Programmable, do-it-yourself drones are fun. They're cool. But the thought of building one and getting started with flying and programming it can be super intimidating. Skyworks Aerial Systems hopes that its Eedu kit will change that perception. Eedu can be assembled in half an hour with a few simple tools (no soldering required) and it comes with a drag-and-drop development environment that's meant to allow kids and hobbyists alike to be up and running with custom drone applications in a flash.
Skyworks is specifically pushing the educational value of Eedu, with the idea being that it could teach a new generation of coders in much the same way that personal computers did in the era of BASIC – hopefully with resultant increases in enrolments in STEM education. Instead of people having to spend weeks or months learning how to build a drone from scratch, they can get straight into programming.
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Eedu is preprogrammed out of the box as a standard quadcopter, able to function in pilot (manual controls) or mission mode (follow a flight pattern), but its on-board flight controller can be reprogrammed in the open-source, web-based Forge development environment and expanded further with any bits and bobs you might want to mount on it – for drone racing, photography, reconnaissance, aerial dogfighting, or whatever else. Skyworks used Forge to build a laser tag drone game as a proof of concept, which you can see in action below.
In an effort to kickstart community development, Skyworks has built a number of "mods" that add capabilities to Eedu beyond basic flight controls – like data collection or automatic behaviors that trigger under certain circumstances. The company hopes that a community will form in which people share and swap modified or custom-made mods.
The 13.84-inch (35.15 cm) by 12.03-inch (30.56 cm) Eedu aerial drone weighs half a kilogram (about a pound) and can fly for up to 10 minutes at a time. It comes with an included controller, though it supports most of the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi gamepads on the market as well, and you can build mobile apps to control it too. (An official Eedu app is planned, but there's no firm release date.) There's also an autopilot to handle flying when you don't want to control it directly, and a number of safety mechanisms are meant to take over if something goes badly wrong.
Eedu is currently seeking to raise US$100,000 on Kickstarter and the campaign has just a few days to go. Pledges for the Eedu flight controller start at $299, while complete Eedu kits start at $449. If successful, Skyworks plans to ship units out to backers at the end of this year or early next year. If not, the company still hopes to have a product to market soon. A spokesperson for Skyworks tells Gizmag that they have "solid financial backing" and "the drone's release is not contingent" on Kickstarter success.
Eedu's retail price will be somewhere around the $600 mark, with a separate Inspire a Dronesmith campaign set up to provide Eedu drone kits to schools across the US later this year.
While Eedu may lower the barrier to entry on the side of assembly and coding, it has no such impact on the cost side in comparison to other do-it-yourself options. When Gizmag visited a first-person view drone racing event earlier this month, we were told that it'll only cost you around $250 to $300 to get all the gear you need to make a DIY quadcopter for that emerging sport. (You'd likely want something more robust and less versatile than an Eedu, regardless, if you plan to get into drone racing.)
You can watch the Eedu Kickstarter pitch video below.