In early December, online retail goliath Amazon made headlines when they announced their plan for octocopter delivery drones, but that's not the only use for multi-rotor aerial technology. Similar multicopters have become extremely popular with photography and filmmaking enthusiasts in recent years by offering a reasonably inexpensive way to take aerial photos and videos. In this edition of Crowdfunding Combat we take a look at two self-described "heavy-lift" multicopters: ATLAS and The Pocket Drone.


Created by Louisiana Tech University student Sean Foster as a senior design project, the Autonomous Telemetry-adapted Long-range Aerial System (ATLAS) was initially drawn up as a search and rescue device that could drop distress beacons. Through the design process, however, ATLAS has evolved to into a general use quadcopter.

According to the ATLAS Kickstarter page, the quadcopter shown below is version 1.1 of its prototype stage, and we've noticed a few issues with this early design. First is the placement of the GoPro rig on the top of the quadcopter. When flying a camera into the air, usually the shots you want to get are of the ground below; otherwise you are just looking at the sky. By placing the GoPro on top of the quadcopter you are unable to get these shots.

Another issue is that there is no footage of the quadcopter actually in action. (There is a link to "watch it in action" on the Kickstarter page, but once clicked, it leads to an article with no video.) As with any Kickstarter campaign, a video would be a plus.

ATLAS leaves us with a lot of questions and not too many answers. We don't even know what type of materials are being used. The Kickstarter page offers little help on this front, only stating, "The ATLAS prototype uses low grade components with a high potential for failure." Looking on the bright side, perhaps that means ATLAS will be less expensive than other quadcopters on the market.

For those hoping to purchase ATLAS through pledging to the Kickstarter page, you may be out of luck. A $350 pledge will get you a 3D printed microcopter, and the plans to build your own ATLAS, but not the device itself.

With the ATLAS project, a little bit definitely goes a long way. With a total goal of only $1200, ATLAS is just over $1000 away from their target, with 7 days to go as of the time of this post.

Here's why we like ATLAS: it takes us back to the roots of Kickstarter. More recently, Kickstarter has become just another way to sell a product, with others taking on much of the risk. ATLAS feels like a small budget science experiment that isn't quite ready for the mass-market, precisely inline with the original intent of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.

Now that we're off that soapbox, check out our other competitor in this edition of Crowdfunding Combat, the David to all of the Goliath multicopters out there.

The Pocket Drone

At first glance, one thing is for sure: The Pocket Drone, developed by AirDroids out of Southern California, is definitely a more polished product than ATLAS. Polished doesn't always mean better. We'll let you decide.

The Pocket Drone is designed for aerial photography and has even been dubbed the "GoPro of drones" by some, according its Kickstarter page. If we're talking about similarities to the GoPro, size and cost are definitely comparable.

One of the most incredible features of The Pocket Drone is its size. Weighing in at only one pound, The Pocket Drone can carry up to a half-pound payload, which is more than enough for a GoPro or other action camera. The multicopter can also fold up when not in use to about the size of a "smaller footprint than a 7 [inch] tablet and is less than 3 [inches] tall" according to the drone's Kickstarter page.

Other than its impressive size to strength ratio, the fact that The Pocket Drone is ready to fly out of the box will make quite a few amateur aerial photographers happy. And enthusiasts can find solace in the fact that The Pocket Drone is "upgradeable, expandable and hackable" providing unlimited opportunities for what the device can do.

Along with the hardware, The Pocket Drone comes with some incredibly advanced software.

"The Pocket Drone is piloted with a standard radio controller, on a tablet with virtual sticks or by pre-defined GPS waypoints using our software by simply dragging a path featuring a touch interface and Google Maps," explains AirDroids on the drone's Kickstarter page. "You can also record, save and share, or download flight plans." In addition, the drone also features a "Follow Me" mode, which is compatible with GPS enabled Android devices, as well as a Return to Home feature that is found on most entry level quadcopters today.

The Pocket Drone is currently only Android compatible but iOS compatibility is on the way.

The Pocket Drone can achieve up to 20 minutes of flight time with a GoPro attached, which, according to the Kickstarter is the "longest flight time of any copter under $500" and five minutes longer than the popular DJI Phantom Quadcopter. It also has an alarm to let the pilot know when the battery is running low.

A pledge of $495 will get you everything you need to start flying your own drone including the controller and The Pocket Drone. The only thing not included is a camera. In order to get started with aerial photography you'll have to purchase one of those on your own.

To say that The Pocket Drone has been successful with its Kickstarter campaign would be an understatement. With 4 days of funding to go as of the time of this post, The Pocket Drone has raised over twenty times its goal of $35,000.

Which multicopter do you prefer? Vote for your favorite in the poll below.

[Source: Kickstarter]

Ed. Crowdfunding Combat is a recurring series on the TRANSLOGIC blog that profiles two active campaigns on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and asks readers to vote on the idea they like best. The TRANSLOGIC blog staff does not endorse or contribute to the campaigns featured within the Crowdfunding Combat posts. Reader votes will have no direct bearing on the outcome of the featured campaigns.

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