A self-flying drone that is attached to its operator by a tether and can be controlled by hand gestures has been launched by a Swiss robotics company.
Zurich-based Perspective Robotics already produces the Fotokite Pro tethered drone, which is currently being used by major news outlets such as the BBC for aerial filming, but today they unveiled their first consumer drone - the Fotokite Phi.
At 300g the Phi is the lightest quadcopter capable of carrying a GoPro camera and patented algorithms developed by Perspective Robotics founder Sergei Lupashin allow the device to fly itself on the end of the tether, with orientation controlled by simple movements of the hand holding its leash.
“One of the most common requests we get is to release a consumer friendly Fotokite – something affordable for folks who want to use one for photography, a hobby or just fun," said Lupashin.
"Early on, we made a conscious decision to build high-end tools before developing a consumer product. We’ve learned a lot by working with broadcasters and TV crews to make the Fotokite Pro and are excited now to unveil our first offering with the consumer in mind."
The device can fly for up to 15 minutes and relies on an inertial measurement unit, which uses a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes to measure the aircraft's velocity and orientation, to determine its position relative to the user.
With no need for a remote control users with no experience of flying a drone can operate the device safely straight out of the box and as the device does not rely on GPS, as many drones do, it is possible to fly indoors where satellite signals would not reach.
The Phi, which is available now for pre-order on crowd-funding website Indiegogo, folds into a compact carrying case the size of a two litre soda bottle and comes with a 26 foot leash and a removable battery that charges directly through a USB port.
The drone has soft propellers to ensure they don't do any damage if they come in contact with obstacles and if the device detaches from its tether it is programmed to detect a lack of tension and float slowly to the ground.
“Thanks to the tether, we’ve been able to considerably reduce the cost of manufacturing the Phi without having to compromise on quality" said Lupashin.
"With its physical connection to users, the Fotokite always knows where you are and stays in place as you move. Between the leash and the camera at the bottom, it’s a cross between an airborne pet and a steadicam in the sky.”
The tether has also been designed to make it clear to bystanders who is controlling the device, which has allowed the firm to secure special exemptions to be flown near crowds in Switzerland and France and they are working towards acquiring the same permission from the Federal Aviation Authority in the USA.