Kickstarter Drone Projects – Guide for backers
Kickstarter is a great platform for funding new technology projects. In the past year several drone projects were funded successfully. I looked at every Kickstarter campaign at the moment it was launched, but never backed a project. Why? Unlike the backers, I know the current drone technology, what it is capable of and the problems all teams will have. Backing a project on Kickstarter is not like investing, but there is something in common: the persons behind the project are the key for success. I think the only project which seemed promising to me, was the CyPhy LVL 1. Not only because of Helen Greiner, but its unique design and different approach for video stabilizing. But lets get back to the drone technology and why I started writing about it.
A day ago I read an article on BBC.com about the most funded one – ZANO, that has some problems now. That was my trigger. I must say I am not familiar with any of the projects and this is my personal opinion. I am open minded, so if you think I am wrong about something, leave me a comment.
Lets’ start with the video as this is the main feature of all drone projects.
What is essential for an aerial photography: video quality, image stabilization and HD video transmitting.
AirDog and HEXO+ are going to use standard GoPro cameras, so you will get same quality. CyPhy LVL 1 is working on its own integrated camera, but I haven’t found any videos and cant say anything about it yet. ZANO is a nano drone, so no possibility of carrying such a big camera like the GoPro. The author of the BBC article Rory Cellan-Jones was not impressed with its video quality. It should be really hard, if not impossible today to get the quality of a GoPro in a nano quadcopter for a reasonable price.
Image stabilization looks fine on AirDog and HEXO+, but most of the videos were already edited. I watched a video of AirDog in the Swiss Alps, which was shaky in my opinion. But that is because the high altitude and strong winds. Hope they will work on that thing too.
I can be wrong, but in my opinion none of these drone projects will have the same video and stabilization quality as products like the DJI Phantom or 3DR Solo at first. It is hard to compete with DJI. They not only have much more experience in video stabilization, but also the financial recourse to make it even better.
I will keep this short: anything more than 15min is not really realistic. It depends on factors such as speed and altitude. ZANO will hardly get over 10 minutes. I once build a nano quadcopter like it and didn’t get more than 5 minutes.
This should be achieved pretty easy. It depends on the quality of the built in GPS. There are accurate GPS units on the market, so the drones will perform good. DJI Phantom 1 has this function since its release in 2013. Same for 3DRobotics flight controller Pixhawk.
Back to base/home
Nothing special here, already an standard feature. The drone uses the GPS and the compass to come back to its start position. Shouldn’t be a problem for the teams to implement.
Follow me mode
This is actually the selling point for all these camera drones. Of course the big players have this mode in their drones like the DJI Phantom 3 or 3DR Solo. I have tested it once with my DIY drones using the Pixhawk flight controller from 3DR and it was fine. But: unless the drones have the ability for real and effective obstacle avoidance, I cant recommend using it. The common sensors and software are just not ready for this. Maybe in 2016, but not yet.
It is not a problem if you are alone somewhere in the Swiss Alps, but how about skating in the park with all of the threes, buildings and electrical lines. And I am not coming to the point if it will be legal flying your drone that way.
it is not a big thing building a drone. The problem is, that these small teams don’t have the time, resource and experience to work hard on the software. And that is the most important part, if you want to achieve the results claimed in their promoting videos. The developers at DJI and ArduCopter have worked for years to achieve what is possible today. How should a a few guys achieve better results in a year and only with a million budget. In my opinion, they simply can’t do it.
I hope all of them will bring their products to the backers and then find a way for more investments, so they can improve the software. Otherwise they have no chance against the big players in the long term.
My advise for all backers on Kickstarter: before backing a project, check what is already on the market and consider the risks. Check out the people who are launching the project. What kind of experience they have. Don’t just watch the promoting video. Be rational before spending your money.
Sure I can be wrong. If you don’t agree with me, leave me a comment and tell me what do you think.