QFO Labs, a Minneapolis-based start-up, is attempting to launch a mini quadcopter toy called the NanoQ. It uses inexpensive 3-axis gyros and accelerometers to remain stable mid-flight, and comes with a one-handed remote that integrates tilt sensors for smooth and natural control – and unlike most quadrotors, the NanoQ's propellers are inverted which prevents them from colliding with ceilings.
The NanoQ measures just 5.25 inches (133 mm) across and weighs 35 grams with a max payload of 10 grams. It can stay in the air for up to ten minutes on its rechargeable LiPo batteries and has a range of 100 feet (30 meters). The company envisions multiple NanoQs competing at flying laser tag, as they're able to "shoot" one another using onboard infrared (IR) sensors.
As pointed out by IEEE Spectrum's Evan Ackerman, the NanoQ has the potential to be more than just a toy. Thanks to its relatively low planned price of US$149 and its PC compatibility, it could serve as a research platform for university labs with tight budgets. By connecting the controller to a PC through USB or a USB RF dongle, you could feed it commands while accessing its sensor data and more.
Lately there has been a lot of interest in programming large swarms of these robots, but cost has been a limiting factor. That hasn't stopped the University of Pennsylvania from unleashing a squadron of 20 quadcopters at once (they've also performed the James Bond theme together), but the NanoQ is cheap enough that that number could increase substantially.
If the QFO name sounds familiar, it's because a similar toy was sold under that name by Takara Tomy back in 2008. It was priced at $100, but it had only one motor and its battery only lasted for four minutes. Its infrared remote was also much less advanced. Another competitor, the Kyosho Space Ball, houses its blades inside a protective spherical cage. It sells for $115 and has a flight time of around five minutes. Moving further up the chain, around $300 will net you Parrot's AR Drone, which records HD video and can be controlled via smartphone.
QFO Labs' Kickstarter campaign hopes to raise another $170,000, but it's only got seven days left to do it – a pledge of $99 will get you a system of your own, assuming the funding goal is met. The company plans to deliver the first 5,000 units by March of next year. You can check out the NanoQ in action in the pitch video below.