FLYBi drone features VR headset, wrist remote and automatic battery-swapping
The crowdfunded drone explosion continues with the FLYBi, a quadcopter designed to put you in the "cockpit," sort of. It aims to fulfill the promise of earlier concepts like Oculus FPV that merge virtual reality tech with drones to provide a first-person view of the flight.
FLYBi's connected goggles receive live-streamed video from the drone's on-board 1080p 12MP camera and displays it on a pair of HD LCD displays before your eyes. The headset is also equipped with a sensor that tracks your head movements so you can control the drone's camera simply by turning your head in a direction – look to the left and the drone's camera pans that direction, providing a virtual flying experience.
The HD camera has Wi-Fi and on-board storage as well. It's located within a transparent protective dome, which makes us wonder if glare or reflections might be a problem at certain angles.
There's also a front-facing camera on the goggles themselves, so that you can switch over to see what's actually right in front of you on the ground without taking off the headset. Watch a demo below:
Control of the drone itself is via a connected app that allows for preset flight paths, Follow Me mode or manual control, or there's also an optional wrist remote control that's basically a small joystick and 1.8-inch display. While the stick steers the drone, a pair of rotating dials control height and rotation. Dedicated return, takeoff, hold and photo/video buttons can be found along the edge of the remote.
It seems an odd choice to choose a controller form factor that requires single-handed control, particularly since the remote seems awkward enough that we can't imagine anyone wearing it around all day. However, we can imagine situations in which the extra portability would come in handy when you aren't controlling the drone, like while in the midst of active sports – set your drone's path, snowboard for a while, and then take control again without having to ever stow a clunky remote. We should also note that FLYBi can also connect to other third-party remotes.
The third novel component to the complete FLYBi package is the "Helideck," which is a hard case backpack that stows and transports the drone but also functions as a landing pad and rapid charging system. It holds two extra batteries for the drone, which it swaps and loads via a somewhat excessive conveyance system.
The advantage here is that the drone can automatically land on the Helideck and swap in a fresh battery without any human assistance, while you presumably watch from a short distance. In practice, this means the drone's flight time is limited only by the charge in the Helideck, although there's no stats provided on how long it takes the pre-charged Helideck to charge up a depleted drone battery.
The drone itself is a quadcopter that's roughly the size of a MacBook, area-wise, and boasts an obstacle avoidance system, communication range of 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) and 25-28 minutes of flight time per battery charge.
At just over two pounds (1 kg), it's also in a class of other drones that tout themselves as lightweight like the Atlas Erida. While the goggles would seem to make FLYbi a top candidate for drone racing, it will need to drastically improve on its top speed of 50 km/h (31 mph).
Keep in mind that we haven't been able to test or evaluate any of FLYBi's claims firsthand since this is a crowdfunded project with few guarantees, so back it at your own risk.
FLYBi launched this week on Indiegogo and is available for crowdfunding backers at a variety of pledge levels. To get a drone will require a minimum pledge of US$595 and then you can add the other components from there. The complete pack with drone, goggles, Helideck, wristwatch remote and two extra batteries starts at $1,795. The company plans to start shipping finished products to crowdfunders starting in March.