This Self-Flying Drone Chased Me Around the Desert
The Hexo+ drone follows your every move.
Image: Kari Paul
No matter where you go, the Hexo+ drone will follow you.
The device was designed for outdoor adventure and was tested in the mountains of France filming snowboarders and hikers. This week, the company brought the autonomous drone to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and let me try it out (thankfully, I didn't get stranded anywhere).
I have experience flying UAVs, but I didn't need any with Hexo+. The drone and accompanying app do all the work for you, with a start button, land button, and 12 different pre-programmed camera movements to choose from, including a 360-degree view, 'follow', and 'hover.' The system is navigated not with a bulky remote control, but with an app on your smartphone.
I don't have much experience on mountain bikes, but my feeble attempts to outrun the drone, or confuse it by weaving back and forth, were thwarted. The footage from Hexo+ gets a little bit jerky when I start to zigzag, but in general, the drone followed me pretty consistently for the full half hour I was demoing it.
The company calls itself the first autonomous drone, but at least two otherdrone companies at CES claim to do the same thing. Regardless, during my trial the Hexo+ worked well, all while having an extremely simple interface for capturing aerial footage.
According to Hexo+, the device, which has a six propeller design for extra stability, can fly for 15 minutes at a time on one charge, operate at an altitude of up to 16,000 feet (it works on mountains, in other words), and travel at a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour (I maxed out at far slower than that on the bike). It has been in development since 2013, raised $1.3 million on Kickstarter in 2014, and it's finally shipping.
The drone did everything it was told: It took the exact aerial photos of me I commanded, and followed me around a giant, open field as I fled from it on the bike. You are looking at some of the footage I took from above before and during my bike ride. For on-bike footage, I pre-programmed the drone to follow me and then put the phone in my bag as I rode.
"Five years ago, being able to get a shot from the sky doing a 360 around you would have been very complicated," Hexo+ representative Lug Giroud said. "Now with an app, you need no skill. It just does it—and you look cool on Facebook."
The company says the drone has built-in safety features: If it goes too far, it will automatically return to you. If it's low on battery it will slowly land itself before the battery runs out, and the app also has an easy-to-access emergency stop button that works by pushing down on the screen in case an unexpected obstacle arises.
At $1,349.00, the drone isn't cheap, but Giroud said the drone—particularly its remote feature allowing it to follow others—will be extremely useful for low-budget film companies to get incredible shots without paying for pricier technology.