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Android drone tracks you by computer vision

Nov 24, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 2,321 views

Kickstarter is showing an $899, Android-based “Mind4” follow-me drone that tracks you entirely by computer vision, and interprets full-body gestures.

Like fellow Kickstarter drone projects AirDog and Hexo+, as well as 3D Robotics’s Iris+, AirMind’s Mind4 quadcopter is designed as a “follow-me” drone for recording videos of a moving target. Unlike these products, however, which don’t run Android or Linux, the Mind4 runs Android on a quad-core, 2GHz ARM processor, giving it the brainpower to run advanced vision recognition algorithms. As a result, Mind4 can track you solely via computer vision via its VAPS (vision augmented piloting system) engine rather than depending on less reliable GPS or tricky manual controls.

Two views of the Mind4
(click images to enlarge)

Billed by startup AirMind as the “world’s first Android-based smart drone,” the Mind4 quadrotor is designed for, snowboarders, skateboarders, surfers, bikers, and other weekend warriors who want to capture their brilliant moves from above. The 960-gram, 400 x 400 x 100mm device can be folded up to fit into a backpack.

The Mind4’s 720p camera is used primarily for tracking, gesture recognition, and real-time first-person view (FPV) video feeds. A gimbal mount is provided to mount your own GoPro camera, and other mounts support other HDMI- or USB-connected cameras. The Mind4 can be instructed to switch between the built-in camera and GoPro for the real-time feed.

Airborne Mind4 and cyclist
(click image to enlarge)

The Mind4 is up on Kickstarter through Dec. 23 starting at early bird pricing of $899 and then $999, followed by standard Kickstarter pricing of $1,149. After the products ship in Sept. 2015, the consumer pricing will rise above that, suggests AirMind.

The product will be “open” to developers, at least in terms of developing the Android-based software. A $2,499 developers version is available with a drone, an SDK, a separate VAPS module, and an extension board. You can also license the entire design for $10,000.

Mind4 (left) and Mind4 camera closeup
(click images to enlarge)

According to AirMind, relying on GPS for taking follow-me videos, as do the AirDog, Hexo+, Iris+, and other hobbyist UAVs, has a number of disadvantages. The error margin can be up to 20 meters, so you can frequently disappear from the picture, and it’s easier to lose track of the drone entirely, says AirMind. These devices also require that you carry a smartphone or other GPS device to guide it, which can be problematical in some sports such as swimming.

The WiFi-enabled Mind4 can be controlled with a smartphone app, and it even has a GPS chip. However, the GPS chip appears to be used only for operating the device like a traditional UAV, or for automated flight in one of its failsafe modes. Instead, the VAPS chipset, which combines the ARM SoC with one or more image coprocessors, uses one of two follow-me modes. It can automatically find and track a moving object after you use your smartphone app to position it in the center of the screen. For more complex scenes, you can manually frame a subject using a pan gesture.

Autodetect mode (left) and “down boy” gesture
(click images to enlarge)

The VAPS engine can also recognize full-body gestures, so you can leave your smartphone in your pocket. If you wave your right hand, the drone comes closer, and if point to the ground, it will land. Raising both arms in the air instructs the Mind4 to take a still photo. Finally, VAPS is said to improve filming stability, as it can detect subject offset at the pixel level.

The Mind4 can zip along at an impressive 60 kmph (40 mph), and has a maximum range of 2 kilometers. As with most drones, battery life is the main drawback. You can only go for 20 minutes between recharge. Hopefully, extra battery packs will be available, although AirMind made no mention of this.

TheMind4 ships with 2GB of LPDDR3 and 6GB eMMC flash, expandable to 64GB. The UAV integrates WiFi, Bluetooth, an HDMI port, and a pair of USB ports. Sensors include a G-sensor, gyroscope, compass, and barometer.

VAPs module (left) and development kit board
(click images to enlarge)

A separate flight control system automatically takes over in case the Android system fails, says AirMind. The failsafe modes include emergency landing, hover, return to home, or follow waypoints.

The Mind4 will ship with six stock apps customized for skiing, surfing, cycling, hiking, skating, and pets. Judging from the video farther below, it appears the apps enable more than following shots, and can also capture the action from a variety of angles and heights. An online market called “The Brain” will open in June, featuring additional apps, including third-party apps.

Summary of Mind4 specs

Specifications listed for the Mind4 include:

  • Processor — Quad-core ARM SoC @ 2GHz
  • Memory — 2GB LPDDR3; 6GB eMMC flash, expandable to 64GB
  • Speed — Up to 60 kmph (40 mph)
  • Range — 2km (1.2 mile)
  • Wireless — WiFi; Bluetooth
  • Sensors:
    • GPS
    • G-sensor
    • Gyroscope
    • Compass
    • Barometer
  • Camera/mounts:
    • 720p camera with optical zoom for tracking and real-time preview
    • 2D brushless gimbal mount for GoPro
    • Optional 3D brushless gimbal for GoPro
    • Optional mount for other HDMI or USB-ready cameras
  • Other I/O:
    • HDMI 1.4 input
    • USB 3.0 port
    • USB 2.0 port
  • Flight modes:
    • Automatic
    • Manual
    • Emergency landing
    • Hover
    • Return home
    • Fly to waypoints
  • Other features — 8x LEDs; gesture control support; mobile app; foldable design
  • Battery — 5000mAh 3S; lasts about 20 min.
  • Weight — 960 g
  • Dimensions — 400 x 400 x 100mm (15.75 x 15.75 x 3.84 in.)
  • Operating system — Android

The project’s fundraising video appears below.

Mind4 in motion

Further information

The Mind4 is available for Kickstarter funding through Dec. 23 starting at $899, then $999, then $1,149, and a developers version costs $2,499. All products ship in Sept. 2015. More information may be found at the Mind4 Kickstarter page, as well as at AirMind’s website.

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