The inventors behind a Kickstarter project want to make drone ownership as inexpensive as buying a smartphone, but the concept could run afoul of U.S. regulators.
A company called AirDroids has received over US$30,000 toward its $35,000 funding goal for a personal flying robot called Pocket Drone. The Pocket Drone is classified as a microcopter, a category of RC robots, which are made by do-it-yourselfers. There are online forums dedicated to the hobby and a user group.
The AirDroids founders met through the U.S. based Drone User Group Network, and sought to improve upon the perceived limitations of existing kits - like members of the famed Homebrew Computer Club had done with PCs decades earlier. The AirDroids team envisioned a kit that’s flexible, easy assemble, and less expensive.
Pocket Drone is the result. The final design was reached after 27 prototypes made possible through the extensive use of a 3D printer, TechCrunch reports. The product is designed to be simple to fly and maintain (it can follow GPS devices or be controlled via an Android tablet, with iOS support forthcoming), lightweight, safe to use (the rotors collapse on impact), have a 20-minute flight time, and be upgradable.
The basic model will cost under $500, but configuration options such as a high definition camera and other accessories can raise the price by hundreds. Hobbyists would be able to “hack” their drone to extend its functionality. The drone has a ½ lb. payload for equipment, so it won’t be delivering Dominos pizzas or packages.
Its restricted use isn’t simply a matter of specifications. The U.S. government has banned drones for commercial use in the country’s airspace. AirDroids has cautioned, “there may be unforeseen production issues, shipping delays, a limited supply of parts and materials or even the possibility of legal incursions and regulatory restrictions.” The latter point isn’t without precedent.
The microcopter community has chronicled how some of its members have been fined for perceived reckless use of aerials. A student is appealing a $10,000 fine. Privacy is another issue that's being examined by U.S. officials, and is the primary reason why there isn't clarity around the rules yet.
Case in point: I turned on a public-facing Webcam over Times Square for the New Year. It was more often than not redirected toward the offices of surrounding buildings than the crowds. One could imagine more creative uses for peeping drones. The eye in the sky could know what you do in the shower.
The Homebrew Computer Club helped transform the PC from a hobby into a household item. Drone enthusiasts might find a bumpier road ahead given real, or alleged, safety and privacy concerns.