If you photograph yourself with a camera drone, is it still a selfie?

A new camera drone technology raises a philosophical question: When is a selfie not a selfie?

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File
Tourists take a selfie with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from the other side of the Westminster Bridge on a gray spring day, on April 14 in London. A new camera drone raises a philosophical question: Is a photo snapped by an autonomous flying camera really a selfie?

A flying, video-taking drone that can chase its subjects from mid-air promises to both advance drone technology and challenge the meaning of the word "selfie."

The Hover Camera offers a self-contained photo-drone, roughly the size of a VHS cassette tape, that can fly alongside its subject and photograph continuously, Richard Lai reported for Engadget.

New technologies often create new definitions of words, and this camera drone is no exception, raising as it does the question: Can a photo snapped by an autonomous flying camera really be called a selfie?

"Selfie" – Oxford Dictionary's 2013 word of the year – implies an eager photographer positioning him or herself beside a person, object, or landscape of note and snapping a phone pic to alert social media followers. The most ardent of selfie-takers extend their reach with a "selfie stick." The Hover Camera could be just the next extension.

The camera drone's founder, Meng Qiu “MQ” Wang, has higher aspirations for his creation, which he says represents a shift into smarter cameras, Aaron Tilley reported for Forbes.

“Two years ago, we saw an opportunity that was more than just building drones or new cameras,” Mr. Wang told Forbes. “What I saw was a unique opportunity to embed AI in compact devices. I personally like to call it embedded AI."

Zero Zero Robotics, the 80-person startup producing the Hover Camera, could represent the cutting-edge of drone technology by enabling the most advanced computer algorithms to control tiny devices with precision.

"What I’ve seen over the past few years is smartphones have not only significantly driven down the cost of components but we’re also seeing huge improvements," Wang told Forbes. "We can adopt top-of-the-line smartphones chips to run a lot of these computer vision algorithms."

That suggests the Hover Camera is more than a tool for improved selfies, and its creators are dealing with a host of new issues because of it. The camera weighs roughly 240 grams, which allows it to fly over people while still complying with new rules from the Federal Aviation Authority. Drones weighing more than 250 grams must operate below an energy threshold and stay at least 10 feet away from people, which might interfere with the drone's ability to snap closeups.  

That purpose may be the most important argument for the Hover Camera. If the purpose of a selfie is to document oneself, then the practice began with the earliest artistic self-portrait. By this measure, The Atlantic described both a fashion-book from Renaissance Germany and a snapshot by Grand Duchess Anastasia as century-old selfies. 

"The youngest daughter of Russia's last czar is using the wildly popular camera of her time—the Kodak brownie, released in 1900—and a mirror to capture her own likeness," Megan Garber wrote. "She is gazing at herself. She is looking at herself."

At least by the Atlantic's definition, the Hover Camera – controlled via mobile app with a WiFi hotspot, using finger swipes to determine the drone's altitude and horizontal direction, or grab screen shots from the live video stream – could produce a selfie. 

Selfie enthusiasts can begin the debate in earnest next summer, when the startup plans to sell the devices for less than $600 each. 

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