Introducing the Airdog - the first pilotless drone camera

Jul 16, 2014

The makers of AirDog say it's the first flying drone that doesn't need piloting; using a sensor instead of a remote control to determine where to go itself. Video: Reuters

As cameras become smaller and better quality, so sports enthusiasts world-wide have jumped at the chance to record footage of their feats in ever more innovative manners, but even they might be surprised at one product that's on the cusp of the market.

The makers of AirDog say it's the first flying drone that doesn't need piloting; using a sensor instead of a remote control to determine where to go itself.

Co-founder of Helico Aerospace Industries - the company behind AirDog - Janis Spogis said the complexity of technology involved in its development makes the drone unique.

"The user wears a bracelet around his wrist that controls the flight of the drone with sensors that monitor the route the user takes," Spogis said after demonstrating the drone at a racing track in his home country of Latvia.

"The drone then moves towards that point and focuses the camera on it," he added.

"The technology was hard to develop as it needed a variety of innovations. I would say there's at least five new concepts that have not been used anywhere else in the world until now," he said.

Weighing about 1.6 kilograms, the frame is stabilised with gyroscopes and can reach speeds of up to 70 kilometres an hour, using the Go Pro cameras ubiquitous in filming extreme sports to record the drone's targets.

Unlike other autonomous drones that have pre-planned flightpaths, AirDog can chart its own path and altitude according to what its user is doing, though Squadrone System say their Hexo+ is the first autonomous drone and makes comparable claims about its uniqueness and ability.

"We wakeboard, snowboard, and ride go-karts and what we realised was that there's was no easy way to film our own activities ourselves," Spogis says. "So we created AirDog, which is a flying drone that follows the user, filming them as they go, in such a way that it captures everything perfectly of the ride or training."

The sensor is referred to by the Latvian team that conceptualised and created the machine as AirLeash, a play on the idea of a dog, which supposedly follows its master around in a similar fashion.

Previously the AirDog team had hoped to use a smartphone device as a sensor, but found that issues with determining elevation of the user meant it was too difficult - though they have still developed an app that allows the Go Pro to stream footage and for advanced settings to be programmed into the device.

The sensor has also been made more robust, so it can withstand water and the other types of environment extreme sports users currently considered most likely to use this type of device might find themselves in.

New technology inside also allows the drone to learn routes, making laps easier to navigate and film.

Helico claim the operational distance of the drone is currently somewhere between 300 and 500 metres, but so far only has around 15 minutes of air time.

Testing last week saw the team attach the sensor to the windscreen wiper of a racing car, driven by three-time Latvian drift champion and European drift championship runner-up, Janis Eglite.

The 800 brake horsepower of his car proved a challenge for AirDog, but Eglite said that with a few tweaks he could see the technology's potential.

"It's interesting - something new and unique, and it's always fascinating to learn about an innovation like this," he said.

"A lot of people in sport are already involved with using video so I can see this becoming very popular, which will be great. Of course it still needs some improvement, as I understand it's still being developed, but once it's finished it will be amazing," he added.

The company raised the funds for the project through the crowd funding website Kickstarter, amassing more than $850,000 by July 14 to pay for the construction of protoypes.

Spogis said he hoped the product's development would reflect well on his country.

"I really hope that this will be a Latvian success story; that it will be interesting for both Latvia and the world. We believe in it and we will continue to work hard for it," he said.

Helico have already signed a contract, according to the company, for production with a factory in Europe set to begin in October, and those that have helped fund the company through Kickstarter have been promised that delivery will begin in November.


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