Fotokite Phi is a GoPro-carrying quadcopter on a leash

Want to shoot photos and video from the sky, but don't want to worry about controllers, apps and regulations? This tethered quadcopter looks like the answer.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
3 min read

Watch this: The Fotokite Phi is a flying camera on a string

Drone makers like DJI, 3D Robotics and Parrot along with an ever-growing number of startups are 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.

Fotokite Phi simplifies aerial photography (pictures)

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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.

Lori Grunin/CNET

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.