PhoneDrone turns your smartphone into a quadcopter
As seen on "Shark Tank"! If you don't think sending your phone hundreds of feet into the air is a bad idea, this is the Kickstarter project for you.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
I'm an avid fan of both quadcopters and startup pitch TV show "Shark Tank," so when the two came together last week, I was eager to see the outcome.
I never expected a feeding a frenzy. All five "sharks" took a stake in xCraft, a company with one drone in production, the X PlusOne, and another now on Kickstarter, the PhoneDrone Ethos.
If you're curious about the latter, it's exactly what it sounds like: a drone manned by your phone. It doesn't use your phone as a controller, mind you, but rather sends your actual phone skyward, using its guts for aerial glory.
See, quadcopters require some sophisticated technology: GPS, gyroscopes, cameras and so on. This is all stuff that just so happens to be built into your phone. The PhoneDrone provides the mechanicals -- the four propellers and a shell -- while your Android or iPhone delivers the rest.
The result is a lower price than you typically see for a drone with such advanced features as mission, follow-me and return-to-home modes. Early backers can get in for $235 (the $199 level is sold out, alas), but even those who skip the campaign should be able to purchase a PhoneDrone for $300.
Now for that part that's hard to swallow: Your phone. Airborne. Protected by little more than some hard plastic and a neoprene sleeve. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. I'm trying to envision myself launching my phone over a canyon or body of water.
On the other hand, you could always buy an inexpensive spare phone to slip into the Ethos, or use an old one with a cracked screen you have lying around. That would still give you a versatile flying machine while keeping your precious safe. The Ethos is compatible with the iPhone 4S and later, Samsung Galaxy S2 and later, and "most similar-generation Android smartphones."
Whatever phone you use will pull camera duty as well; an included camera mirror will let you shoot down, forward or to the side.
The PhoneDrone can hit speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, according to xCraft. Flight time is rated at 15-20 minutes per charge -- far better than most small drones -- and the battery charges via USB.
So there you have it: a drone that flies not only by phone, but also with phone. You've got plenty of time to decide if that's a good idea or not, as the PhoneDrone isn't expected to ship until September 2016.