Your smartphone already has a powerful processor and multiple sensors, so why pay for all those things over again when buying a drone? That's the thinking behind the PhoneDrone, which utilizes its user's smartphone as its brains. Kind of like a flying version of the Romo or SmartBot robots, it requires users to dock their phone into it for each use. That approach helps keep its price down ... and also serves as an added incentive not to crash the thing.
The PhoneDrone was designed by Indiana-based xCraft, which is the same company that brought us the hovering/fixed-wing X PlusOne drone. The company's latest quadcopter can be flown in a few different fashions.
First of all, using a free app on the phone, users can enter a flight path which the PhoneDrone will then autonomously follow. Alternately, if they have access to another smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android), they can keep that one with them and use it to manually pilot the drone via Wi-Fi – they'll also be able to watch live streaming video from the drone's phone camera while doing so.
Finally, again using a second mobile device that's on their person, users can fly the drone in Follow Me mode. In this case, the phone in the aircraft will lock onto the signal of the second device, and then automatically pilot the drone to keep it above that device as it moves.
The drone itself can accommodate iPhones 4s and up, along with most popular Android phones. It features propeller arms that can be folded back for transport, along with a folding mirror that allows the phone's camera to shoot ahead, straight down, or anywhere in between. Flight time is 20 to 25 minutes, and an ultrasonic collision-avoidance system is in the works.
xCraft is currently raising product funds on Kickstarter, where a pledge of US$199 will currently get you a PhoneDrone – when and if they're ready to go.
This isn't the first time we've seen a smartphone-brained drone, incidentally. Both the University of Pennsylvania and the Vienna University of Technology have made experimental one-off models, while California-based Labromance, Inc. recently ran an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign to finance production of its LAB (Living Aerial Bot) consumer drone.