Israeli 3D tech behind ‘ultimate selfie’ sports drone

Latvian company uses Stratasys’ born-in-Israel printers in world’s first drone for extreme sports photography

An AirDog (top left) follows some extreme windsurfers, taking video of the their stunts (Photo credit: Courtesy)
An AirDog (top left) follows some extreme windsurfers, taking video of the their stunts (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israeli-developed 3D printing technology is helping a Latvian company enable extreme sports enthusiasts take the ultimate selfie — a drone that follows them and shoots video of their performances from the air as they do triple wheelies, a “360” on a skateboard, ride the surf, or any of their other adrenaline-pumping activities.

Using 3D printers developed in Israel by Minnesota-based Stratasys — which merged with Israel’s Objet 3D Printers in 2012 — Helico Aerospace Industries, the company behind the AirDog, has been “printing” components of just the right size and shape for a drone that is taking the sports world by storm.

The AirDog is the world’s first action sports drone that follows users automatically as they engage in their favorite extreme activities. The AirDog, equipped with a GoPro high-definition video camera, designed for taking video of fast-action outdoor sports, captures much more of the action than a regular video camera can, said Edgars Rozentals, co-founder and CEO of Helico Aerospace. “AirDog not only provides users with their own affordable and personal aerial video crew, but goes one step further in providing thrilling footage from distances and angles previously inaccessible to consumers,” Rozentals said.

Users strap on and activate a lightweight remote control device called the AirLeash, and the Airdog takes off, tracking users wherever they go and filming them from the air. The system works automatically, using sophisticated algorithms to take video from the best angles. The waterproof AirDog has a flight time of 10 to 20 minutes, depending on speed, and is capable of moving at up to 40 miles per hour (65 kilometers per hour). It has a range of up to 1,000 feet (300 meters), can operate up to nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level, and weighs just four pounds (1.8 kilos) with a battery. It’s ideal, the company says, for any kind of action sports — biking, skateboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, skating, skiing, and more.

The project has proven wildly popular, raising over half a million dollars on Kickstarter in just two weeks. The company had sought just $200,000 in its one month fundraising window, hitting its original goal in just three days.

The AirDog is in beta production, and Helico has previewed its first all-3D printed system. Full production is set for November at a cost of about $1,500. Contributors on Kickstarter can pick one up for about $1,000.

“It took a year and countless caffeine-fueled hours that were spent hacking intelligent flight code algorithms,” said Rozentals. “The result is extremely intelligent, simple to use drone technology for every action sports enthusiast and movie maker out there. From its roots the AirDog was designed to serve and obey those pushing the boundaries in sports.”

Getting the AirDog in the air wasn’t so simple, Rozentals said. He originally tried to fabricate the parts for the AirDog in China, sending off plans of what he wanted and getting back samples two weeks later — all of which were too heavy. The extra weight slowed the drone or even prevented it from taking off.

Frustrated, Rozentals sought the counsel of Stratasys’ Latvian partner, Baltic3D, which worked with Polish reseller Bibus Menos to meet Rozentals’ requirements. The parts for both the AirDog and the AirLeash remote control device were eventually produced on Stratasys’ FDM and PolyJet 3D printers–the latter developed by Objet in Israel.

“The benefits delivered by 3D printing compared to the method we tried originally are numerous,” said Rozentals. “Above all, turnaround time is significantly reduced, and if we need to make last minute changes to a design, we can do so within a matter of hours, easily and cost-effectively. This was simply unachievable before, as it necessitated time-consuming production of a costly new mold.”

“AirDog is a perfect example of how 3D printing is an enabler for inventors looking to turn their ideas into fully operational parts quickly and effectively,” says Andy Middleton, Senior Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Stratasys. “In this case, both our core 3D printing technologies have proved instrumental in producing a fully functional drone and wrist device. With the exception of the advanced sensor technology, both parts have been created entirely using 3D printing.”

“I’m not sure how we would have arrived at the stage of having a functional part, were it not for Stratasys 3D printing technology,” said Rozentals. “I founded the company two years ago and we’re a staff of three, so for start-ups like Helico, this technology isn’t just a game-changer, but the ticket to the game itself.”

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