You may not feel very enthusiastic about Lily, the flying camera-drone that follows you around, but a PhoneDrone is bound to change your point of view. Using your smartphone as its brains, the PhoneDrone lends it wings and allows it to fly along a predetermined path.
This is a perfectly logical situation as a smartphone already contains the necessary sensory and computing power that a drone needs. Most smartphones run on a powerful multicore processor along with several sensors on-board, so why pay for all these things over again when buying a drone. The people at PhoneDrone were also led by the same reasoning and the result is a drone that utilizes its owner’s smartphone for its brains. Users have to dock their phone into the device for each use. Not only does this approach help to keep the price down, it also makes the user exercise caution not to crash the thing.
The Indiana-based company, xCraft, has designed the PhoneDrone, which can accommodate not only iPhones 4s and above, but also the most popular Android phones as well. This same company had earlier produced the fixed-wing/hovering X PlusOne drone. Users can fly the latest PhoneDrone, a quadcopter, in a few different fashions.
By using another mobile device, users can control their flying mobile through Wi-Fi and at the same time, watch live streaming video from the camera on the PhoneDrone. A free app allows users to enter a flight path for the PhoneDrone to follow autonomously. When transporting the device, the propeller arms of the PhoneDrone will fold back.
The user can also impose a follow-me mode with the second mobile device, if required. The phone in the aircraft locks on to the signal of the hand-held device and will automatically pilot the drone to position it above the hand-held device as it moves. A folding mirror on the drone allows the camera of the phone to shoot straight ahead, down or anywhere in between. The battery in the drone gives a flight time of 20-25 minutes. According to xCraft, they are working on an ultrasonic type of collision-avoidance system.
At present, xCraft is raising product funds via Kickstarter for their PhoneDrone project. You can pledge US$199 for the product, which will be yours as soon as xCraft is ready to go.
Others have also tried their hands at making drones with brains based on smartphones. Notable among them are the University of Pennsylvania and the Vienna University of Technology. However, their attempts were mostly one-off. Qualcomm and UPenn have also combined the drone and phone earlier. They had used the electronics of the Android smartphone and its software to fly the drone. All the sensors required for providing navigational information for the drone are already present on the smartphone – accelerometer, GPS, gyroscope and others.
The present trend is to utilize the camera on the phone itself and use its visual input to steer the phone. The user has to install an app on the phone to achieve this. In future, expect more hobbyists to substitute smartphones for hardware at the heart of several other types of machinery such as drones.