CyPhy Works unveils $500 drone for consumer photography and video

CyPhy's prototype LVL 1 drone, which will sell for about $500. The company plans to start shipments in February 2016.
CyPhy's prototype LVL 1 drone, which will sell for about $500. The company plans to start shipments in February 2016.

While companies like 3DR, DJI, and Parrot all sell drones for less than $1,000, Helen Greiner, the founder of CyPhy Works, believes her company has designed the ultimate drone for consumers who want to shoot aerial photos and videos and easily share them with friends. The Danvers-based startup is launching a crowdfunding campaign today to see if consumers agree, aiming to raise $250,000 to green-light the production of a $500 drone called the LVL 1. She expects to begin delivering the new aircraft in early 2016.

A combination of novel software and hardware makes the LVL 1 easier to fly, Greiner says. Unlike most multirotor drones, she explains, “It doesn’t tilt forward or backward as it flies, which is what can make flying really difficult for novices.” And a camera integrated into the body, rather than attached to a bracket than hangs from it, means it is less likely to be damaged.

“There are even drones today where you have one controller for the person flying the drone, and another for the person who is controlling the camera,” Greiner says. The LVL 1 tries to simplify things, using an Android or iOS smartphone app to maneuver the vehicle and capture images. Photos and videos can even be shared on social media while the LVL 1 is still in flight.

Since it was founded in 2009, CyPhy Works has focused on tethered drones for military and commercial use. The tether makes communication impossible to intercept, and it sends power up to the craft so that flight time is effectively limitless. Greiner says that CyPhy engineers wanted to apply some of the software and aeronautical designs from those craft into something that anyone could use — and lose the tether. The downside? The LVL 1 will only have about 20 minutes of flying time. In terms of uses for the LVL 1, Greiner mentions being able to inspect your roof without a ladder, or shoot a child’s soccer game with a perspective that encompasses the entire field.

Greiner was previously a co-founder of iRobot Corp. She says that at that company, the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner “started out as a skunkworks project too,” much like the LVL 1 drone. She says that she expects CyPhy to “offer a mix” of consumer, military, and industrial drones.

Back in February, I wrote about drones and FAA regulation; also that month, I posted a snowboarding video that CyPhy employees shot using their company’s drones.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
Follow Scott on Twitter - Facebook - Google+