The Fleye is claimed to be the world's safest drone. It may look like a flying soccer ball, but its shape is designed to keep all the moving parts well out of harm's way and make it a bit more resistant to crash damage. It's not just design that sets the Fleye apart though. A dual core Linux brain with an open SDK (software development kit) and API (application program interface) make this machine less like a conventional drone and more like a flying development platform.
Admit it. The drones of today look nothing like the personal flying robots we imagined in our youth. In fact, in this regard, they've been somewhat disappointing. Instead of the helpful companion doing our bidding, getting our drones to do anything requires our full and complete engagement. In other words, our drones still aren't following us home carrying our groceries.
Enter the Fleye. While not quite at the "helpful companion" level, this new entry into the exploding drone market is definitely different and, with the help of the developer community, might even prove to go beyond a fun toy to something useful.
To get the Fleye to fly, the Belgium-based development team has launched the project on Kickstarter. While the standard specs of the Fleye aren't very exciting when compared to those of some other drones (such as its 1080p/30 fps camera and 10-minute flight time), this isn't what's interesting.
On the functional side the Fleye's design takes a cue from industrial and defense UAVs, relying on something called a "ducted fan" concept. Unlike most drones on the market that have multiple open rotors, the Fleye's lift is generated by a single shielded propeller with four control vanes providing directional control. This means that users can safely push it around, touch or hold it, or even bump into it without worrying about that spinning prop causing harm.
The Fleye is designed to work in conjunction with an iOS or Android app, but is more "set it and forget it" than "buy it and fly it". The drone sports an array of sensors including an accelerometer, gyroscope, altimeter, GPS, sonar, optical flow, and a magnetometer, so right out of the box, the Fleye can track you, take 360-degree images or fly other preplanned autonomous missions at the tap of an icon. Basically all you need to do is power it up, open the app, choose what you want your drone to do, and toss it into the air.
But don't be deceived by the claimed simplicity and ease of use for the novice. Though the Fleye may work for anyone, it's built to be hacked and developers who want to get busy with small flying robots are clearly being targeted by the company. In fact, the creators have indicated that it intends to have an application marketplace for software developers.
"A machine becomes a robot when it is capable of observing its environment and taking autonomous decision based on what it sees," the company states. "This is exactly what you can do with Fleye. You can write on-board applications that leverage the camera feed, perform computer vision tasks and control the drone based on the content of the image. Fleye runs Linux and supports OpenCV, a popular computer vision library."
The drone can be controlled remotely through its Wi-Fi connection using a JSON-over-UDP API. In other words, any device that can send messages – such as a game controller, smartphone or a computer – can communicate with the Fleye. The company is currently developing an API, and plans to provide various SDKs to make it easy to work with the aircraft.
The standard edition of the Fleye comes with an 800 MHz ARM A9 dual-core computer, 512 MB of RAM and a microSD slot for storage, which is more than enough for using the smartphone app and developing some simple programs. For those who really want to maximize power, the company is offering a special Developer, or Power, Edition reward that comes with a quad-core computer and 1 GB of RAM.
As of writing, all of the early bird Kickstarter perks have been snapped up. The lowest available pledges start at €799 (around US$875) for the Standard Edition, representing 30 percent off the expected retail price. If all goes to plan, shipping is expected to start in September 2016.
More information can be found in the pitch video below.