Hex Becomes Flex: A Crowdfunded Drone Runs Afoul of Copyright

[kickstarter url=http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1387330585/hex-a-copter-that-anyone-can-fly width=620]

Last fall an intriguing quadrotor project was announced on Kickstarter. Called Hex, the small and inexpensive bird would be controllable by smartphone and the pitch was that it was extremely easy to use. The campaign was dizzyingly successful and raised over half a million dollars.

52047e7390fdd530a9ac43b4290421c5_largeIn late November, however, backers were informed in a private message that due to a copyright conflict, they would have to change the quadrotor’s name. They were given a number to vote for, and the name Flexbot was chosen.

Having to change the name had a snowball effect on the production process, and a pre-Christmas launch has been delayed to the second week in February. Having to redo a bunch of PCBs with “Hex” screen-printed on them caused a delay. Additionally, the team’s electronic service provider Seeed Studio is running into China’s Spring Festival and won’t be working on the project. Backers can expect their Flexbots to ship Feb. 9th and 13th.

Despite all of these snafus, the Flexbot is extremely cool and offers some fun avenues for customization. I interviewed Flexbot’s Ben Black:

JB: What’s it like to fly a Flexbot?

BB: Flying the Flexbot is simple and fun, the controls are pretty intuitive. I personally like the “Acc mode” which uses the phone or tablet’s gravity sensor to steer the copter just by tilting your mobile device.

JB: What are the advantages of using a smartphone to control it?

BB: You don’t have to purchase an expensive unwieldy controller to fly the Flexbot. Using a smartphone means you can connect to and fly the copter anytime, anywhere. Also, the phone communicates with the copter using Bluetooth 4.0, which gives a range of up to 50 meters.

JB: Tell me how users can personalize the Flexbot’s shell.

BB: Right now users can customize their 3D printed shell by choosing from one of 3 shell designs and choosing a combination of colors for the different pieces of the shell. Our plan is to use 3D printing to allow a lot more customization, such as users submitting their own designs, which we could print specifically for their copter. The long term goal is to create a community of designers all sharing their ideas.

JB: What is cool about the Hex’s autopilot?

BB: The Autopilot does a good job of stabilizing the copter in flight, and it is open-source and Arduino based. This means that hackers can easily modify it to suit their needs, and it could even be applied to other drones or vehicles besides our copter.

JB: You raised over half-a-million bucks with your Kickstarter campaign. What now?

BB: The funding allowed us to turn a dream into a reality, and we really appreciate the support of all of our backers. This year we will be developing improved versions of Flexbot, and working on offering additional ways users can customize our products. Our company is all about using digital, distributed manufacturing techniques to change the consumer experience for the better, and we will keep that in mind going forward.

JB: How can people buy the Flexbot now that the campaign’s over?

BB: The Flexbot is now available for pre-order exclusively on our website, www.flexbot.cc!

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal nerdage.net

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