Lily drone is waterproof, will follow you around

Presales of the new drone began on Tuesday ahead of a launch in early 2016

The Lily Camera drone, on show during a demonstration in San Francisco

The Lily Camera drone, on show during a demonstration in San Francisco

In the burgeoning world of drones, autonomous devices that follow their leader are nothing new, but a Silicon Valley start-up hopes it has something unique with its drone that is both waterproof and can be thrown into the air to launch.

The Lily Camera will go on sale in early 2016 but presales of the device began on Tuesday.

"It's a flying camera that you can literally throw in the air and it will start filming you and following you around," said Henry Bradlow, chief technology officer of Lily, during a demonstration in a San Francisco park.

When it's thrown up into the air, the drone's sensors recognize this action and it springs to life and begins hovering before gravity brings it down to the ground. It needs a strong throw to give it enough time to get flying before it falls, but even if that were to happen the drone would still attempt to lift off from the ground.

The four-rotor drone knows where the intended subject of its movie is thanks to a puck-sized device the user carries. The drone and locator maintain connection with WiFi and location through GPS.

"It can also take off from the hand or take off from the ground if you like," said Bradlow. "It's fully waterproof, it fits easily in a backpack, it shoots 1080P 60 frames per second and 720P 120 [frames per second] for four times slow motion."

The camera is built into the Lily drone, which is one of the reasons the developers can make the entire thing waterproof. They've also embedded a microphone into the locator device, so the audio from the user can later be combined with the video from the drone. Typically, the only audio captured by a drone is the sound of its own engines.

The puck also attempts to figure out when its user is doing something particularly spectacular, like a jump on a bike or a flip on the ski slope, and then switch the camera to the slow motion mode automatically.

The drone will fly up to 100 feet away from the user and as close as 5 feet but it needs to be used away from obstacles. There isn't an avoidance system, so it could potentially run into trees, power lines, people or anything else that might be in the way.

"As a user, you'd use it in outdoor environments like an open snowboarding run or surfing or a soccer field," said Bradlow. "We're hoping to introduce this in later versions of the product."

The Lily Camera costs $499 during presales, which began on May 12. It will cost $999 when it goes on sale next year.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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