Fotokite: The Next Big Thing In RCMA With Cameras

March 19th, 2014

FotoKiteSergei Lupashin, a Swiss fellow with a Phd from ETH Zurich has founded a company called Fotokite to develop a simplified RCMA that is a cross between a RCMA and a kite.

This YouTube video shows Sergei demonstrating his Fotokite invention at the Drones and Aerial Robotics conference last October in NYC.

This is so simple it is brilliant! It solves a number of issues with RCMA being used for real estate:

  1. By getting eliminating a lot of electronics that you don’t need because it’s on a tether, it becomes simpler and less expensive.
  2. By making is simpler it is much easier to operate. No practice required. Not much more difficult than walking the dog.
  3. By having it on a tether it will likely be regulated as a kite and will probably eliminate or reduce the insurance required.
  4. It appears that having it constantly pulling on a tether makes it very stable.

To me this looks like a simple inexpensive replacement for PAP as long as you can keep the tether line out of the photo. I want one!

I’ve contacted Fotokite to ask them where in the development process they are and when this product may be available. Haven’t heard back yet. I’ll let you know when I do. Thanks to Gary Karcz for pointing Fotokite out to me.

Update 3/21/2014: I heard back from James Rapoport, the cofounder of Fotokite, and he says: “We’re in the process of finalizing our strategy to make aerial photography accessible to everyone. We will notify you with regards to availability as soon as possible, but in the meantime, you can also find us on AngelList.”

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18 Responses to “Fotokite: The Next Big Thing In RCMA With Cameras”

  • Looks really interesting. Hopefully it’ll make commercial applications easier.

  • As I mentioned on this topic several times we build tethered multirotors. We started building them to get around the regulation issues but the more we experimented with them the more we realized the benefits of tethering. Our tether is a little more complicated because we use it to power the multirotor.

  • @Chuck – mind posting a link so we can compare what you’ve done to Sergei’s approach?

  • @Dave, sorry our website isn’t ready to go yet. I didn’t think the FAA would lose their case the way that they did or as soon as they did. I thought it would take another three months.

    I realize I may have been a little outspoken about the whole regulatory thing but I have tried to refrain from talking too much about what I’m doing here on this blog. I’m just letting people know that myself and others will have what I hope are great AP solutions for real estate in the very near future. Aside from a great name, I think what FotoKite is doing is great and this video was such an effective way to show how easy doing this can be. I’m hoping to have something commercially available online in the next couple of months.

  • Here’s a more impressive tethered flight:

    BTW, the FAA required a NOTAM to be issued and a launch permit.

  • I suppose if all you want is altitude (PAP replacement) this is a very good solution. It seems to me that elevated photography using RCMA benefits from fly-throughs, fly-bys and fly-arounds. Tethered flight, not directly controlled by a pilot, would be limiting. As a kite flyer, I’m interested in it for fun at the very least.

  • Will be interesting how handle controls, particularly with the slightest breeze not sever enough to impact drone flight. I had always thought of something like that as a workaround to the FAA restriction but involved tethered balloons with wind being the biggest difficulty. General aiming could be accomplished with dual line tether adjusting the aim enough for a short 10-20 sec clip.

  • Very cool stuff.

    Thanks for covering.

  • Love the simplicity. May make more sense to use a fishing line or other clear monofilament for the tether as it would be much less conspicuous and a bit easier to photoshop out of a still aerial.

  • @Aric, the force exerted on the tether has to be at least equal to the weight of the MR, there needs to be even more thrust for better control, so you might be surprised at how much force there is on the tether. I’m sure there’s clear monofilament with enough tensile strength but there also needs to be a way to extend and retract the tether. I think the way that they chose to do it in this video was a great illustration of how simple this can be. We used a Popeil Pocket Fisherman the first time we tried tethering, not very practical but a lot of fun. We also fried a couple of motors doing this so after looking into why we determined that this is also not a very efficient way to tether.

    @Lee said it best, this would probably be a good replacement for PAP but there doesn’t seem to be away to change its orientation or direction [yaw] once airborne.

  • Is there a way to get it to go higher…above his head? I can see walking down the street and getting neighborhood shots…

  • @Susanna – the height is only limited by the length of the tether. If you look on Sergei’s website you’ll see this video taken at burning man ( where he has a really long tether on it.

  • I think this is just one more attempt at trying to appear professional while not spending the money or doing the research to do it properly. Just like doing home walk through videos with go pros. Cool for covering things like burning man festival or for personal use, but when it comes to professional real estate video, this is not the way to go and it has way too many restrictions with regards to flight as up and down won’t cut it. Just because it might be a loophole with the government doesn’t make it a good system. Now it’s going to need a gimbal on it to remove the nasty shake and will be tricky in wind and getting rid of the line (fishing line will still reflect).

    I guess the bottom line is that cheaping out to acquire aerial footage is no different than cheaping out with real estate photos and videos or anything else for that matter. It’s immediately obvious when the viewer sees it so I don’t get why everyone wants so badly to do their own aerial footage? It looks like crap with a go pro period! Go pro cameras are designed for high action sports….and that’s it! They are not made for doing home walk throughs or aerial footage of homes, that’s why you align with a professional UAV pilot and this way there are no liability issues or shaky footage at best. Look at that amazing video Larry posted in Hawaii that cost somewhere around $2,500 to produce. This video is seamless and almost perfect but the weakest link is the aerial footage because a DJI with go pro on gimbal was used if I’m not mistaken. It might be acceptable footage for some realtors, but when you’re producing at this level, the aerial footage should match the rest of the quality.

    Believe me the cost of hiring someone the odd time to come shoot for you is far less than the purchase price of the equipment, not to mention maintenance and repairs “WHEN” you crash your own, plus liability insurance and the time involved learning the craft. Educate yourself and speak with a professional and they will tell you the reality of getting into this field. Watching a video of a UAV on a leash may appear exciting at first but in reality it has no business in this field.

  • @Matt – agreed 100%

  • This looks great for still photos, but if you’re wanting video of a large acreage property a flyby is the best shot. This string, while making it easier to use, is going to make is less maneuverable.

  • I think we’re conflating issues, @Matt is making the argument for using a professional MR pilot, you’ll get no argument from me regarding that, but a professional MR pilot could choose to use a tethered MR.

    I have a couple of tethered MR’s that are more stable, easier to fly, can carry a much more payload for almost an indefinite amount of time. It might be less maneuverable than some MR’s that aren’t tethered but if your goal is professional real estate AP they work very well.

  • I don’t think to avoid the regulations, that the tether has to be taught. You could still use a fully-controlled RCMA that’s tethered and it would be a powered-guided-kite and not a UAS.

  • Our tether is not taught, its as you described but its still less maneuverable than a comparable non-tethred MR. Not that you need a highly maneuverable MR for real estate aerial.

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