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Meet the HEXO+ and AirDog: autonomous drones that extreme athletes will love

Flying a drone is difficult, which can be scary when you’re sending one hundreds of feet in the air around other humans. I’ve crash landed them more than a few times due to wind, poor calibration and plenty of human error.

There are a few things that can be done, including making drones easier to fly and ensuring casual drone pilots actually know what they are doing. But the easiest solution of all might be just removing the need for a pilot altogether.

Two hobby drones that went up on Kickstarter yesterday are mostly autonomous, taking the pressure off their human operator to keep their flight safe. Known as the HEXO+ and AirDog, the drones are aimed at extreme sport enthusiasts who want to capture aerial footage of themselves snowboarding, biking, climbing and just generally moving.

The drones track a target's movement to capture a steady stream of footage. Photo courtesy of Squadrone System.
The drones track a target’s movement to capture a steady stream of footage. Photo courtesy of Squadrone System.

Together, the drones have raised nearly $500,000 from early backers. Both use a GoPro camera to capture footage and use more advanced image stabilizing hardware than the average consumer drone.


The HEXO+ drone. Photo courtesy of Squadrone System.
The HEXO+ drone. Photo courtesy of Squadrone System.

The HEXO+ is a hexacopter, which means it has two extra rotors to provide more stability than the average consumer drone. It flies up to 45 miles per hour and can fly for 15 minutes on a charge.

But the real magic is a mobile app used to select the drone’s starting position and frame the shot it should take. Users can specify from which angle the drone should shoot and how far away it should hover from its subject. As the subject moves, the drone moves with them to provide a continuous shot.

Squadrone System's app for the HEXO+ drone. Photo courtesy of Squadrone System.
Squadrone System’s app for the HEXO+ drone. Photo courtesy of Squadrone System.

The HEXO+ is available for between $299 and $999, depending on if the buyer already owns a GoPro and wants to 3D print the drone. It is scheduled to ship in May 2015.


A folded AirDog. Photo courtesy of Helico Aerospace Industries.
A folded AirDog. Photo courtesy of Helico Aerospace Industries.

The AirDog has only raised $132,000 to the HEXO+’s $364,000 as of 3:30 p.m. PT, and it costs a minimum of $995 without a GoPro, but it has a leg up in that it will supposedly ship in November. It also has the unusual feature of being able to fold up, which should appeal to active users.

The drone is also initially controlled from a mobile app, but it tracks its subject via a small device that can be strapped to a wrist or a helmet. The AirDog points its camera toward wherever the device is located. Users can choose to have the drone hover in place and track them as they move or follow along in front of, behind or to the side of them.

The AirDog can fly at a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour. It can fly for 10-2o minutes on a single charge.

I’m not sure which drone I would choose. What I am sure about is that autonomous filming will become a more and more common feature in consumer drones as engineers work toward removing human pilots altogether.

10 Responses to “Meet the HEXO+ and AirDog: autonomous drones that extreme athletes will love”

  1. Bobby Allen

    I am currently backing both projects. My concern with AirDog is it is a quad copter similar to DYI Iris. The DYI Iris has many comments on the forums about being underpowered and loosing stability/altitude as the battery runs down.

    My question unanswered on for project site is what did AirDog do to overcome the underpowered quad copter?

  2. Julien Bardone

    In my opinion Hexo+ has several advantages compared to AirDog that should be taken into consideration compared to previous comment:

    1. It is not only half of the weight but moreover half the price.
    2. It is better suited for following you as it is shaped to go up to 70 km/h which is good when you going fast (ski, snow, motor sports,…)
    3.Waterproof phone cases exists and enabling user to be tracked with a single divice that every tech adepts uses nowadays is a plus in my opinion
    4. They are supported by many action sport leaders meaning they are doing something for the community, taking a lot into consideration design and functionality issues to address the best product.
    5.Color options are not a real plus for users while Hexoplus offer a live video feedback to guarantee user the frame he wants.

    Finally, we all know that drones can fall down sometimes. Hexoplus team is working with Sogilis that made software for the Airbus A350, knowing that regulation about aviation are very strict, putting this kind of precision into drones is for sure a huge advantage in terms of safety and performances.

    • Martins Vilums

      ok Julien, seems that you did not know that
      1. less weight means that wind will blow that toy away easily
      2. there is no proof that it can go 70 km, while AirDog does it easily already
      3. Waterproof phone case? with mavlink antenna which is a bulky peace of plastic attached to your phone? didn’t hexo show it to you guys? damn.. that sucks
      4. people representing the idea are not the same making it work..I hope those athletes know what they are presenting..
      5. live video feedback is offered by GoPro camera already :) check gopro wifi to gopro app

      anyways good luck to all technology developers out there. I hope this is for good of mankind and brings some real added value:)

  3. Eliza Estere Ozolina

    Thanks so much for mentioning AirDog!

    There are four major AirDog advantages:

    1. It is tested and working prototype ready for production.
    2. It will be the first commercial product of its kind in the market from November 2014.
    3. It has AirLeash – waterproof GPS device tracking your movement with a significantly better signal than smartphones. Additionally you can use it with gloves when you ride, as well as during surfing and kiteboarding.
    4. Two years of R&D invested into the creation of a working prototype to get the best possible solution for action sports.

    The AirDog has also been tested at 11000ft altitude and works perfectly at these heights, and right now AirDog Team even offer different colour options for your drones, that people can vote for on their Facebook page!

    It would be awesome if you supported AirDog on Kickstarter:

    So far we’ve reached our 500,000 $ goal and still have 24 until the campaign ends! Let’s make a revolution in drone-made photos and videos together!

    Eliza, Team AirDog

  4. Steven Michelsen

    As the drone is flying along and tracking it’s subject, what is to keep it from crashing into a tree, building, person, or whatever?

        • Pedro Tavares

          Both teams are working on that, but so far they don’t have it…

          TEXT removed from FAQ of both systeams:

          How does Hexo+ handle obstacle avoidance?
          Using our system you will have to choose paths that are in open areas. Picture yourself driving a car with a trailer – you have to anticipate the trajectory of the drone following you. The reason for this is that there is no avoidance system included in the first version. That’s something we are working on right now and there will be a system update once fully developed. So far it looks promising but we can’t yet commit to a release date.

          Can AirDog avoid obstacles?
          We are working on obstacle avoidance technology and will release it as an add-on as soon as it is ready. Release date will be announced later.

          There are no drones in consumer market currently that can avoid obstacles. We believe that we can finalize R&D of this sytem soon and start production of it to make AirDog drones even safer.

          Curently AirDog cannot see or avoid any obstacles in its flight path. It is your responsibility to use AirDog in unobstructed areas, or to set appropriate altitude requirements or flight modes in order to avoid collisions. You can, of course, use AirDog in areas with obstacles, provided you have set the flight mode to follow your trajectory in order to avoid obstacles. In areas with trees or other obstructions, we recommend that you maintain at least a 10-meter distance from obstacles on all sides when AirDog is in follow mode. Keep in mind the risks of operating AirDog if you’re headed into a tunnel or underneath a bridge.