Drone makers like DJI, 3D Robotics and Parrot along with anare working hard to bring aerial photography to the masses. But, for however user-friendly the newest flying cameras are, they still require some amount of tech savviness to fly them.
The Fotokite Phi, on the other hand, greatly reduces the learning curve by essentially being a flying selfie stick. Designed by Perspective Robotics AG, the Phi landed on crowdfunding site Indiegogo today and follows the same path as the company's professional version in use by the BBC and other news outlets by eschewing a remote controller or mobile app for a simple retractable leash. And instead of having a built-in camera, it just uses a GoPro Hero3 or Hero4 camera.
Made to be ultraportable, the Phi folds down and fits entirely inside a tube roughly the size of a whisky bottle and with a camera it weighs just 350 grams (12.3 ounces). To get it ready to fly, you fold down the arms and twist a lock on top. Then you can attach a GoPro to the camera housing in front.
A button on back turns on the quadcopter and then starts up the GoPro. The housing can be aimed straight down for shots directly overhead or tilted up for getting out in front or behind a subject. To start flying, you simply point it in the direction you want to record, make a quick turn with your wrist (similar to twisting in a light bulb) and the props spin up.
The retractable Smart Leash can extend up to 26 feet (8 meters). Since the Phi is tethered, there's no need for GPS or other sensors to keep the Phi hovering in place -- indoors or outside. The leash has its own processor and sensors letting you control the Phi by pressing and holding a button and moving the leash in the direction you want it to go.
The current prototypes fly for around 8 to 10 minutes depending on wind conditions. The goal is to get it up to 15 minutes of continuous flight. The battery will be removable, though, and can be charged while in the Phi via USB.
The Fotokite Phi is currently on Indiegogo with a crowdfunding goal of $300,000. Early-bird backers can get one for $260, which converts to £165 and AU$355. Once those and its other early-bird contributions are gone, you can secure one for $350 (roughly AU$475 and £225). The company expects to be able to ship in early 2016.
Backing crowdfunded projects comes with some risk. Be sure to read Indiegogo's conditions before you make a contribution to a campaign.
There are certainly some limitations with the Phi compared to other flying cameras, mainly distance and height. But within only a couple minutes of flying I was able to get a handle on controlling it and that was inside a very small conference room. It seems perfect for anyone -- hobbyists or professionals -- who want something that can be deployed quickly, controlled easily and packed up fast.