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

AirDog camera drone

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.

HEXO+

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.

AirDog

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.

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