HEXO+ drone autonomously follows the action, for under $500
By Ben Coxworth
June 16, 2014
If you watch almost any video promoting a consumer drone, chances are you'll see the aircraft flying along above a moving motorbike rider, snowboarder or other fast-moving athlete. It makes for some impressive aerial footage of the person, but also requires a fair bit of piloting skill. Additionally, if you buy one of those drones, you'll end up shooting other people doing those things – what if you want footage of yourself? Well, that's where the HEXO+ hexacopter comes in. It autonomously flies above its user, shooting video of them as they do their thing.
The copter communicates with the user's iOS or Android smartphone using the MAVLink protocol. It also features a 2-axis gimbal mount for a GoPro actioncam, which can either be supplied by the user or included in a package deal.
The user starts by utilizing an included app to indicate the perspective from which they wish to be filmed – such as from the front/to the right/X degrees up/from Y feet away. Once those settings are sent through to the drone, it automatically takes off and hovers in position, waiting for the user to start moving.
Once they do, it flies along with them, autonomously moving around to maintain the desired framing. It "knows" where the user is mainly by keeping track of the GPS coordinates and position of their phone, although it also utilizes predictive algorithms to anticipate their trajectory.
If the user wishes, they can also use the app or an RC controller to fly it manually. It does not have an obstacle avoidance system, however, so it has to be used in open areas free of things like branches and power lines when in autonomous mode.
The current HEXO+ prototype has a top speed of 70 km/h (44 mph), a flight time of 15 minutes per charge of its battery, and can maintain a shooting distance of up to 50 meters (164 ft) from its user. Additionally, its six propeller arms can be folded back and the props removed, for easier transport.
Its designers are currently raising production funds on Kickstarter, and have already surpassed their funding goal. A pledge of US$499 will get you one (without a GoPro), when and if it's ready to go.
More information is available in the pitch video below.