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I Tried to Test Fly a Drone and Ended Up Lost in the Desert Alone

Also, the Hexo+ drone crashed and broke immediately.
January 5, 2015, 9:40pm
​This is where I spent an hour wandering. Image: Author

​The Hexo+, ​a new action sports-specific drone that received ​$1.3 million in Kickstarter funding and an unfathomable amount of press coverage, might revolutionize how action sports are filmed. I wouldn't necessarily bet on it, however, considering how, in my attempt to demo it, I ended up alone, panicking, waterless, and stranded in the desert near people shooting rifles for an hour. Oh, and the drone is broken.

Let me explain: I'm at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a massive, free-for-all gadget conference that's full of tech companies trying to show off their latest and greatest. Tomorrow, France's Squadrone System is going to show a new video of the Hexo+ that will probably make its product look awesome. But I wanted to try it out, to see if it can really fly circles around you, or follow you as you fly down a mountain on a snowboard or ride motocross.

Turns out that, for my demo, it couldn't even take off. And that's after I spent half the morning wandering around the desert alone.

I emailed the public relations firm hired by Squadrone System to handle press at CES. The PR guy told me, at 8:30 AM, that I could meet him and the Hexo+ team at a location in the Nevada desert 16 miles south of Las Vegas for a demo. He dropped me coordinates. At 9:45, I called him to let him know I was in a cab heading there.

Here is where I was hanging out. Screengrab: GoogleMaps

"I'm not on site, but the guys are definitely there," he told me.

"Definitely, definitely?" I asked.

"Yeah—I will email you the contact information of someone who's there to make sure everything is fine," he said. He didn't.

There, at the coordinates the PR guy told me, were four trucks maybe a half mile off the paved road, down a rocky stretch. I told my cab driver that it must be them, because that's exactly where I was told to go. She drove away.

As I approached the trucks, I heard gunshot after gunshot. This was alarming, so I didn't immediately approach them. It became clear I was in the wrong place. I climbed up a hill to see if I could see a drone flying in the distance somewhere. I didn't see any.

I quickly realized I was sweating a lot, the not-that-hot but still extremely bright Nevada sun beaming down on me. I had no water with me, because this was supposed to be a very quick trip and I was running from a prior meeting. There are thousands of companies here and every tech press outlet is here as well—every company is trying to meet as many journalists as they can and every journalist is trying to cover as many companies as possible. There's little time to plan for anything, which creates lots of mishaps, like this one.

I approached the men with rifles and asked them if they knew anything about the drone. Unsurprisingly, they did not. I asked them to give me a bottle of water, which they did.

"It's really dangerous out here, what are you doing? Lots of people just shooting guns," the man said.

The Hexo+ prototype. Image: Author

Suddenly I cared very little about the drone and just wanted to be back indoors.

I called the PR guy, because he still hadn't emailed me. I called my cab driver and asked her to come back and get me; I was ready to call it a loss. She said she'd be 40 minutes. Finally, the rep emailed me the contact information for a fellow journalist who was supposed to be at the demo. I called him. He didn't answer. I emailed again asking for another number.

I popped an anti-anxiety pill because I was freaking the fuck out.

Ten minutes later, the PR guy forwarded me another email—contact information for the Hexo+ guys. I called them—no answer—but I was immediately called back. They didn't seem to be aware that I was coming. They said they'd come pick me up, which they did, within a few minutes. They had moved because of all the people shooting guns, which makes sense—but no one had told me.

To make matters worse, Squadrone System's CEO set up the drone, which is scheduled to ship sometime this summer, and told it to fly. It instantly flipped over, crashed into a rock, and two of its propellers were irreparably broken. The demo was over.

"That's the only prototype we have," a member of the team told me.

This is what the Hexo+ will eventually look like when it's done. Image: Author

My cab driver arrived, and I left, and I'm fine.

Press mixups happen all the time. They are infinitely more common when people are at the largest gadget conference in a foreign city and when everyone wants as much press as humanly possible.

And I probably should have brought water, and I probably should have made sure it was them before the cab left me. Lesson learned. I am not completely blameless here. But it would have been nice to have someone's phone number when the cab left, or to know who I was supposed to be meeting.

To the people out there who spent $500 or more to preorder a Hexo+, I hope the company has been pouring that money into manufacturing the thing and making it work. Because today, nothing did.