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Lily flying camera
Lily’s “flying camera” is designed to be thrown into the air to take selfies. (Credit: Lily)

If you ever needed evidence that “selfie drones” are the hot thing for 2016, you can find it in last week’s reports from the International CES show that a startup named Lily Robotics has collected 60,000 pre-orders for its flying camera, amounting to a potential $34 million payoff.

Supporting evidence came in the form of other selfie drones that were shown off in Las Vegas, including the Qualcomm-backed Ying quadcopter and the crowdfunded Onagofly nano-drone. Still other selfie-copters are waiting in the wings, including the tethered Fotokite Phi, the watch-controlled Hawk and the Nixie wearable drone.

Selfie drones are designed to follow you at a standoff distance and take videos, guided by your smartphone’s signal or a homing device you can tuck in somewhere.

The palm-sized Onagofly has attracted about $1.5 million in pledges on the Indiegogo crowdfunding website, which is well beyond the original $150,000 goal. The Indiegogo price for a basic package is $199, which Onagofly says will rise to $299 retail. Deliveries are due to begin in March – assuming that the venture doesn’t go bust, Zano-style.

The Ying drone is the result of a collaboration involving the chipmakers at Qualcomm as well as the drone-makers at Zerotech and China’s Tencent e-commerce venture. It’s designed to stream live video or capture imagery for uploading to Tencent’s social-media platforms. It’s not yet clear how much Ying will cost, and the timing of its debut is no more specific than mid-2016.

Lily’s selfie drone rates toward the top end of the scale, in terms of capability as well as cost and cash: The waterproof, camera-equipped quadcopter is designed to start itself up after being thrown in the air (or the water) by its operator. It’s also built to follow behind, or lead in front of, its video subject at a specified distance.

Lily Robotics was founded by two Berkeley students, and backed by $16 million in venture capital. Pre-orders are being taken directly at Lily’s website rather than as crowdfunding pledges, with the price set at $799. That price tag is due to rise to $999 after product launch.

“The great thing about pre-sale vs. crowdfunding is that you can get to know your users much better,” Lily CEO Antoine Balaresque told Berkeley Innovators last May.

Eight months later, Balaresque reported at CES that the pre-orders have passed the 60,000 mark, which translates into $34 million. That’s impressive for a startup that still has to deliver a product: It translates into what would be a significant chunk of the estimated 400,000 drones that were sold during the holidays.

The delivery date has been pushed back from February to this summer, to give the production line in China enough time to ramp up. That means that we have a few more months before selfie drones fill the skies. And researchers at Michigan Tech will have a few more months to perfect their drone-catching nets.


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