A Drone To Watch Over Me

The Nixie wearable drone aims to turn selfies to stalkies.
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Filming others from afar remains suspect behavior, but it could become less so as drones normalize surveillance by enticing us to record ourselves.

A team that includes Stanford post-doctoral researcher Christoph Kohstall, Google technical program manager Jelena Jovanovic, and physicist-filmmaker Michael Niedermayr, along with other PhDs, designers, and engineers, has developed a concept for a drone called Nixie that can be worn on the wrist and can fly to capture high-definition images of the owner.

The proposed drone is one of 10 finalists in Intel's Make It Wearable initiative, a project to promote the development of innovative wearable devices. Finalists receive $50,000 in funding to develop a prototype and compete for the first-, second-, and third-place prizes of $500,000, $200,000, and $100,000, respectively.

[Are you ready for wearables? Read How's Your Enterprise Wearables Strategy?.]

Kohstall said in a phone interview that Intel's seed funding has led him to take leave from his position at Stanford to develop a working prototype. The project has thus become a startup, and Kohstall anticipates that any further funding, if necessary, will be sought through traditional venture capital channels.

Nixie aims to "set your camera free." Kohstall describes the project as a continuation of the automation of cameras, which began with auto-focus and auto-exposure and has now reached the point of auto-positioning. Nixie is designed to allow its owner to take selfies from a distance. It's the equivalent of a personal robotic stalker -- or film crew, to use a more neutral description.

"We want a drone that takes a picture of you, and that's it," said Kohstall, who insisted battery life would not be an issue for such a limited use. He suggested Nixie should be able to be launched, take a picture, and return several dozen times before it requires recharging.

Nixie is technically a wearable device, but it's wearable as a matter of convenience, rather than as a function requirement; it doesn't do health monitoring. Nixie is all about what it can do when not being worn.

"There are moments you want to share and remember," a video for Nixie explains. "Imagine a camera that goes past your arm's reach. Imagine a camera that gives you a new perspective. Imagine a camera that follows you."

You don't have to limit yourself to imagining such a camera. Other drone makers already offer camera-equipped drones to watch over you, though they're not wearable. 3D Robotics added autonomous pursuit capability, called Follow Me mode, to its drone software in June. The company's new Iris+ drone comes with Follow Me support. Two other drones that follow and film, Hexo+ and AirDog, each received more than $1 million in funding from supporters through Kickstarter this year.

Apparently, we can't get enough of ourselves.

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