The Lily quadcopter flies itself and can follow you at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour at a height of 10 to 30 feet. But Lily also has packs a nice camera that captures high-definition video (1080p at 60 frame per second). The Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup, Lily Robotics, doesn’t see itself as competing with drone makers like DJI. Instead, it wants to take on action sports camera maker GoPro.
“We want to be in the GoPro space, not the drone space,” said Lily cofounder Antoine Balaresque, 24. “We don’t see this as a drone. This is robotics technology applied to cameras. … To me, a drone is a military device that just flies around and shoots people. The only thing I see with Lily is camera that flies. I guess it’s a matter of wording.”
Whatever you want to call it, the Lily drone uses a combination of GPS and visual processing to track the user. The drone contains an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, GPS and three cameras — one camera to do the recording, one that’s looking at the user to visually track them, and another camera looking at the ground to make sure it’s stabilized. Lily also requires a little tracking device you can slip into your pocket or strap onto your wrist. The tracking device has GPS and WiFi that communicates with the drone to make sure it knows where you are — it also has an accelerometer to track how fast you’re moving. The device also has a microphone for picking up sound around you.
You use a phone app to set up basic actions you want Lily to take, such as follow, stay, take off or land. In the phone app, you can also set more specific instructions, like making the drone’s camera switch into slow motion mode when you suddenly go faster or jump into the air. You can also define no-fly zones on a map, so Lily doesn’t run into buildings accidentally. The drone works ideally in open space areas where there’s nothing to bump into. For now, Lily can’t do object avoidance. If you’re running through a forest, the drone won’t be able to avoid tree branches. Eventually, the company hopes to do object avoidance.
The Lily drone lasts about 20 minutes in the air before you need to freshen up its batteries — similar to DJI’s Phantom drones. Both the drone and tracking device are waterproof.
Lily begins taking pre-orders today at $500 and will begin shipping in February 2016. Once the product launches, the price tag will increase to $1,000.
Lily was cofounded by Henry Bradlow, 23, and Antoine Balaresque. The two met as computer science undergrads at the University of California, Berkeley and while working at the UC Berkeley Robotics Laboratory. The idea for the company came in the summer of 2013 when Balaresque went on a family vacation and realized his mother wasn’t in any of photos because she was the one taking pictures.
The two have been working on the project since September 2013 and spent the first six months working in a basement on the software — most on the visual tracking aspect. But then once they got out of the basement and tried the software out on retrofitted drones, they realized the current hardware wasn’t going to cut it. “This is a full integration of hardware and software,” said Balaresque. “We saw the limitations of our software on terrible hardware, so we had to build the hardware.”
The five-person company has received $1 million in seed funding to date. It will be doing a Series A round once it shows how strong the demand is through the pre-order campaign.
Lily is offering an interesting way of meshing two emerging categories of consumer electronics devices with drones and action cameras. The two categories have been pairing up for quite a while now. It was inevitable that someone would come along and find some way of melding them more closely together.
“The camera market is huge,” said Balaresque. “In five years, our goal is that all non-flying cameras are obsolete.”