News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 20, 2014

Eyes in the sky

Downtown Terre Haute gets demonstration of Pocket Drone and GPS navigation software

TERRE HAUTE — Ever wonder who’s at that party down the block? Or why your neighbor’s dog is barking non-stop?

With the Pocket Drone, a flying camera you can either control from your tablet or program to fly based on GPS directions, you can learn all these things without leaving your backyard.

T.J. Johnson, an entrepreneur from Indianapolis, is part of the team that has recently launched AirDroids, a company dedicated to bringing drone technology to consumers everywhere at an affordable price.

The Pocket Drone is their first big product and has made a huge splash in just a few weeks.

“The gusts were pretty strong up there,” Johnson said moments after sending one of his company’s drones about 50 feet straight up into the downtown sky Thursday afternoon outside the Terre Haute Children’s Museum. Despite the strong winds, a GPS positioning system kept the drone in place, he said.

“They’ll [hover] in position regardless of the wind,” Johnson said.

Moments later, inside the museum, visiting families and others got a chance to watch a Pocket Drone in action. Johnson, 28, piloted the small device, with its glowing red and green lights, high into the air near the museum’s big, multi-story tree house, as a dozen kids watched intently.

“Basically, it flies itself,” Johnson explained. Using GPS technology, the Pocket Drone can be programmed to fly to a specific address and come home again, he said. The drones can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour and can carry a small GoPro camera. The drone’s battery life is about 15 or 20 minutes between charges.

Johnson, who lives in Indianapolis, brought a few samples of the Pocket Drone to Terre Haute at the invitation of Tech Haute, a company specializing in helping start-up companies use the latest technology. Tech Haute also hosts a monthly “Verge” meeting for area entrepreneurs and investors. Johnson, who is also an attorney, was a guest at Thursday’s Verge meeting, speaking about intellectual property law.

The Pocket Drone, which sells for $495, has been featured in several national magazines and newspapers, including The Washington Post and Popular Science, and also by TechCrunch, a multi-media entity focusing on start ups. It is being offered for sale through KickStarter, a website that helps new companies make initial sales. Johnson said AirDroids hopes to raise $35,000 through sales on KickStarter. Actual sales have dwarfed that original hope. As of Thursday, sales had reached nearly $700,000.

Some components for the Pocket Drone are made in Tijuana, Mexico, and the final product is assembled in the U.S., Johnson said. There are currently just three employees working directly for AirDroids: Johnson, co-founder Tim Reuter and Chance Roth.

AirDroids seems certain to grow quickly. The company is looking for engineers and others who can help it take its next steps. The Pocket Drone is really a first-generation project, Johnson said. Other ideas are coming quickly, including drones with live, video-feed technology capability, he said.

The Pocket Drone can help with photography of sporting events, family gatherings, weddings and more, Johnson said.

Someone recently programmed one to fly up and down the holes of a golf course. The drone could even fly up to where the player’s golf ball had landed and return, he said.

What if you hit a really bad shot? Can the Pocket Drone find the ball? Johnson was asked.

“That’s next generation,” he said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com

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