While it's impressive that today's consumer drones can do things like track objects and follow pre-programmed flight paths, the fact is that most users will probably never utilize those functions. Really, most people just use the things to get pictures from up high. With that in mind, Fotokite has announced availability of its wonderfully simple quadcopter-on-a-leash, the folding Phi.
We first heard about Fotokite last April, when the Swiss company was developing its tethered drones for use by people like journalists and documentary film-makers. Later in the year, it launched a crowdfunding campaign for a simpler, cheaper version that was aimed at everyday users. That campaign was successful, and has resulted in the ready-to-ship Phi.
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The original Fotokite drone, now known as the Pro, has an electrical cable built into its tether. This means that power can be sent up to it from a large ground-based battery, or even from a wall plug-in, resulting in long flight times and a hard-wired live video feed.
By contrast, the Phi has a string tether that simply attaches the drone to the user. Video is captured by a user-supplied GoPro Hero camera, with power provided by an onboard lithium-ion battery – it delivers a claimed 13 minutes of flight time. If the camera is a relatively recent-model Hero, it can be wirelessly controlled by a Bluetooth module in the controller/tether reel.
Flying the Phi is said to be much like flying a simple single-string kite. The tether is released from the reel to gain altitude, and retracted to lower the drone – the maximum tether length is 30 m (98 ft). Horizontal flight is achieved by moving one's arm or body accordingly. Hand gestures are used to control its orientation.
Should the tether break or the battery die, the drone will automatically land itself. Additionally, because it is tethered, users don't have to worry about violating any regulations aimed at free-flying aircraft.
Perhaps even more importantly, at least for many potential buyers, is the fact that it's relatively inexpensive. It can currently be purchased for US$249 via the link below, and seen in action in the following video.