Drone startups are flying high among investors, drawing $450 million in 74 deals with venture capitalists in 2015 and $111 million the year prior. One of those companies is just now making itself known to the public after two years of developing a consumer-focused drone in “stealth mode.”
Chinese drone-maker Zero Zero Robotics announced Tuesday its Hover Camera drone and $25 million in funding from investors including IDG, GSR Ventures, ZhenFund and ZUIG.
The drone-maker spent the past year secretly developing Hover Camera, a drone carrying a 4K video camera that can track and follow people, can be folded up to the size of a book and that can hover as soon as you let it go from your hands.
But the key to this drone’s design is the safety. The carbon fiber enclosure design protects the propellers, a design move that could have prevented injuries caused by the sharp blades of whirring propellers, like the one Enrique Iglesias experienced last year after attempting to grab a drone onstage.
“I want it to be portable, I want it to be safe, I want it to be user friendly,” said Zero Zero Robotics CEO M.Q. Wang, a former Twitter software engineer. “Our goal is to build personal robotics for anyone.”
It’s something that realistically could compete with the more inexpensive drones from the two established market players, Phantom maker DJI and Yuneec. DJI so far has received at least $105 million in two rounds of venture funding, and Yuneec in August received $60 million in funding from Intel Capital.
While Hover Camera is still in beta mode, Wang said the drone will cost less than $600.
Zero Zero Robotics was founded in 2014 and has about 80 employees, Wang said, but the company managed to remain largely unheard of until now.
“I personally think a lot of great ideas suffer in the end because it was over promised and under-delivered,” referencing the myriad failed drone Kickstarter campaigns that promised a unique drone, many of which never ended up shipping.
The drone is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 2.3 Ghz Quad-Core processor. It uses sonar and a barometer to gauge its height. It has facial and body recognition. It runs 4K video encoding while at the same time electronically stabilizing the video to prevent shaking that comes with a hovering video camera. All that technology folds up to fit inside a backpack.
The drone also weighs 238 grams, putting it under the limit of drones that have to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. (A controversial requirement from the FAA states that all drones weighing more than 250 grams must be registered.)
“We wanted to make sure we solved a lot of hard engineering problems first,” Wang said.