Eye3: Aerial Photography Drone Unveiled on Kickstarter
It's fairly easy to buy your own camera-equipped flying robot these days. Heck, you can get yourself an AR Drone for just $300. But stepping up to something a little bit more advanced (say, with an autopilot and enough payload for a serious camera) is both intimidating and expensive. A project now on Kickstarter, the popular website that crowdsources funding, aims to take all of the stress out of buying and using a professional flying camera platform, while saving you a pile of money (maybe) at the same time.
The eye3 drone is more or less everything you could possibly want in a robotic aerial camera platform. It's a hexacopter with some serious chops: Each of its six motors puts out 4 pounds of thrust, giving the eye3 as a whole nearly 3 horsepower and 24 pounds (about 11 kilograms) of vertical thrust. Since the eye3 itself only weighs about 5 pounds, that gives you a huge amount of payload. Or another way of looking at it is that most of the time, the motors won't have to be working very hard, extending their lifespans and making the platform more reliable. And if all else fails, the eye3 can land itself with just four of its six motors operating.
Having a powerful and capable platform is one thing, but unless you've been flying R/C helicopters or quadrotors for years, getting said platform to do what you want without crashing it is very difficult. This is why eye3 comes with a pre-configured version of the open source AM2 autopilot, which uses an inertial measurement unit, or IMU, a GPS, a barometer, a magnetometer, and even optional sonar to manage takeoffs, stable flight, waypoint navigation, and (most importantly) landings without needing you around to screw things up.
So that's all pretty awesome, but the kicker is how much it's going to cost: The vehicle itself will run you about US $1,000. The autopilot (hardware and software) adds another $500 to that. And for a total of $2,500 you also get a transmitter and receiver (and some extra spares and batteries and stuff). Yeah, it does kinda sound like a lot, but if you take a look at the comparable ready-to-fly platforms with autopilots and heavy lift capacity that are out there, you're potentially saving yourself thousands of dollars by going with this project.
We should also point out that there's been a discussion over on DIY Drones about whether this really is a good deal relative to just ordering all of the parts yourself: Estimates have put the equivalent parts cost of the $1,500 kit at somewhere around $1,000. Of course, that assumes you have the time and skills and desire to go DIY-style instead of just expecting magic out of the box. But the consensus seems to be summed up thusly, according to one commenter:
1) They will either deliver a box of parts with no systems integration that people will be disappointed and most won't get flying or will crash shortly.2) They deliver what they say they will, and lose a bunch of money.
The "what they say they will" refers to a working out of the box autopilot-enabled drone, with included no-questions-asked warranty and tech support, and while the people on DIY Drones seem pretty sure that the hardware can be put together for below the Kickstarter cost, the real question is going to be whether it works (as advertised) as an autonomous camera platform that someone with little or no experience can get up and running with minimal hassle, and that can land via autopilot with two motors out (which may be impossible).
In any case, the eye3 has already met its funding goal, meaning that you've got 28 days left to order one. Expect delivery in April (which seems rather ambitious considering how rapidly they've met their funding goal), and if you're serious about dropping a couple grand on the eye3, I'd follow this DIY Drones thread and see how things evolve.