The HEXO+ is an interesting project launched these days on Kickstarter, with the objective of creating a fully autonomous camera drone. This hexacoper drone is equipped with a 2D gimbal capable of holding either a GoPro camera, or the 360cam from Giroptic, which is yet another project in its crowdfunding phase. The drone can be set up via a smartphone app, available for iOS as well as Android platforms. The smartphone or mobile device you use doubles as a tracker which sends positioning information to the drone.
As we have seen in our dedicated article about UAVs, there are several commercially available drones capable of capturing aerial footage of varying degrees of quality. There are lightweight drones with integrated on-board cameras, drones capable of carrying small and light cameras like the GoPro, as well as prosumer and professional grade aircraft capable of carrying heavier equipment like DSLR cameras. HEXO+ will be a new product to supplement the current personal drone market niche.
The HEXO+ autonomous camera drone will fit in a segment populated by the Pocketdrone tricopter, which can be pre-ordered, and the recently launched AirDog auto-following drone project, about which we have talked last week. All three camera drones share similar functionality, they all aim at delivering high quality aerial footage via GoPro cameras, they can all be controlled via smartphone apps and they are all designed to be very portable and easy to set up.
HEXO+ will have some unique features that set it apart, one of them being that almost all components can be 3D printed, which can lead to very good price-performance ratios. In this project phase the HEXO+ kits are offered at prices as low as US$ 300, for which you get 3D printing component files, the autonomous flight controller and the smartphone app.
A complete ready-to-fly kit, including the fully assembled HEXO+ hexacopter, a brushless 2-axis gimbal, either with a GoPro or a Giroptic 360cam mount, and the app can be bought at a price of US$ 600 or about 450 Euro. There are other bundles available, including GoPro Hero3+ cameras.
Configuration can be performed entirely through the smartphone app, including flight mode, framing, gimbal control and so on, and there is also a live view mode available. Communication between the drone and the smartphone running the app is performed via the MAVLink protocol, and the on-board firmware of the drone is based on the open-source 3D Robotics UAV platform. An advanced trajectory anticipation algorithm has been implemented to deliver impressive shots, developers say they are still working on refining it until next year.
The HEXO+ drone has a weight of about 1 kg and can reach speeds up to 70 km/h or 45 mph. Fully equipped, with GoPro camera mounted on the gimbal, the flight time is about 15 minutes and positioning is performed with data collected via GPS and onboard sensors. Features like auto take-off and landing, emergency landing and so on are supported by the software.
The HEXO+ camera drone project has been started by Squadrone System, a French startup founded this year by Antoine Level. The team plans to start deliveries by May 2015.