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Safe, soccer-ball like drone offers open Linux SDK

Dec 13, 2015 — by Eric Brown 2,727 views

An autonomous, Linux powered, indoor-friendly “Fleye” drone is available on Kickstarter for $742, featuring a protective hull, an HD camera, and 15km/h speed.

Belgian startup Fleye, newborn from The Faktory tech incubator, is close to its $185,837 Kickstarter goal for the programmable, autonomous Fleye, billed as the world’s safest drone. Videos show people gently shoving the drone away when it strays too close.

(click image to enlarge)

Instead of using a typical exposed quadrotor design, the Fleye is based on a “ducted fan UAV” concept found in larger industrial and defense oriented unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Its fan “blades” are rounded and completely protected, making it look a bit like a flying soccer ball.

Fleye takes to the skies (left) and internal view

The Fleye is available starting at 699 Euros (about $742), although if you miss this second early bird round, you go to 799 Euros (about $848). In either case, shipments don’t begin until Sept. 16. Looking on the bright side, you can get your 2016 holiday shopping done early for a change.

The Fleye runs a Yocto Project derived Linux stack on a dual-core, Cortex-A9 NXP (formerly Freescale) i.MX6 SoC clocked to 800MHz with 512MB RAM, a microSD slot, and standard WiFi. There’s also a special Developer Edition (Power Edition) that moves up to the quad-core i.MX6, also at 800MHz, with 1GB of RAM, 8GB storage, and WiFi with MIMO.

Fleye close-ups
(click image to enlarge)

According to a DIYDrones post by Fleye co-developer Laurent Eschenauer, there’s also a Cortex-M4 microcontroller onboard “for time sensitive control systems.” Both models include USB and serial ports, GPS, and sensors including an altimeter, a 3-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, and a sonar device that can measure ground distance at up to 3 meters.


The HD camera has a 5-megapixel Omnivision 5640 sensor with a 160° FOV lens. It stores [email protected] video in MP4 format on an SD card. There’s also a 720p H264 RTSP low-latency preview.

Fleye detail view
(click image to enlarge)

Unlike most prosumer drones such as the more expensive DJI Phantom 3 or 3DR’s Solo, Fleye has its HD camera mounted on a gimbal on top of the device instead of the bottom. A second bottom-mounted camera is used internally for optical flow tracking.

The top-side mounting and protective safety features suggest the Fleye is intended more for indoor and low-altitude use than for aerial surveillance tasks. Indeed, the Kickstarter copy notes that “Fleye is especially well suited for indoor photo and video, close to people.” In addition to targeting applications such as education, research, and drone app development, Fleye can also be used as a marketing tool by adding branding to the body shell, says the startup.

The 23cm wide sphere weighs 450 grams (16 ounces), and can fly at a maximum speed of 15km/h (10mp/h), with 8km/h (5 mp/h) wind tolerance. The Fleye’s Generic 3S 1500mAh LiPo battery is limited to a fairly typical — and typically disappointing — 10 minutes of flying time, although the batteries are said to be easily swappable. Parrot’s BeBop 2 leads the way here among semi-autonomous drones with 25 minutes.

The grid caging on the top and bottom as well as the plastic shielding on the side give the Fleye an encouragingly sturdy look — drones tend to hurt themselves more than they hurt others. Parrot touts the BeBop 2 for its safety, as well, but this is primarily expressed via firmware, such as an emergency cut-out feature instantly shuts off the propeller motors if the drone encounters an object. Parrot’s predecessor to the BeBop, the AR.Drone 2.0, offer optional “indoor hulls” for indoor use, but the protection is not as extensive as on the Fleye.

Fleye on the move
(click image to enlarge)

You can control the Fleye directly with an Android or iOS smartphone app enabled with a virtual touch-gamepad interface, which communicates with the drone via WiFi and a JSON-over-UDP API. You can also use third-party Bluetooth game controllers working in conjunction with the smartphone app, or add your own RC receiver using an extension port that supports a 6-channel receiver.

Alternatively, you can call one of three autonomous modes via the mobile app:

  • Selfie — Backs up to a given distance, and captures a video while flying smoothly back towards you.
  • Panorama — Goes to a given altitude, and rotates on itself to capture a 360° panorama.
  • Hover — Hovers in place with 10cm precision (when in range of sensors)

The Fleye ships with an open source Linux SDK and a Nodejs and/or Python SDK, and it supports the OpenCV computer vision library. The Vivante GPU on the i.MX6 supports OpenGL and OpenCL. Potential apps are said to include planning a cinematic path, playing a game, and tracking tags. We see no reason why a follow-me app would be out of the question.

Developers can load their own applications via SSH. Autonomous features include reacting to sensors and taking actions based on what Fleye perceives of the environment using computer vision algorithms. A low-level API links applications to the auto-pilot, instructing the robot to take-off, move, go to a location, land, or perform other tasks, says Fleye. You can integrate custom OpenCV plugins, and use GStreamer to control the video pipeline. An online marketplace will also be available.

Fleye in hover mode

Further information

The Fleye is available on Kickstarter through Jan. 15 for 699 Euros (about $742), soon to move to 799 Euros (about $848). Shipments are set for Sept. 2016. More information may be found at the Fleye Kickstarter page, as well as the Fleye website.

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