3D Robotics

"Fotokite" -- camera drone on a leash

From Makezine:

Sergei Lupashin has a PhD from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), and is currently doing post-doctoral work with the University of Zurich’s Robotics and Perception Group.

Sergei came to the Drones & Aerial Robotics Conference (DARC) in New York City to demonstrate his fotokite, an autonomous quadcopter tethered on a small dog leash. He explains that by constraining the robot with the leash, he is able to simplify the dynamics it has to deal with. The robot is programmed to maintain a set angle, and effectively hovers at the end of the leash. A camera mounted on the robot provides an effect that is a cross between an airborne pet and a steady cam.

This was one of my favorite moments of the conference.

More details on Fotokite here. Sergei tells me it's a PX4-powered copter with custom code.

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  • We can't discuss details of our technology here, sorry. Much of it is patent-pending. Fundamentals that were done as research, as indeed funded by the Swiss taxpayers, will be published in the coming months.

  • Sergei...I wonder, how did you determine what level to set the fixed throttle? Could a feedback system be used to very simply regulate the throttle? I know simplicity is key here, but a basic throttle would help efficency, I think. Also, do you have some sort of fail safe system should the tether break?
  • Moderator

    COA airframes in the USA have tail numbers. What you see for the future of commercial platforms is already happening in the UK. You have to have a platform that has been approved and the operator has to have a permission to fly which he has gained by doing the appropriate training. This has been in place since 2007. 

    What is exciting about this concept is yes its tethered so should not fly away. I would like to see a demonstration of what happens to it if you let go of the tether and regulators are very likely to be gentle with it or ignore it all together other than kite regs. It is after all only a posh kite. I am very very impressed with your work Sergei.

  • Hi -

    We started relating to this idea and the requirements just the other week...


    In Israel, provisional regulations were set in 2011 pertaining to exactly such procedures, and 99% of the Drones

    I ever saw on this site fall under the Mini-UAV Class (<15 Kg).

    There is a sound logic comparing a cars' License Plate Number with a drones Tail Number (Aviation, right?),

    and a Drivers License with a Pilot License.

    However, the issue does not wrap up to be that simple, so lets take the automobile industry comparison

    one step further:

    - You wouldn't take your car in to any shop claiming to "know how to fix it" - you would seek an authorised,

       certified and licensed car mechanic, preferably one who has ALSO been authorized and trained to maintain

       and repair specific brands & models - Say, A TOYOTA car shop.

    - Not every 4 wheel frame + motors + drivers seat is authorized, licensed and deemed "Road Worthy" and

      safe - to users and 3rd party.  You can't just put togeather a car from your favourite parts and hit the road!

      The car and all its sub-components and systems have to be certified, authorized and licensed too!!

    Well - same hold true for aircraft in general and UAV's too.

    I foresee a familiar future -

    Certain current drone makers will push specific RTF configurations and get them licensed, so buying a "legal"

    drone would be just like buying said TOYOTA from a car dealer.

    And certain hobby shops will become licensed and certified "Drone Maintenance shops" for these licenced

    RTF drones, and when you burn your ESC, you would have to have a certified shop replace it.

    If you want to replace a Flight Controller, same deal + a submission of an official report to the feds.

    The very act of Owning a car has to be registered, as will be the ownership of a UAV, mainly for insurance

    and liability claims. You do not need a drivers license to OWN a car, but you need one too use it!

    So you would probably end end taking Drone Pilots Ed, too !

    And this is just the tip of the Iceberg :-)

    Gil Rosenthal,



  • Thanks for posting Chris! There's another video of just the flight demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzPJEO60LKk

    If you'd like to hear more please get in touch via our website: http://www.fotokite.com


  • The one thing I notice is, I think the Hubsan has a built in safety feature to kill the motors if they exceed a certain draw of power. I have noticed it will shut off when it hits something, or crashes, and I noticed running this at a little above half throttle sometimes if I pulled the string to quick it would rev the motors to compensate, then power off. The first time I did it, I.thought I may have killed the tiny board. But, it flew again without a string attached just fine. A couple flights later, while tethered, it died again after a tug. I think it thinks it has crashed, or collided with something, and cuts power to the motors if I tug to hard.
  • Here is a quick video of me successfully copying the technique in this demo with an Hubsan H107c

  • Gary...after my basic first attempt at repeating this, with a success, I am most certainly thinking! I had discussed the ideas of a tethered system with people before, but everyone I spoke with assumed you would have to have a control system. This guy completely disproved that theory. Now, a little more control would be nice, but this is such an out of the box first step.
  • This is a truly significant demo.

    The potential is enormous, it could make use of even smaller, lighter Hubsan style micro quad copters and could even include leash angle, yaw control and camera pointing in the retractable leash handle.

    For that matter it could be powered from the handle and use a lighter Kevlar tether with ultrathin power and serial communication wire built in.

    Although still not necessarily outside the jurisdiction of the FAA, the intrinsic safety resulting from the light weight, low power safety and immediate control would make it much easier to convince authorities that it was a safe device for the general public to use freely and even commercially.

    Both tethers and extreme miniaturization might prove extremely important for the real world future significance of multicopters.

    There are already a few military tethered ground powered multicopters, but they are fairly large and you would definitely not want one landing on your head.

    With these, I am thinking 2 to 4 ounce all up weight maybe and enough surface area where terminal velocity is not too high.

    In any case, definitely makes you think.

  • I just tried this with a micro quad and monofilament and it works! Hubsan h107, and a fishing line. Three quarters throttle. That simple.Wow. Just...wow!
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