Unmanned Systems take over the CES Show in 2015 (#CESdrones) Part I

Part I The Future is Automated

all images copyright George Krieger 2015

This year was a breakout year for Drones at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The main section called Unmanned Aerial Systems was huge, compared to last year’s group of only 2-3 OEM’s.  This year saw so many drones, in so many areas, that I still do not have a good number on how many I saw.  

Let’s get right into it and show you what I found, that flies, at CES this year.

One of the most interesting projects at CES was a Kickstarter called Spiri. Created by Patrick Edwards-Daugherty it was successfully funded on September 11th 2013 to the tune of $140K beating their $125K goal soundly. 

Spiri on the CES show floor

 Spiri is designed to be a flying API. It will provide a stable flying platform for programmers to utilize. From my talk with Patrick, I found out that they built this with gaming and Geo-spacial Perspective in mind. They want to augment coding to be safe for flight by making a safe hardware platform. The programmers would need to know nothing about drones to utilize this platform. The functions of stability and safety would be built in, and part of every available command.  This way the program may fail but the unmanned autonomous system would stay in flight and not be affected by a fatal error in the added software. Certainly this will advance innovation by taking many of the hurdles away from adding drones into your code.

Spiri is already a successful Kickstarter and they are getting support from large operations like here at the Freescale exhibit, where Spiri was featured.

Another amazing project that I saw at CES 2015 was the Collision Avoidance project by SkySpecs.  Daniel Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs was walking this DJI S900 

SkySpecs, Guardian Collision Avoidance system

version of their system through the halls of CES. We chatted for a few minutes, and now I can see their vision.  The Guardian system from SkySpecs is an automated co-pilot that senses potential collisions and gently takes control, just long enough to correct the flight path, then returns to operator control.  The pilot of the craft should hardly notice that they have been assisted. For things like inspection drones and search and rescue operations, being able to forget about colliding into anything and focus on your objective is vital. The result should be safer flights with less focus on flight paths and needing a spotter and more immersion into the core focus of the project the drone is doing.  It is an infrastructure that could be built into most platforms as it gets smaller and lighter.  See their site www.skyspecs.com for more information and if you want your company to be an early adopter the application is here                                       http://www.skyspecs.com/earlyadopter/

I spoke with SkySpecs today about their early adopter program.  From the questions they asked me and the information I was told, they are choosing a limited number of testers to fly a S900 with their collision avoidance prototype on-board. Since they are providing the aircraft, and not just the added features, they will charge a monthly fee to “rent” the system and test it.  The current whisper price is $400 per month on a 6 month contract.  They claim the system can stop an S900 from hitting a wall, while going full throttle. They said it would stop it dead in its tracks. Using 270 degree LIDAR, SkySpec’s collision avoidance system is able to detect objects in the same plane as the aircraft. It can then take control of the system and make navigational commands to “avoid” the object it is tracking.  It then returns control to the pilot, allowing continuation of the flight. There is a 90 degree gap in the coverage which is well within the view of the cameras we use.  For most purposes collision avoidance is not needed forward while using FPV.  You should be able to see what is in front of you.

This system will allow pilots to immerse themselves into their flight’s purpose and concentrate on their professional, creative, or scientific goals. Scientists will be able to collect water samples, and not have to worry about hitting the trees. Inspection crews will be able to focus on the inspection, instead of worrying about the airborne unit hitting the crane boom. Search and rescue will be able ti use goggles and keep their attention on finding and rescuing rather than flight paths and tricky terrain or crowded environments.  Cinematic pilots will be able to film, instead of filming half the time and hoping to keep the shot in-frame when using line of sight to check where the camera drone is.  In addition, the system will augment the fail safe return to home functions, by adding collision avoidance to the path.

The Follow- Drones are coming to film you!

The first follow-drone was a huge kickstarter success.  Airdog, the Auto-Follow Drone was seeking $200K and got over $1.3 million vaulting them into aerial legends.  

AirDog and its wrist beacon/controller called an AirLeash 
AirDog’s basic concept has been copied by several other unmanned projects, but they are the original as far as I can tell.  Their features are basic but well rounded and seemingly functional. The arms can fold and the frame is made for very rough use.  Features include:

  • DURABLE  Durable and weather resistant construction

  • FLIGHT TIME 10-20 minutes flight time depending on flight speed

  • BATTERY Interchangeable 14.8 V, 5000mAh, LiPo batteries

  • WIND RESISTANCE Wind resistance up to 28 knots (14 m/s)

  • TOP SPEED Top speed, 40 mph (software limited)

  • RANGE AirLeash range up to 1000 feet (300 m)

  • OPERATIONAL CEILING Operational ceiling, 14000 feet above sea level (4300 m)

  • WEIGHT Total weight 4 lbs (1.85 kg) with battery and GoPro camera
AirDog can be pre-ordered here for $1295 usd

Follow me with your eyes.

Trace Live Networks was showing a follow-drone called the FLYR1. The difference in their technology was that it only uses the camera for this function… no gps or electronic beacons.  Nothing to home in with except the camera. 

Trace Live Networks FLYR1 drone will follow you using only the camera.

After the Trace loses view of its objective it will gently land and wait for you to get it.  Trace is focused on action sports capture but is not limiting the Trace device to be a drone.  There are 2 other options for Trace. It can be tripod mounted and they have a little RC style car they can mount it on top of too. Another thing about Trace and their Live Network, they are not calling themselves a drone or camera company. They consider themselves a content company.  Pre-order signup is available but there is no set price yet. Go to http://www.trace.com/ for more information.

In this space there is another Kickstarter legend called the Hexo+

HEXO+ winner of the CES Envisioneering award this year.

HEXO+ went for $50k in crowd funding and got over $1.3 million just like AirDog. They call themselves “Your Autonomous Aerial Camera-Drone”  They had a rocky time at CES, from what I heard. They crashed their only prototype during an interview before the event even started.  Then they came in and won 2 awards for their efforts.

Here are their detailed specs to compare with AirDog:


  • Dimensions: 62 x 52 x 12 cm – 24 x 20 x 5 inches
  • Total weight: 980 g – 2.2 lbs 
  • Hexacopter design with 30° tilt propellers 
  • Speed range: up to 70 kmh – 45mph
  • Flight time: 15 min with 3S battery, gimbal and GoPro attached

Flight controller

  • Filming distance range:  Technically, the drone can be as far from the GPS as 2 kilometers, but we advise you to research and respect your local regulations. 
  • Auto take-off and auto landing
  • Trajectory anticipation 
  • Video target locking* 
  • GPS + onboard sensor position tracking
  • Processor with MAVLINK protocol


  • High performance 2D brushless gimbal
  • Easy attach/detach from drone body for transportation
  • GoPro mount
  • Camera
  • GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition or Hero3 White Edition available


  • iOS and Android versions 
  • Intuitive 3D framing or intuitive live view framing* 
  • Favorite framing presets
  • Subject framing lock
  • Emergency landing 

Get yours pre-ordered for $1149usd here 

Next we will look at the Drone Clones and how some smaller companies copy rather than  innovate. 

So in summary, the unmanned aerial systems of tomorrow, will have more autonomous features than manual control. Having a drone camera follow you during action sports activities will be the norm. We also learned that drone platforms will include a flying API platform and collision avoidance to allow you to focus on the goals for flying in the first place. Safety and stabilized programmable flight with more functions than most piloted aircraft will be the norm.  Aerial sensors are going to change the way we live and how much we know about our surroundings.  Remember this is the Consumer Electronics Show, so we are not seeing the purely B2B drone operations here. I suppose that will  be most evident at the NAB show in April.

All images and writings by George Krieger.  Write to george@xarray.com for permission to use this article or the images contained in it.