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Self-Flying Lily Camera Has Booked $34 Million in Pre-Sales in Last Eight Months

It ships this summer.

Amelia Krales / The Verge

Drones are big at CES this year, even though they are much more important as business-to-business devices than they ever will be as a consumer item. But drones are popular — more than 180,000 people have registered them with the FAA — and one thing people really like to do with them is take pictures and film videos.

Lily Camera pitches itself as the autonomously steered flying camera for those photography-minded people. The greatly hyped robotics company was founded in a UC Berkeley robotics lab back in 2013, and eight months ago it publicly launched and began taking preorders. In an interview with Re/code, Lily CEO Antoine Balaresque said the company has now booked $34 million in sales since that launch.

The camera itself is an HD-capable waterproof quadrocopter that follows the user, who carries a tracking tool, wherever he or she goes; basically it’s a responsive, airborne GoPro. To launch it, you simply toss the camera into the air like a Frisbee. When you want it to land, you extend your arm outward. It can capture video in slow motion and record audio through the tracking tool (which looks kind of like a small TV remote, with fewer buttons).

If this sounds like an ambitious and expensive piece of equipment, that’s because it is. Its current preorder price is $799, and it will cost $999 when it’s actually released. When Lily announced its $15 million Series A funding round last month, led by Spark Capital, the company also said it was pushing back the camera’s ship date from February to this summer.

Balaresque says the product’s real selling point is how simple it is to use, compared with the complex controls required to master most current aerial cameras.

“We hate the word drone; we just want an easy-to-use autonomous camera,” he said. “For us, tech accessibility is not a downgrade.”

Tens of millions of dollars in pre-sales suggests that people buy that message and are willing to take the risk of forking over almost $1,000 on a device they’ve never tested.

Steve Aoki, one of the world’s most successful DJs and a self-described “gadget obsessive,” is one of those people. In fact, he’s a strategic investor in Lily who discovered the company the way most other people did — via a viral launch video from May that shows off Lily’s full capabilities through snowboarding and other action sports. You can watch that video embedded below.

In an interview with Re/code, Aoki said that the launch trailer blew him away and that he invested in Lily partly because he thinks it would be useful for performers like him.

“I use drones. I spent serious coin on a drone in Ibiza, and it was temperamental — it actually crashed into a cliff,” Aoki said. “With something like that, you need it to be more compact and versatile, which is what I’m about as an artist.”

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