Most camera drones rely on GPS and a system of sensors to make them easier and safer to fly. The Fotokite Phi just uses a string.
That's an oversimplification, but not by much. The Phi is tethered by either an 8- or 30-meter leash (26 or 100 feet) connected to a reel. The leash reel 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. There's no fear of it flying away from you or drifting into something or someone, and there are no complicated controls to learn.
The design struck a chord with crowdfunders, racking up $413,495 from backers on Indiegogo back in September of last year. It was originally expected to ship early this year, but sourcing and production issues delayed that until now. The Phi is available for a limited time at a price of $249 and, as best as I can tell from the brief time I spent with it, it is everything Fotokite promised.
Made to be ultraportable, the Phi folds down and fits entirely inside a tube roughly the size of a whisky bottle and with a GoPro camera and battery it weighs just 400 grams (14 ounces). To get it ready to fly, you fold down the arms and twist a lock on top. It currently works with the Hero3/3+, Hero4 and Hero5 Session cameras and you can start and stop video and snap photos straight from the reel.
Holding the quad from the bottom, you give it a quick twist with your wrist (similar to twisting in a light bulb) and the props spin up. Then you simply let go and let out some leash. The Phi responds to tension from the line, so all it takes to raise and lower or rotate it into position is rolling or twisting your hand in the direction you want it to go.
Flight time from its removable, rechargeable battery is about 13 minutes. Although you do get a warning when battery life is running low, the Phi will quickly land itself before the battery is completely drained. The same happens if the tether is cut, so you never have to worry about it flying off on its own. Its propellers are softer and spin at a lower speed than other drones, too, which adds to its safety.
The Fotokite Phi might not have the range and capabilities of a typical radio-controlled quadcopter, but my guess is you'll be able to fly it in more places, particularly where a typical drone might not be allowed. And if you already have a GoPro camera, the investment is pretty low.