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$149 drone plane runs Linux and streams 30fps video

Jan 8, 2016 — by Eric Brown 5,948 views

PowerUp Toys has launched a smartphone controlled airplane drone with an open Linux SDK on Kickstarter, letting you stream video to a Google Cardboard HMD.

Most of the drones on display at CES cost many hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. But the biggest benefit of drones — putting a camera in the sky — can be enabled for less as long as you’re willing to make some tradeoffs on range, autonomy, camera quality, and other extras. PowerUp Toys, which has spun our childhood love of paper airplanes into a tidy flying toy business, has done just that with PowerUp FPV.

Before we go on, note that the successful Kickstarter campaign is over on Jan. 9 at 11AM EST, and you probably won’t be able to order one for a while after that.

Three views of the PowerUp FPV
(click images to enlarge)

This fixed wing $149 UAV ($129 in kit form) has a mainboard, a camera, and an open source Linux SDK. You can even view live video by placing your phone inside a Google Cardboard based viewer, and simply tilt your head to control the direction of the drone.

PowerUp FPV control app (left) and a view from the FPV’s POV
(click images to enlarge)

The kit version starts shipping in March, and the assembled version in June. A more complete, $179 Basic package adds the Google Cardboard based head-mounted display (HMD), a rechargeable, 550MaH battery, a microSD card, spare propellers, and an airplane stand, while a similar kit with three batteries goes for $199. The prices are said to be 20 percent less than the eventual retail price.

PowerUp FPV barebones kit showing Linux electronics (left) and mechanical component details
(click images to enlarge)

The PowerUp FPV flies at up to 20 mph for up to 10 minutes of flight time. A hot swap battery is available to quickly get the drone back up in the air. The drone can handle wind conditions of about 10 Knots (17 mph, 18 kmh), says PowerUp.

Some assembly required
(click images to enlarge)

PowerUp calls the device a paper airplane, but the frame is actually made of nylon reinforced carbon-fiber. You can modify the design of the wings to optimize for speed, control, or aerobatic maneuverability. Because the thrust to weight ratio is over 1:1, the PowerUP FPV an “over-powered beast which allows for some steep ascending and fun aerobatic manoeuvers,” says the company.


The device has a takeoff assist feature that begins thrust from the two rear facing propellers only after you launch it by hand. The craft weighs less than 70 grams, well below the 250-gram weight at which the FAA requires registration.

An ultra wide-angle rotating camera offers forward, rear and wing views with VGA, 30fps video. You can modify the camera to trade-off between quality and low latency. To live stream video via WiFi-ac with dual-band MIMO antennas, your mobile phone needs to be within 300 feet. You can also store video to the microSD card.

Other features include an accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer, microphone, and a micro-USB port for 90 minute charging. No details were available on the processor, memory, or other details on the mainboard.

PowerUp Toys collaborated on the streaming video technology with Parrot, makers of Linux drones such as the BeBop2 and new fixed wing Disco. The PowerUP FPV does not provide a 3D, stereoscopic image, but it duplicates and streams the video image to the left and right eye “providing an immersive flight experience” and “a sense of depth to the user,” says PowerUp.

You can choose between the FPV mode available with the HMD, which requires the camera to point forward, or you can use the touch interface on an Android or iOS phone or tablet. With the Gamepad mode, you can rotate the camera in all directions.

PowerUP FPV takes to the skies

Further information

The PowerUP FPV is available on Kickstarter through Jan. 9, 11AM EST, for $129 in kit form or starting at $149 assembled, with expected shipments ranging from March to June. More information may be found at the PowerUP FPV Kickstarter page and PowerUp Toys website.

(advertise here)

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3 responses to “$149 drone plane runs Linux and streams 30fps video”

  1. GNUguy says:

    Re “Not exactly cheap”: Respectfully disagree. Looking briefly at currently available RCs, you can buy one for as little as $119. BUT… it does not have a camera or the ability to live-stream 30fps video, interface to an HMD, nor the ability to control via a smartphone or tablet. Plus, after reading the article, there are other features I haven’t mentioned.

    To be more analytical re cost… there are other issues re expendables, durability (breaking a wing of a conventional RC is more significant and expensive), etc.

    Personally, I think the PowerUP FPV is a decent entry level experience.

    Note: I don’t sell this, have nothing to do with the business, and don’t even own an RC device. I’m just interested in bringing some balance to the conversation.

  2. dustin says:

    How many rough landings can the kit survive? I am afraid every crash will cost a few tens of dollars…

  3. GNUguy says:

    @ dustin: That’s a good question. You’ll probably have to contact the people at PowerUP.

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