The FlyBi drone is a crowdfunding project on IndiGoGo. At first I ignored this concept when I saw it about a month ago and I still don’t understand who exactly FlyBi is trying to market to, which is a little off-putting. The company is using flashy words like “VR” and “Autonomous” to gain traction while sporting a very high promise of features mixed a very low project funding goal goal. I find it hard to believe they will deliver the on the features they are promising. I give my comprehensive review and explain why I think so.
*See UPDATE on this story below:
First, lets take a look at the features FlyBi is promising:
VR Glasses with Head Tracking
This is the first feature that I believe people will be let down by. They are promising a smooth VR experience, but no where does it say anything about how they are transmitting video. In the consumer market, the customer will naturally assume that it will be an HD unobstructed stream. They do mention that the goggles have HD capable screens, but I’m almost certain that it’s on a 5.8 frequency which means the quality will be SD. Not only that, it will produce glitchy video as 5.8 analog is subject to interference.
While this is normal and expected in the R/C world, the average consumer will not understand this and will be let down. Also, it will not be a truly smooth VR experience like people have experienced before. They will move the camera using servos based on how the goggles move. You can view a demo of the basic technology here.
Wearable Wrist Remote
I could only imagine how this one went down in the meeting rooms. “Maybe we could make our drone a ‘wearable’ and it would appeal to a larger audience!” While I appreciate the desire to innovate and create something new and interesting, I don’t think this will work well in practice. The joystick is for forward, back, left and right control. There are two spinning circles that go around the joystick. The 1st level one will control altitude, with the second controlling yaw. The integrated screen will have to be analog 5.8 and exist without an antenna which will produce non desirable results. I also think this wrist strap won’t fit everyone, and will make it harder to control the drone to get the shots you want.
HD 1080 Camera
The integrated camera on the FlyBi looks to be a fatshark 600TVL. While they could upgrade it in the future to a better sensor, using the fatshark module in the marketing is misleading. Also missing is the a true electronic motor gimbal. This ‘Gimbal’ pictured is a 2 axis servo controlled mechanism (not actually a gimbal at all). No, this gimbal won’t take out the shaky movements from your quadcopter, and in fact might even exaggerate them. With technology like this already existing for years in Fatshark goggles, I don’t find this to be a new and innovative feature. View the existing Fatshark head tracking feature here.
Helideck Remote Charging
The next over promised feature we have the Helideck. The Helideck will supposedly act as a backpack, rolling case, and homing beacon for your FlyBi. In addition, while using the Helideck they say you will never have to change your batteries yourself. Simply let the FlyBi land in the Helideck and let it change the batteries for you!(supposedly) While this sounds very cool, it is yet another feature that will make the FlyBi more complex, heavy, and subject to failure. Lets face it; people who fly drones should know their machines inside and out and this also means knowing how to charge and maintain your batteries yourself.
Very Small Funding Goal
This is the most concerning part. FlyBi has launched on Kickstarter with a funding goal of only $35,000 (which is already over 100% funded at the time this article is published). How in the world do they think they’ll be able to fund R&D, production, and marketing with only 35k? For reference, Photokite launched their Fotokite Phi by exceeding a their $300,000 goal. Zano got about 12,075 pre-orders, generated just over $3,000,000, and just delivered the 1st 200 units to their 1st backers. The DreamQuii Plexidrone raised $2,243,986, about 1,000 times their projected goal (and since have done a complete re-design). There are a lot of new technologies involved with the FlyBi, injection molds, electronics, and FPV screens that would require much more money than $35,000 to produce. Furthermore, when using a crowd funding platform like IndieGoGo, you retain the funds regardless if you reach your goal or not. To me, projects on kickstarter are more reputable. If your goal is so low, why not go onto a more reputable platform like Kickstarter?
Non-comparison, Comparison Chart
Some of these items are a bit ludicrous trying to compare with similar quadcopter such as the DJI Phantom or 3DR Solo. A few that stand out as unrealistic and most likely WON’T ever be delivered to first round (if it even ships) are:
- Obstacle Avoidance sensors (even the DJI Matrice is still in R&D and dev on this technology with a multibillion dollar company and 800 engineers on staff)
- Wearable Wrist Remote (as stated above, non-intuitive and clumsy/ineffective control of the drone)
- Returns to Helideck (even the best drones on the market such as DJI’s Inspire 1 and Phantom 3 Professional which use two GPS satellite systems that can get up to 21 satellite lock will only land autonomously within about a 6 ft radii of the take off home point, yet these claims to have the Flyby land inside the case the size of a portable phonograph repeatedly?)
This is not meant to say that crowdfunding on one platform is better than another to start your drone company. There are many success stories like Zano, Plexidrone, Fotokite, Ghost Drone, Micro Drone, Hexo+, Airdog, CyPhy, Game Of Drones, C-Mi, Sprite, and I’m sure we’ll see even more in the future!
With so many success stories, it’s also good to remember that not every crowdfunded drone project doesn’t go so well. Projects like the Pocket Drone don’t have such a happy ending. The team was not expecting as many orders as they got, about 1,946 for a total investment of about $929,212. The owners were not prepared and had to invest their own life savings, and even go into debt to fulfill R&D and production of the product. After all pre orders were fulfilled AirDroids, the maker of the Pocket Drone, closed shop for good.
Crowdfunding has become a great way for entrepreneurs to gain capital to create new and innovative products. We’ve seen some great drone products come out of crowd funding programs such as Zano. I personally backed the Zano project, and once I get mine I will probably buy a few more to explore their swarming feature and to give as gifts(assuming it works as they said). To me, it really seems like the ideal platform that I’ve always been dreaming about. I’m not expecting it to shoot the best video, have the furthest range, or fly in much wind at all. But to have a small flying camera that will take photos of you and your friends is something I’ve been looking for. As I live my life, I’m starting to see where Zano could be integrated. It happens quite often.
There seems to be a recipe for successful drone crowdfunding campaigns. The first factor being an entertaining video that tells the story of where the inspiration for the product came from. The video shows people using the product, and sometimes what the product can produce. The second strategy is media support. It has become a custom to put all the media outlets and reports you were featured in on your Kickstarter page to show what brands believe in your vision. Third you need a detailed project timeline showing what has already been accomplished, future challenges, solutions for problems you are encountering at the current state of your project, and the willingness to over-communicate with your backers. Communication with your backers and creating a personal relationship with them is the most important. Zano used Reece to have a relatable person with a great personality talk with and let the backers know what is going on. I talked to Reece at CES, and had to compliment him on his video marketing strategy. At the moment, Zano is on email update #45 since January which equals about 5 updates per month. While they didn’t deliver on their initial shipping goal, they’ve kept backers updated about what’s going on and that makes them feel good about their investment.
Other companies like the Lilly.Camera took the same marketing ideas as the kickstarter campaigns utilizing a high quality video that shows features, use cases, and the lifestyle you can live with the product, in this case the Lilly. They went to media outlets before their release date and made content with them so on their release date the internet blew up about their product. Not only is this great for marketing, but great for sales too. All of Lily’s sales have been private, and that might attract more capital investors as opposed to a crowd funded project in which the figures are public.
Anytime there is a democratization of an industry, innovation happens at an exponential rate and that gives the big manufacturers pressure to innovate and create something more technology advanced. However, don’t take everything for its face value, and use your best judgement before putting your money into a crowd funded drone project. People have been let down before, and I would hate to see more people be let down again in the future.
*UPDATE 10-15 – Bait & Switch:
From the start I never had a good taste in my mouth from the FlyBi project. Last week the FlyBi team has meet their very low goal of $35,000 in 8 days. While this usually is a reason to celebrate, it was accompanied with an email update from the FlyBi team that explains that there has been some changes to their campaign, promised perks, and more.
In a swift move, FlyBi has completely changed whats included in their campaign. After reaching their very low fundraising goal of $35,000 in 8 days, FlyBi sent out an email explaining that there has been some major changes to their perk structure. This includes removing their wrist controller in favor of providing a traditional RC controller. Not only that, but the Helideck is being replaced with a much simpler carrying case to “make it more accessible, price wise, to get the drone with all the cool accessories.” This has come at no surprise to me. This information should have been reflected in the initial launch of FlyBi, and not after they reached their funding goal.
Let this be a lesson to those of you hoping to get your new drone on Kickstarter; Always use your bet judgement before backing a project. Everything you see has to be taken with a grain of salt, with the expectation that things aren’t going to go exactly as promised. Projects miss their projected ship date all the time.
This can be caused by a number of things like manufacturing volumes, development of promised features, and FCC testing. Lets take Zano for example. Zano was launched in December 2014, closing their funding in January 2015. They initially set out for a delivery goal of June and quickly realized that wouldn’t happen. Changes to the product during development, working with suppliers, getting the product FCC certified and tested, and the sheer mass quantity of orders can set projects back. While it is disappointing they have not meet their delivery goal, Zano has been absolutely wonderful in keeping their backers up to date with the current progress of development with nearly full transparency.
In a newly-released video by FlyBy, they show landing and launching tests from the helideck which they recently brought back to the campaign. In the beginning of the video, they show video from a Phantom 2 with a GoPro Hero camera. How do I know this? I know the distortion of a GoPro camera by heart. You could also screenshot the video and add a photoshop lens correction to the image. It turns out to be perfectly flat.
Using another drone to film aerial video is, yet again, tricking people into thinking that the footage is from the FlyBi. It was my impression that it would be footage from the craft, but the two axis servo stabilizers will not be fast enough to create such stable video. Furthermore, you can hear the sound of a DJI Phantom 2 or Inspire 1 flying at 1:53.
The FlyBi team also shows the landing and take off from the Helideck. While this makes it known that it can launch and land from the helideck, it doesn’t mean that it will land on its own. By the way that this was flying I can tell you with certainty that this was flown by a human being. In the marketing they say that it will auto return to the Helideck and land, but after watching how hard it was for a human to land in the Helideck, I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon.
While some kickstarter projects have realistic and achievable goals, FlyBi has been completely misleading people on the ability of their product. This news of the perk structure change supports my point that FlyBi is over-promising, will be under delivering, and that they knew it from the beginning. I am very interested to see where this project ends up, and to see how backers respond. Hopefully they learned from the mistakes made by the folks who made the Pocket Drone and understand that crowd sourcing projects isn’t always as glamorous as it seems.
As always, do your research before backing a product. Always look for clues like the DJI Phantom audio in their videos, and use your best judgement to know what is possible and what is not. To the people who backed FlyBi, I am sorry. If you still can, remove your backing from their IndieGoGo campaign before it is too late. 🙁