It's easy to be inspired when you see some of the aerial photography captured by drones. Perhaps inspired enough to get a camera drone of your own. But one of the hurdles in doing so (apart from the price) is learning to fly the thing, let alone capture nice shots with it. But there are a number of companies looking to break down these barriers by building drones that automate much of the piloting process. The latest to join the fray is Silicon Valley-based startup Lily, whose aircraft starts flying and snapping all by itself, all you need to do is toss it into the air.
Joining the likes of the palm-sized Zano drone and the auto-flying Nixie in the growing fleet of camera drones designed to make flying easy and keeping subjects in shot even easier, Lily is the handiwork of University of California, Berkeley alumni and computer scientist Antoine Balaresque.
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"I was on vacation with my family in 2013 and we couldn't see my mother in any of our pictures," Balaresque tells Gizmag. "I thought how good it would be to be able to easily get everyone in shot, and started to think about how computers and robots could help solve the problem."
From there, Balaresque found himself a co-founder (also UC Berkeley credentialed) and set about developing a solution. The finished result, which is available for pre-order from today, is housed in a smooth dome fashioned from black polycarbonate and measures 10.29 in (26.1 cm) along either side and 3.22 in (8.18 cm) high.
The quadcopter takes two hours to charge and will hang in the air for 20 minutes at a time, though the battery is not swappable so we wouldn't plan on extended filming sessions. It is also sealed and waterpoof rated to IP67, meaning it can be submerged in up to around 3.3 ft (1 m) of water. When it comes to kicking the thing into action, the team has deviated slightly from the usual approach.
"When you throw it into the air, it uses the onboard sensors to realize when it starts to free fall," explains Balaresque. "It's actually pretty simple technology, it's just that no one else had really thought of it yet."
While in flight, Lily communicates with a disc-shaped tracking device that can be worn on the user's wrist or tucked in a pocket and keeps the aircraft's camera fixed on all the action, following at distances between 5 and 100 ft (1.75 and 30 m) from the user at altitudes of between 5 and 50 ft (1.75 and 15 m) above their head. The tracking device is also equipped with a microphone to record sound that can then be synched with footage taken by the camera.
Photos are snapped at 12 megapixels, while video is 1080p at 60 fps or 720p at 120 fps, both taken through a front-facing camera with a 94-degree field of view. There's no gimbal on Lily, though the available sample footage appears relatively smooth, so it will be interesting to see how the company's digital stablization holds up under more scrutiny when the drone hits the market.
Through a companion iOS and Android app, users can adjust the camera's settings and configure it to create different kinds of shots. Judging by the promo video, these could include tracking shots from behind, alongside and in front of the subject. With 4 GB of onboard storage (extendable via a micro SD slot), the content can then be edited and shared via the mobile app.
Lily can be pre-ordered now via the website for US$499, with the team hoping to commence international shipping in February 2016. The expected retail price is $999.
You can check out the promo video below.