Fotokite's tethered drone aims to make aerial photography as easy as flying a kite, while eliminating the safety and privacy concerns of traditional UAVs. Matthew Stock reports.
It's a drone that you fly just like a kite. Designed by robotics engineers from ETH Zurich, it's aimed at broadcasters for news gathering and sports events. The self-stabilising Fotokite Pro model can climb to 30 metres and run indefinitely when plugged into a power source on the ground. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARKUS ZAHNER, CONTROLS LEAD AT FOTOKITE, SAYING: "The vehicle is very autonomous. So no one needs to pilot it and it can fly for hours. Meaning that you can actually plug the Fotokite Pro into the wall and then it basically doesn't need to come down and be maintained whilst it's up there for hours.... It's the first commercially available drone that has been approved to fly around and above people by the FAA in a commercial way." This crowd-funded consumer model - the Fotokite Phi - is piloted by a sensor-filled gesture-based controller. A quick twist of the wrist starts it up. It then flies away on a retractable cord. Free-roaming UAVs face criticism for invasions of privacy, and safety concerns of flying unregulated over crowded areas. But keeping the Fotokite on a leash means the operator is never anonymous. If the power fails or the tether is cut, a built-in fail-safe begins a controlled descent back to the ground. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARKUS ZAHNER, CONTROLS LEAD AT FOTOKITE, SAYING: "It solves flight time issues, it solves safety issues and also basically makes the drone accountable to its operator." Bespoke Fotokites able to carry bigger payloads such as scientific equipment are now on their radar. Drones are fast becoming a crucial tool for broadcasters. With its emphasis on safety and accountability, Fotokite's tethered solution could take the lead.