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Swarm Drones Take Flight on Indiegogo

DreamQii's drones can fly together in a "swarm," controlled via a mobile app.

Courtesy: DreamQii

A Toronto startup launching a crowdfunding campaign on Wednesday has developed drones that can fly together in a coordinated “swarm,” all controlled through a single mobile device.

DreamQii’s PlexiDrone is specifically aimed at photographers and filmmakers, a well-timed target market given that the Federal Aviation Administration just exempted a half dozen video companies from its restrictions on commercial drones, in a first step toward allowing the industry freer use of unmanned aircraft.

Drones offer an inexpensive way to capture aerial vantages, prompting a growing number of photography hobbyists to test the possibilities and some professionals to skirt the FAA’s rules. The industry has traditionally relied on helicopters, which are vastly more expensive and restricted by size.

While many drones are steered through dedicated remote controls with multiple joysticks, the PlexiDrone is operated through smartphone, tablet or desktop applications that allow users to plot flight paths along maps.

Klever Freire, DreamQii’s co-founder and chief executive, said in an interview that the interface makes it simple to fly numerous drones, allowing photographers to shoot scenes from multiple angles at once.

(Re/code didn’t get to try out the drone or see it in action. Freire said the device’s batteries were confiscated at the U.S. border.)

In a press release, the company said users should be able to fly up to 30 drones at once using the PlexiHub, a Bluetooth device that acts like a router between the app and aircraft (although Freire said that so far they’ve only physically tested six flying at once).

An important restriction on professional use will be the PlexiDrone’s 1KG payload limit (about 2.2 pounds). It can carry GoPros, Sony Action Cams and similarly small devices, but not the heavier DLRs and digital cinema cameras preferred by many pros.

The product features snap-in, modular arms, allowing it to be quickly disassembled without tools and stowed in a custom backpack. The landing gear is retractable during flight, allowing unobstructed camera views.

DreamQii hopes to raise at least $100,000 through preorders in its Indiegogo campaign and intends to use the funds to ramp up manufacturing. The company expects to deliver the drones in spring 2015.

There are various introductory pricing levels for early buyers. The regular retail price for the basic kit, including the drone and PlexiHub, will run $999. The pro kit, which throws in a gimbal that helps stabilize shots during flight, will cost $1,699.

Freire said DreamQii has already lined up distribution deals with retailers in the United States and Canada, although he declined to disclose any names at this point. The six-person company, founded in the fall of 2012, hasn’t yet raised any traditional venture capital.

In addition to selling the devices, DreamQii also offers to help customers apply for permits or exemptions to use the drones for professional purposes in the U.S. and Canada.

DreamQii plans to allow developers to build on top of its software and add their own hardware to expand uses to other industries. Freire said one company has already used the device to inspect solar panel fields, while others have expressed interest in using the drone to detect land mines and hazardous gases.

“The ideas people have had are inspiring,” he said. “It’s like the app world of software. All of them might either be large markets or very niche ones, but people have real needs for them all.”

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