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Air-bound Roomba? iRobot veteran launches personal-drone campaign. (+video)

Roomba co-designer Helen Greiner and her company, CyPhy Works, announced the LVL 1 drone on Kickstarter on Monday. The LVL 1 has six rotors for level flight and can be flown by swiping on a smart phone's screen.

The co-designer of the Roomba is moving her attention from carpets to clouds.

Helen Greiner, co-designer of the robotic vacuum cleaner and co-founder of iRobot, announced on Monday that her latest project is a drone. The CyPhy Works LVL 1 has six rotors and an HD camera built into the body, and can be flown without much training through an iOS or Android app.

Ms. Greiner hopes the project will be funded through a Kickstarter campaign, which had already raised more than a fifth of its $250,000 funding goal within a few hours of being announced.

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Most consumer drones have a “quadcopter” design: four rotors, even spaced around the drone’s body, that allow for flight in any direction. The LVL 1 has six rotors, all slightly tilted, that work together to let the drone fly straight forward without tilting its body at an angle to the ground. CyPhy Works says that makes it easier for the drone’s camera to capture smooth footage. The Kickstarter video also shows the LVL 1 performing flips and other aerial tricks, without being controlled by a professional drone operator.

The LVL 1 has a pretty pared-down interface. Rather than relying on a joystick for control, the smart-phone app shows you what the drone is seeing, and you can swipe to fly in a particular direction. The app also allows for geofencing, so you can keep the drone within a particular area, similarly to how a Roomba automatically figures out where the walls of your house area and avoids plunging down stairs. The Kickstarter video for the LVL 1 shows the user tapping a button on their phone, then walking in a large square to define the boundaries within which the drone may fly. If the drone reaches the edge of the fence, it’ll automatically rebound as though it were bouncing off a physical wall.

CyPhy Works says the LVL 1 will be able to fly for 20 minutes at a time before needing to be recharged, and that it can be configured to automatically share videos and photos to your Facebook timeline, Twitter feed, or Snapchat story as they’re being taken. The drone weighs just under 2 pounds, including the battery and the twin cameras embedded in the housing – one camera for capturing video and a second facing downward for gathering flight data.

CyPhy estimates that the LVL 1 will be available in February 2016. Kickstarter campaigns aren’t always successful, of course – many don’t meet their funding goals within the given period – but CyPhy’s campaign seems on track to meet its $250,000 goal easily.

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