3D Robotics

PocketDrone -- new APM-based Kickstarter project


Just launched at CES from AirDroids: the $500 Pocket Drone. Looks good! APM-based and well-engineered. From the Kickstarter listing:

We saw a lot of kits out there that were powerful and flexible, but took a long time to put together, tune, and make work correctly. There were off the shelf products that worked out of the box, but were limited in their functionality. And there wasn't anything out there that was both powerful and convenient to carry. So we decided to create something that combined the best of everything we had seen, but was more elegant and accessible.

That's how we came up with The Pocket Drone, the world's smallest heavy lift micro-copter. It's as powerful as an open source kit, works out of the box with everything you need like an off the shelf product, and is easy to take with you wherever you go, without having to bring along an extra case or bag just for your drone. We've gone through dozens of iterations to create the perfect drone product that can be used by everyone.

1. Unique cutting-edge collapsible compact design

  • Innovative swing arm and telescoping tail frame
  • Folding propellers
  • Built-in landing gear
  • Built-in camera mount
  • Travel case included

2. Easy to fly and simple to maintain

  • Pick your controller system
  • Pilot from our included controller or bring your own DSM compatible radio controller
  • Control from any Android tablet or phone with a USB port
  • Simple, quick and inexpensive to maintain and repair

3. Lightweight with maximum payload  

  • Flight and control is nimble, stable and accurate
  • Weighs in at around 1 pound
  • Carries an action camera like the GoPro(tm) with outer case (not included)
  • Capable of carrying up to 1/2 pound payload

4. Ready to fly (RTF) and quick to deploy  

  • Comes ready to fly right out of the box
  • Deploys in less than 20 seconds
  • Quick recharge system

5. Advanced software and systems with autopilot and "follow me" mode

  • State of the art flight controls, algorithms and connectivity
  • APM compatible flight controller 6-axis accelerometers, 3 axis gyroscopes, barometric sensor (altitude)
  • Integrated onboard autopilot Flight planning with Google Maps
  • Fly by GPS waypoints
  • "Follow Me" mode (requires mobile device with GPS)
  • Altitude Hold
  • Return to home (RTH)
  • Headfree mode (orientation independent flying)
  • Load/Save and repeat/replay flight missions
  • Real-time flight data
  • Artificial Horizon
  • Altitude Heading indicator
  • GPS signal strength
  • PC, Mac and Linux compatible
  • Mission Planner or QGroundControl Compatible
  • Android compatible (tablet and phone)
  • iOS compatibility coming soon

6. Longest Flight times of any copter under $500

  • Tricopter design means longest flight times available
  • Up to 20 minute flights (fully loaded with camera)
  • Exclusive propellers engineered and optimized especially for multicopters
  • Built-in low power alarm

7. High quality materials and components

  • Professional grade build quality and workmanship
  • Extra durable and robust airframe
  • Carbon fiber key components
  • Highest quality components
  • Advanced high-impact plastic resins
  • Designed in the USA

8. Upgradeable, expandable and hackable

  • Flight controller is programmable and easy to modify with open source tools
  • Mobile app is customizable and configurable with open source plugins
  • Designed for and by open-source enthusiasts
  • Always up-to-date firmware upgrades as improvements in control, power and stability become available
  • Add real-time video transmission for FPV
  • Add goggles for a full bird’s eye immersive experience

9. Designed with multiple built-in safety features

  • Exclusive retracting/breakaway propeller design
  • Minimal damage/injury from prop strike
  • Small size = lightweight vehicle = smaller props = reduced accident injury/damage potential
  • Micro tricopter design means much less spinning prop area
  • 33% less noise than any quad even before balancing and optimization
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  • Further discussion on the Pocket Drone can be found here.

  • The Spreadsheet and ecalc screens used to generate the above can be downloaded here for further scrutiny.  Also, while AirDroids have already stated that they are using a Lipo, I was unable to replicate the claimed 'up to 20-minutes flight time'.  So, in an effort to try and find a way to push the flight time, I ran a second set of numbers with the Pocket Drone using a 3S Li-Ion battery pack (based on Sony's 2100mAh US18650VTC4).  This helped with adding a little flight time, it also lowered the throttle in hover, but didn't really have the impact I expected.  The Li-Ions are not only lighter and more compact, they are also safer than Lipos - thus a great option for the (mostly) uninitiated Pocket Drone user (less risk to user, easier for shipping too).  Plus, upgrading to Li-Ions from the planned Lipo battery will win precious payload space and free up about 50g which can perhaps mitigate additional weight of gimbal. The ecalc screens and spreadsheet for the Pocket Drone using the Li-Ions can be downloaded here.

    Among other things, I have been working on a few rather simple gimbal designs lately. One design that might suit the application is pictured below:


    3692928267?profile=originalThe relevant components and their relevant weight can be seen below:




  • Devin - Looking at the Pocket Drone comments thread on the Kickstarter site, you are not the only one with concerns and questions.  People seem to be asking all the right questions too, they just don't seem to get any informative answers, just ambiguous and selectively fielded responses.

    Moving onto your question.  There is a long list of options at your disposal. If you want guaranteed results that are comparable to footage featured in the Pocket Drone promo video and with a minimum amount of time investment and fuss - then, as an uninitiated newbie, your safest bet is to put your money into a DJI Phantom with a proper brushless gimbal system (like the tarot). The DJI is a good entry level product which has been market tested and has proven to deliver real results out of the box. The ArduPilot system upon which the Pocket Drone and many other UAVs are based is indeed capable of a more diverse range of expanded features and functions and tuning options - but it really does demand a much higher level of self education and, in many cases, learning through trial and error.  If you are going to buy a Pocket Drone then you are going to have to get your head around all the programming, tuning, safety and other important information about relevant features and functions.  Especially if you intend to use features like 'follow me' with any degree of safety, so you might as well start as soon as possible.

    The AirDroids team have stated that flight controller is APM 'compatible'.  APM stands for ArduPilot Mega. This might be good or bad... it all depends on whether you are passionate about learning how all this stuff works... Does this sound like you? Note - If the FC is a clone of the 3DRobotics hardware as is sold by RCTimer and HobbyKing, then it means that all the information you need can be found at the Arducopter wiki.  However, if it is something else or simular, then the proposition is quite different.  If you can ascertain which type of FC it features specifically, this would be really helpful when weighing up your options.  Also, you should check out the 3DRobotics store, which is the home of the APM flight controller... The Iris is perfect for your GoPro, and it is built by the best (I might be a little biased), plus it features the newer and much more future proof PixHawk (NOTE - the APM is, for the most part, nearing the end of it's development cycle).

    Easily the best out of the box flight controller (with proper flight modes and return to launch function) for those who don't want to get all absorbed into the technical stuff is the Naza-m Lite FC from DJI.  You can get a quality kit and a good entry level Transmitter and Receiver for similar money to the pocket drone.  These flame wheels are the VW Beetles of the Multirotor world, loved by all and have provided 10s of thousands with many hours of happy flying.  Plus, they can be easily adapted for FPV or aerial video capture duties.   Don't get me wrong, I love the APM and that is what I use (I don't have a Naza), but I love spending the many many hours of research required to understand how to use it.  If you want to do this, then go for the APM... but if not, then the Naza offers an easy option.  With that said, there is no idiot proof UAV system out there, you do need to know ALL the basic.  Also, no matter how good you are, you are going to crash, and crash again, and crash again...  It is absolutely unavoidable when you are starting out.

    The software for Android they are showing is called DroidPlanner. You an find out more about and download it here. There is also another great app called AndroPilot which you can learn more about here.  Also see here and here if you would like to start your trek up the very steep learning curve.

    The PC specific software is called Mission Planner and for cross platform compatibility extending to Linux and Mac there is the newly released APMPlanner2 to learn more about the PC software.

    How that you have a small snapshot of what else is out there, it is worth taking a closer look at the Pocket Drone to see how it compares.  The Pocket Drone, as best I can reconstruct it, is made up of (or features lesser known non-branded OEM alternatives to) the following components:

    3 x BC-2208/17 1100KV Brushless Motor ($26.67)

    2 x 8045 SlowFly Propellors (Pair) ($15)

    3 x 10A ESC with BEC ($18)

    1 x 3S 2200mAh 20C/30C LiPo ($7.89)

    1 x DSM2 Reciever ($24.95)

    1 x ArduPilot Mega Clone ($75.78)

    1 x NEO-6M GPS ($17.99)

    1 x 433MHz or 915MHz Telemetry Radio ($15)

    1 x Digital Metal Gear Tail Servo and Related Assembly ($11.84)

    These items come to a total cost of $217.92.  Ad the frame (worth say $40) and some fittings and fasteners (worth say $10), and you have everything for the $445 Bind and Fly System covered.  Ad the following for the $495 Ready To Fly System:

    1 x Turnigy 9XR Transmitter ($50.22)

    1 x DSM2 Transmitter Module ($29.99)

    For the $595 Ready To Fly with HD Cam add:

    1 x Mobius ActionCam with Mount ($85.35)

    Then, of course, there is the issue of the gimbal.  The missing link, if you will.

    All provided footage thus far has been gimbalised.  The gimalised footage was specifically labelled "Actual Pocket Drone Footage".  AirDroids have indicated that the gimbalised footage is an early prototype of the Pocket Drone.  Airdroids have indicated that they are still very much in the development phase, and AirDroids have identifying a new direction for gimbal design, and, AirDroids have promised to post plenty of Pocket Drone footage before your credit card is debited in order to afford you a chance to properly evaluate what you are purchasing.  Accordingly, I reckon they must be working on delivering a gimbal to ensure as that the product meets the expectations of as many backers as possible.  After all, that was their intention, they are easily past the 10x funding goal milestone, they now working with a far more attractive scale of economy (likely qty in excess of 1000 units)... They should be able to source everything they need at a fraction of the standard RRP I have listed above for quality gear, so delivering the gimbal, and actually matching the video quality standard in their promo video, at this point, really isn't a difficult task.  The only difficulty is working out how to fit it into the unique form factor the Pocket Drone demands (tiny form factor, long flight time, no visible props, fit in pocket, etc)... but, I reckon it is easily doable with the following parts:

    2 x 2206 140kv Brushless Gimbal Motor ($29.76)

    1 x Brushless Gimbal Controller ($58.99)

    1 x Bespoke Gimbal Frame

    Using the above parts list, I have put the numbers for a range of relevant configurations through ecalc and spreadsheet.  The results can be seen below:





    NOTE: The specific components listed above likely do not reflect the actual components which will feature in the Pocket Drone.  These items I have selected are of a known quality, not OEM equivelent items.  For example - It seems unlikely that the Pocket Drone will be supplied with a nice flash looking transmitter like the Turnigy 9XR (which, actually is already the most cost effective and affordable of entry level transmitters). 

  • Strange, if you read the kickstart comments someone found a very similary project on indiegogo for much less which has now been removed.... my spider sense is way up on this one...i'll pass

  • Real bummer to see that they were being sheisty with their Kickstarter campaign...

    So what would people recommend for those of us who bought the Pocket Drone? I can still refund I believe, but what can I get for 500 that will get me better footage with my GoPro?

  • Hi Chance, and thank you for showing up here to respond to our concerns regarding your "pitch".

    Welcome to the "largest community in the world dedicated to teaching people to build and operate their own flying robots" founded by "Drone Community Leader" Chris Anderson in order to "to pioneer consumer and commercial drone hardware and software" (to paraphrase your colleague).  We are just days away from attracting our 50,000th member and it has taken many years to get to this point. As has the development of the powerful and sophisticated hardware and software upon which your Pocket Drone was developed, both being the result of an ongoing collaborative open source development by the very dedicated and hardworking members of this community.

    As a quick search of this site will reveal that the Pocket Drone is not the first multirotor specific Kickstarter campaign to attract scrutiny here (it is not even the first tri).  I think this may be par for the course when developing a commercial product upon the Ardupilot platform.

    With regards to the on board footage featured in your Kickstarter pitch video - I am not convinced that simply removing the words "Actual Pocket Drone Footage" from the on board sequences goes far enough to correct the inaccuracy.  That fact is, the footage you have chosen to feature in your pitch video is not at all indicative of the results your backers will be able to achieve in return for their financial support of your project.  A far more considered effort should, in my view, be made to realign the expectations of your existing backers in terms of the "amazing video and pictures" they will be able to capture with their Pocket Drone.

    Frankly, evidenced by the fact that virtually all on board sequences featured in your pitch video shoot into the sun (deliberately positioning the craft's telltale shadow out of shot in almost all cases) it seems obvious that the intention was to deliberately mask the fact that the video originated from a totally different airframe.  Thus, I think it is fair to say that the blatantly misleading claim "Actual Pocket Drone Footage" is simply one aspect of the deception.

    This claim, along with the gimbal stabilised footage of another craft should never had made it into your pitch video in the first instance. Simply removing the text overlays on it's own does nothing to inform the existing 350+ backers of the Pocket Drone campaign that the footage used to attract their support was shot using a completely different product.  Nor does it do anything to prevent future backers, whom will consider the merit of your campaign over the next 55 days, from expecting that the on board footage featured in your pitch video relates to the product you are pitching.  Really, the only way to achieve that sort of footage featured in your pitch video for less than $1000 in a consumer focused package remains the DJI Phantom.

    Considering that your team had the audacity to specifically claim that the gimbal stabilised footage shot by a completely different multirotor was actually shot by the Pocket Drone, when so carefully crafting the initial rip of your pitch video, I am not surprised that you do not necessarily see this as a critical distinction for your team to make.  But, as you are no doubt aware, it is!

    My personal view is that it is absolutely necessary for you to remove the misleading footage entirely, rather than to have simply removed the fraudulent claim.  Ideally, this false on board footage should be replacing with an example of the actual footage able to be achieved by the Pocket Drone. If you are not confident that the footage shot from your Pocket Drone will be effective at enticing backers to support your campaign, then I suggest you re-cut your pitch video a 3rd time to remove any example of on board footage.  Or, if you wish to keep the gimbal stabilised on board footage from a completely different product in the Pocket Drone pitch video, then it is essential that you replace the fraudulent claim with an accurate label identifying this very important distinction.  For example: "actually footage of different model shown" or "footage may not reflect actual results of the Pocket Drone".  Anything less is just damage control on your behalf in my view.

    With regards to your response, I would not dispute that you have worked on many prototypes and configurations getting to where you are. We have all been there Chance.  That does not justify, or adequately explain, why gimbal stabilised footage ended up in your pitch video. Honestly, we didn't all come down in the last shower.  The multirotor used to shoot the footage featured in the Pocket Drone pitch video is no more an early "prototype" of the Pocket Drone than any other multirotor.  It doesn't use the same frame, motors, flight battery, ESCs... hell, it isn't even a tricopter... Nor is it of simular weight or scale.  It certainly cannot fold up into a nice compact of convenient little package.  Most importantly, it is not at all indicative of the type of footage the Pocket Drone will be able to deliver.  Accordingly, you will need to clarify by what measure this other gimbal stabilised aerial video platform qualifies as a prototype to the Pocket Drone?

    It comes as no surprise that you have not yet managed to make a version of the Pocket Drone with a gimbal that performs to the standard you require in time for your Kickstarter launch. Hence why the absence of actually Pocket Drone footage and use of gimablised footage is such a misleading aspect in your pitch. To deliver this type of performance at the weight, form factor and flight time you are claiming is an extremely difficult task.

    To successfully deliver the type of performance you display in your pitch video using a multirotor as small, light and convenient as the Pocket would likely require the design and manufacture of an all new ultra-small brushless gimbal motor, involve the design of an new ultra compact BLGC and necessitate a licensing deal with BasCamElectronics, among other challenges. It would also push the price well up above $500 by quite a sizable margin (eliminating the Pocket Drone's USP as "the only drone product under $500 that will carry a camera for up to 20-minutes), increase the size (eliminating the Pocket Drone's ability to fit in a cargo pants pocket - and destroying the validity of it's name), increase the weight and fragility (significantly reducing ease and convenience of use).  But, I guess you already know all this, which is why the Pocket Drone does not feature gimbalised stabilisation and why you attempted to pass off footage shot using a completely different product as "Actual Pocket Drone Footage".

    If your intention is genuinely "not to misrepresent the product" and you truly "will strive to be much clearer in the future", then I think this can best be demonstrated by modifying the pitch video in one of the approaches outlined above, as well as circulating a status update to your backers to properly and unambiguously inform them of the error (make them aware that the footage was misleading), and clearly explaining why you are making this correction (so that they may be under no illusion as to the achievable performance of the Pocket Drone).

    Reading the comments section of your campaign, you appear to be dancing around the issue. For example - 4 days ago backer Euwing Tham Tatt Wah specifically asked the question "Are those really footages with the Pocket Drone?"  and Joey Natividad asked " I'd like to know more about how this can be done with the Pocket Drone since it doesn't use a gimbal system" Santiago asked  "what about a gimbal? are those footage from the pocket drone?"  Chris McCullough asked "I would also like more information on the footage from the Pocket Drone in the video. Was this done with a gimbal? The footage is extremely smooth if no gimbal or stabilization software was used in post-production. Please detail how the action cam is attached to the drone to create such a smooth video."  These are very simply and direct questions that deserve an equally simply and direct response.  However, I have read your response to these questions, and you clearly stop well short of answering each of their questions about whether the footage was or wasn't shot with the Pocket Drone.  Clearly pointing out that this footage was NOT actually shot using the Pocket Drone and identifying the fact that they were actually falsely labelling as being " Actual Pocket Drone Footage" is the only way if you truly "strive to be much clearer in the future".

    Furthermore, I think suggesting that a workable gimbal and FPV upgrades might be forthcoming in the future is a bit of a stretch.  I really cant see how you are going to add a brushless gimbal and VTX to this without drastically compromising pretty much all of it's other USPs.

    With all that said, I really do wish you the best of luck.  The last thing we need is for all your positive press to turn negative, and I doubt you are looking forward to fielding 350+ enquiries from disgruntled jelly factory owners.  Nor will it serve anyone's interests to have dugn.org damaged through it's association with this campaign.

  • I still have the impression that people would not get the product they paid for (judging from videos it should be perfect product). Getting rid of the title with "Actual Drone" you removed obvious lie but the video still not telling the truth.... Do you think that fair campaign will not bring you profits? Or need for profits is so big that beeing fair is not that important? If you ask me - I believe that beeing honest while advertising particular product could bring well deserved income and respect otherwise would give us only money with bad name.

    Your work deserves to be seen and recognition. I hope you manage to get it right.

    You have your chanses to correct your mistake or bypass it. It would be interesting to watch what you will do.

  • I’ve seen a number of questions here about the footage in our pitch video and wanted to clarify this for everyone. Throughout the development and KS campaign process, we worked on many prototypes and configurations including some with a gimbal. In prioritizing weight, form factor and flight time, we have not yet managed to make a version with a gimbal that performs to the standard we require in time for our Kickstarter launch. To prevent further confusion, we have removed the “actual Pocket Drone footage” tag from the video. We did not intend to misrepresent the product and we will strive to be much clearer in the future.  - Chance Roth, AirDroids CEO
  • I meant deception, not descretion. Sorry, I really need to keep ahead of my auto (in)correct function.
  • Michal - I hadn't even considered angular momentum when responding to your comment, only vibration.
    Looking at it again, there is zero doubt in my mind that you are absolutely right. It seems that there is just no way any of the footage in the kickstarter video belongs to the Pocket Drone.
    With this in mind, and considering the fact that the footage/image capture performance of the product is the #1 unique selling point differentiating one aerial video platform from another - this campaign actually seems quite fraudulent. Plastering "Actual Pocket Drone Footage" across the screen only adds insult to injury. It also gives the impression that these guys aren't even experienced enough to realise that the evidence of their discretion is so obvious to see once the illusion is revealed. All could be forgiven for falling for the discretion though, as the general public to whom they are marketing simply have no reason to question what they are seeing. Hell, I didn't question it... Neither did Mr Anderson.
    Come to think of it, any one of us who is capable of knocking together a scratch build multirotor frame on his/her 3D printer these days, could quite easily replicate the success and attract the attention this team of 3 has with relative ease - provided that that person is a gun marketeer who is prepared to misrepresent the performance of their product. This is not a simple case of "Overseas Model Shown", this is a case of "Much Larger, More Complicated, More Expensive, Completely Different Model Shown". Very naughty indeed!
    It seems logical that Kickstarter would have policies aimed to protect their image and business model from exploitation through dishonest conduct or misreprententation, and that they might even act to cancel any such campaign found to have done so. I have not reviewed their Ts&Cs though, so I am just assuming.
    Perhaps we are just misinterpreting what we are seeing and that the shadow evidenced in the above post is just another airframe flying next to the Pocket Drone and that AirDroids simply have some crazy new post processing technology we don't know about yet because they are yet to announce it... Or perhaps the perceived deception is real and "Drone Community Leader" Timothy Reuter ends up right back where he started after returning home from working in Afghanistan more than a year ago - "trying to figure out what to do next". If the former is true, then I guess we will all be buying a Pocket Drone. If the latter proves to be the reality, then I reckon there is probably a stellar career waiting for Timothy in the weight lose or self help industry - pushing the "next big thing".
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