The Oakland-based startup Next Thing Co. made a splash in 2015 when they announced a $9 single-board Linux computer called C.H.I.P. Like the Raspberry Pi, C.H.I.P. is a Linux computer designed for DIY projects and education — only significantly less expensive. And while the price made an impression on me at the time, I wasn’t yet into Raspberry Pi enough to even be tempted by a competitor. That is, until I saw PocketCHIP.
Next Thing Co. is clever enough to sell an accessory called PocketCHIP that transforms the credit card-sized board into a thoroughly unique, fully functional handheld computer. The PocketCHIP’s $69 price includes both the CHIP board and the portable handheld computer hardware that it simply slots right into.
I’m a fan of iFixit. They’re a cool, maker-friendly company on a mission to help people repair their own electronics. In full disclosure, I approached them early on when I started my Maker Update show to see if they would consider sponsoring it. And while they politely declined, they seem to appreciate what I’m doing enough to send me a few freebies to check out. That’s how I ended with these two gorgeous toolkits.
About a month ago I got a call from the people behind a drone called Fotokite, wondering if I’d be interested in seeing a demo of their product. I already knew the product pretty well based on a demo of their prototype I was given last year while I was on staff at Make Magazine. With this in mind, I was curious to see how the product had evolved into its final state.
So here are my thoughts based on my hands-on time with the shipping version of the Fotokite Phi, a drone with a thin, strong leash attached to it, selling now for $249.
The prototype model of this I played with last year had limited features, no camera controls, and a somewhat fragile 3D printed construction — but it was a fun product and the concept was still strong. It’s a fold-up drone you can fit in a backpack and launch in the air in just a minute with no fear of it flying off or getting stuck in a tree.
This final shipping version uses a stronger injection-molded plastic that I bounced off the wall a few times without losing control. It also includes more control features in the handle, which help steer it around and can directly control a GoPro mounted on the front. You have to provide the GoPro, though, so that’s an extra cost. A less expensive GoPro alternative can be substituted in the same space, however you’ll have to operate the controls manually directly on the camera before and after flight.
They’ve also included a new follow mode that allows you to just tow this thing behind you while you’re snowboarding or biking or whatever. The included leash extends 25ft, but can be upgraded to 100ft. To hear them tell it, this is a big deal because many of the more expensive drone solutions with follow modes still have a tendency to wander off.
All-in-all, I walked away wanting one — not because it’s a drone, but because it’s like a kind of magic kite really. This sounds sorta obvious when you consider the name, but when you first look at this thing it takes a minute to reconcile that it’s not the drone toy you expect it to be — and as someone who’s not a big fan of drones that’s a good thing.
And to be clear, this isn’t a paid endorsement. I just wanted to share my experience because I thought it was pretty cool, and neat to see a unique product go from concept to finished design. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment on the video above.