"Now let's say you were about to get married, and you see an amazing shot of the whole wedding party coming out of the church from 500 feet up," says Klever Freire, an aeronautical engineer, and the founder of DreamQii, a Toronto-based drone-making startup.
Sweeping panoramas like the church shot are one reason that professional photographers have been quick to adopt drones, which open up shots that once required a rented helicopter. But the more photographers pick up drones, the more pressure there is on their competitors to follow suit. "If you're not able to offer that service, you might lose your customer."
This is the market that Mr. Freire's product – the focus of a highly successful crowdfunding campaign – has set its sights on. The PlexiDrone is a drone that's built from the ground up to be an easy-to-use camera platform.
As Mr. Freire explains it, the drone market is in the midst of a transformation that's hustling it from the high-end hobbyist market and into the consumer mainstream. Many of the drones that photographers currently use weren't designed for photography; they just happened to be able to carry a camera.
This didn't mean that they were ideal for the task. Some suffered from protrusions that obstructed fields of view; their software wasn't specifically designed for photography, and the task of flying them was complicated enough that it could become a two-person job once controlling the camera itself was factored in.
DreamQii wants to offer a simpler experience for a broader range of customers. While it can be controlled manually via a remote, it's also designed to be controlled via a smartphone app. It can fly itself semi-autonomously, given instructions to, say, track the wi-fi signal of a smartphone, whose owner is presumably doing something worth memorializing from above (walking, running, biking, riding a horse, what have you). The idea, Mr. Freire says, is that with the basic flying being done by the computer, the photographer can focus on getting precisely the shots they want.
Multiple PlexiDrones can even fly in a "swarm mode," using GPS to arrange themselves in a formation. Clients can use this not just to get multiple angles on one target, but – for customers with industrial uses in mind – to survey greater swaths of land simultaneously. (The drone can be fitted with any camera, up to 1,000 grams.)
Mr. Freire started his career with Bombardier Aerospace, first as an intern, and ultimately as an engineer working on developing new technologies for several of the company's successful lines of airliner, before striking out on his own.
The PlexiDrone has been in development for two years, and was already well underway when Mr. Freire decided to turn to crowdfunding – less as a hail-mary pass for funding, but more as a publicity-builder. "We didn't necessarily have to have to do the crowd campaign for funding," he says. "Crowdfunding allows you to do more than just promote the product."
The campaign, which has raised over $700,000 so far, has allowed them to build a community, to say nothing of the kind of buzz that comes from being able to go around, telling people they crowdfunded $700,000. Indiegogo subscribers are being offered PlexiDrone starter packs for around $700 (U.S.).
DreamQii has struck its first sales deals with B&H, a photography store with a large online-retail presence based in New York City, and Henry's, the high-end Toronto photo retailer, which is already selling drones.
"They felt we had solved a lot of the issues that people had been talking about," he says.