Fotokite Phi: A Leashed Drone for Easy Aerial Video

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Fotokite Phi

Fotokite Phi

The Fotokite Phi is a fold-up, lightweight drone that launches on Indiegogo today with a pre-sale price of $349. It’s a unique product with a design approach that is likely to create some divisive opinions in the drone community. I got to fly one last week, so let me tell you a little about product and my experience with it.

Why put a leash on a drone?

Simply put, the Fotokite is a quadcopter attached to a retractable leash. When I first heard the idea, I figured it was like a drone with training wheels on it. A fine idea for beginners, but not for me (though in truth, I’ve lost count of the number of drones I’ve wrecked). But after my smugness dissipated and I got my hands on the actual product, I realized what it really is.

Fotokite Phi animation
A glimpse at how the Fotokite Phi collapses into a cylinder not much bigger than a wine bottle.

The Fotokite is trying to solve the problem of making the lightest, most portable solution for capturing GoPro video from the air. One way to lighten the load down to an impressive 12 ounces is to remove the remote control from the equation, along with the quadcopter’s remote receiver and GPS module.

To operate the Fotokite, you just give the drone a twist, point it where you want to go, and let out the retractable leash (up to 26 feet). When you’re done you reel it back in. As the name implies, it’s like a fancy self-propelled kite with a GoPro stuck on it. That it uses a drone to accomplish this feat isn’t the point.

That said, if you want some movement in your aerial footage, the conventional drone capabilities of this product come in handy. The Fotokite includes two buttons on its leash handle that communicate to the drone over Bluetooth. With some practice, you can use these buttons to adjust the drone’s altitude or move its horizontal position.

Fotokite Phi
A top-down look at the Fotokite Phi. Notice the design of the propeller guards which fan out from their folded position.

Even without these controls, you can simply walk the Fotokite around and make intuitive adjustments by manually adjusting the leash. During my demo, I navigated the Fotokite in a room with an exposed ventilation system in the ceiling and a few pillars that needed to be avoided. Not yet familiar with the two remote buttons, I avoided a few indoor collisions just by pulling on the leash, the same way I might with a kite. I’m certain that if I were piloting an unfamiliar R/C quadcopter around the same room it would have ended in a confetti of plastic propellers raining from above.

But don’t confuse safe and successful operation with a fun drone experience. Sure, there’s some fun in the initial novelty of sending a drone out on a leash, but the Fotokite isn’t built for stunts or speed, it’s built for ease and stability. It is, first and foremost, a GoPro accessory.

In fact, the Fotokite’s GoPro integration goes fairly deep. The built-in GoPro mount is compatible with the Hero 3, 3+, and 4, and allows connected GoPro cameras to draw power directly from the Fotokite’s battery, leaving one less battery to charge. One stretch goal of the Fotokite crowdfunding campaign is to include a GoPro trigger button on the leash handle to remotely trigger the camera. Flight time on the Fotokite is rated at 15 minutes. The drone recharges over the new USB-C spec which can pass up to 100 watts of power for a quick recharge.

The Fotokite Phi flying indoors.
The Fotokite Phi flying indoors

Why buy one?

Whether you see the Fotokite’s leash as a feature or a limitation, the product gives you the lightest, most compact way to get your GoPro in the air. That’s the pitch, at least, and at $350 I can see it as a fun accessory to take with you on vacation or some outdoor adventure.

What do you think? If you have any questions about my experience with the Fotokite, let me know in the comments here.

Fotokite Phi

14 thoughts on “Fotokite Phi: A Leashed Drone for Easy Aerial Video

  1. mpjmarshall says:

    This probably has some niche uses but in my opinion the price point is a touch high. It’s the first iteration though. I imagine they can get the price much lower at scale.

  2. Buster Gipson says:

    Seems way to high cosider you can do this with any quad and some fishing line the symax-5cis less than 50 and line 5 bucks and would be far more vesitile don’t think this would be a good investment at their price

    1. Mathieu says:

      Not 100% correct

      1. Buster Gipson says:

        Care to elabrate

        1. Mathieu says:

          Sorry Buster, of course. Attaching a leash to any quad would not produce the same result:
          The Fotokite however has been developped from day 0 utilizing the tension of the cord to localize itself. What could first sound simple is actually a patent pending approach developed during PHD work at ETH.

          Extract from the Fotokite Phi FAQ:.

          Q: Would it have the same effect if I attached a tether to another drone?

          A: No, it wouldn’t, nor would the Fotokite Phi work without the tether – it is core to how the Phi operates: Instead of relying on a GPS or radio signal for localization/control the Phi uses the tension force from the tether to figure out where it is. This means controlled flight no matter where you are: it is a completely self-contained system.

          I hope it is clearer.



          1. Buster Gipson says:

            Yes somewhat I attached a braided fish line to a Xc5 near center front of of drone not on landing gear as on phantom and I had good flite and some control left and right only let out about 50 feet of line I am not saying it’s perfect just showing there is a more cost effective way and I did not see if Fotokite can pan left or right like i can on the xc5

          2. Mathieu says:

            Thanks for your comment. We are really pushing hard to put the prices down. Concerning control: Since the tether is always taut, you have to imagine half a sphere of points the Fotokite can reach. The control is done via the smart leash and hand motion. You can
            – yaw in place
            – orbit around yourself
            – adapt the elevation
            New update coming soon, stay tuned!

          3. Buster Gipson says:

            I will it is interesting, and good idea looking forward to seeing more not trying to make you made or trying to slam your copter, but trying to see how good it is and I like experimenting with machines thanks

          4. Mathieu says:

            Sure, I’m happy to answer Buster! Cheers

  3. Carlos Ballena says:

    Has anyone recorded any mountain biking footage with this? Or biking footage at all?

      1. Carlos Ballena says:

        Ah, nice! Thanks.

  4. Michelle Klein-Hass says:

    Also, I have a Sony ActionCam, which I consider superior to the GoPro. It uses a standard tripod mount. Not everyone has a freaking GoPro. Some people like their footage smoother than GoPro can manage, and the Sony has their time-tested SteadyShot circuitry and optics. So yeah, think I’ll do some experimenting with tethering cheaper hacked-by-Chinese drones.

  5. isny says:

    Has anyone considered using something like an autogiro with a camera? something like this: might generate enough lift if tethered behind a bike, at least for a keychain camera.

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I make stuff, play music, and sometimes make stuff that plays music. Fan of donuts, Arduino, BEAM robotics, skateboarding, Buckminster Fuller, and blinking lights.

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