IBC 2015: First look at the Fotokite Phi – a tethered drone for $299 US

By technical editor Matt Allard:

At IBC in Amsterdam, Fotokite were showing their new consumer version of the Fotokite Pro, the Fotokite Phi. The Phi is extremely lightweight and folds up for convenient storage when not in use.

The Phi fits inside a small cylindrical tube
The Phi fits inside a small cylindrical tube

Unlike other drones, but just like the Fotokite Pro, the Phi is tethered to the operator. With so many new laws and regulations being implemented to control the use of drones, they are becoming increasingly harder to use. As they are tethered the Fotokite drones fall under different regulations. Broadcaster CNN has already pre-ordered large numbers of the Phi and has filed for a 333 exemption with the FAA. This allows for legal commercial flights in airspace in the US. Fotokite has already got exemptions in other countries including France and Switzerland.

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For news, event and documentary shooters, the ability to be able to carry around a small tethered drone that can be deployed in seconds makes it potentially invaluable. The Phi doesn’t feature a gimbal like the more expensive pro version and the height you can fly it will be limited to around 16 meters (52ft). This height will be more than enough to get a nice aerial perspective of whatever you are shooting.

The Phi is controlled by a simple device on the end of the tether
The Phi is controlled by a simple device on the end of the tether

The Phi has a flight time of around 15 minutes and the battery is interchangable allowing the drone to be deployed again very quickly. How the footage will look will be totally dependent on the conditions. It would be good to see the Phi coupled together with a system such as SteadXP that would greatly compensate for the drone’s lack of onboard gimbal.

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The Phi’s technology allows it to fly itself without any control from the operator, so you don’t need to be a skilled pilot to use one. It has the added advantage of being able to be deployed immediately without waiting for a GPS lock or having to do calibrations. Once in the air, the Phi is controlled via a smart leash that lets the operator use gestures to adjust orientation and position.

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For broadcasters and news crews, the Phi is able to give a unique perspective and has the added advantage of being able to be deployed and used safely by just about anyone. The complete Phi kit includes everything except the GoPro. At just $299 US, I can see no reason why the Phi won’t be a part of every shooter’s kit.

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