Drone tech is exciting and full of potential, but few companies are focusing on tech that provides benefits drone users can enjoy now, without spending a fortune or managing an architectural firm or large-scale agricultural concern. Perceptiv Labs, a YC Winter 2015 cohort startup with a founding team out of Waterloo’s top-flight robotics engineering department, is offering high-flying drone hobbyists, filmmakers and journalists a relatively affordable, yet advanced way to introduce some highly intelligent automation into their video-making antics right now.
Perceptiv, which also has funding from Version One Ventures, is launching SHIFT today via pre-order campaign, a $600 accessory (which will retail post-campaign for $800) that works with the DJI Phantom and 3D Robotics Iris, providing a vision sensor, processor and autopilot program for capturing amazing aerial shots via subject tracking. Essentially, it turns these hobbyist drones into robotic flying dollies for capturing great pans, zooms and fly-by shots, with computer vision tech making sure to keep a user-defined subject exactly where it needs to be in the frame along the way.
As a startup, Perceptiv is targeting a much larger opportunity that includes much more ambitious advances in computer vision and autonomous device operation. Co-founder Neil Mathew explained in an interview the broader vision for his company.
“The end goal is to build the infrastructure of vision-based intelligence for drones that will let them navigate independently in unknown spaces, avoid collisions with obstacles, and be able to track and detect objects,” he said. “[We want them to] understand a scene, and intelligently respond to instructions as opposed to just being able to fly manually.”
It’s not a unique goal – other companies, including large industry heavyweights like Qualcomm and Intel, are also very interested in research projects related specifically to computer vision and autonomous vehicles. Nvidia also showed off a number of collision avoidance models that incorporate computer vision and advanced object detection at CES this year. But Mathew explained that where Perceptiv differs from many of these other companies is that they’ve actually launched a product, rather than just announcing research programs.
SHIFT is that product, and it’s designed to offer a very real, immediately tangible impact for a specific audience right now, rather than the promise of something cool coming five or ten years down the road.
“Our product is something that will let professional filmmakers take really beautiful precise shots with drones, without two years of piloting experience,” he said. “It’s relatively easy to fly a drone up high and get a simple shot, but being able to take some sort of complex maneuver with a drone where you’re tracking a subject of interest, it becomes really difficult to fly a drone as well as control camera angles at the same time.”
SHIFT is available either as an aftermarket add-on, or pre-installed on either the DJI Phantom or 3DR Iris+. The pre-installed packages still cost under $2000, and the shipping date Perceptiv is targeting is this fall for all of the above. Compared to the going rate for many more complicated aerial photography solutions, these are remarkably inexpensive, and if you take a look at the example footage from the videos provided by Perceptiv, the end results are certainly impressive.