on the market. The Fotokite Phi folds into a compact carrying case (about the size of a two liter soda bottle) and can easily fit in a backpack or suitcase for people traveling with it. The Fotokite Phi comes with a 26 foot leash included and a removable battery that charges directly through a USB port.
If the Fotokite Phi detaches from the tether, the device is programmed to detect a lack of tension and float slowly to the ground, instead of flying away. In addition, the Fotokite’s soft propellers are safe to the touch.
The tether makes it clear to bystanders who’s controlling the device, allowing for accountable aerial photography. To this end, Fotokite has secured special exemptions in Switzerland and France to be flown near crowds. Fotokite is currently working towards acquiring the same permission from the FAA in the US.
The Phi has an 8 meter leash, can fly for about 8 to 10 minutes per battery charge and will retail (after their IndiGoGo campaign) for about $500. Right now, the camera on a leash will only cost you $350 if you back their campaign. What do you think? Interested? Learn more at their IndiGoGo page.