The Aire drone is one of the most ambitious home robotics projects I’ve ever encountered. If I hadn’t seen it fly in person, I wouldn’t even believe it’s real. But Aire is real. It actually flies. And I actually asked it to take a photo of me using Alexa.
On Kickstarter, Aire is advertised as a “self-flying robotic assistant for the home.” The basic idea is that the drone is smart enough to keep itself upright in the air and avoid obstacles, so you can safely fly it indoors without crashing into too many lamps or small dogs. You can remotely control the drone with your phone to check a suspicious situation when you’re away from home, or to video conference with your family (there’s a built-in microphone and speaker).
Aire doesn’t sound or move like a typical drone, which is a big point of emphasis for its creators. It sounds a bit like a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer, instead of that mosquito-in-your-ear sound you get from most drones. It’s also really safe to interact with. For instance, when we were asking Aire to take a photo, it was totally cool to grab the drone and position it in the desired spot — once you let go it stabilizes and keeps flying like nothing happened.
The technology that makes this stable flight possible is what makes Aire so interesting. The prototype I saw had stereo cameras for vision, a 3D depth camera for obstacle avoidance, a downward facing camera for positioning, and sonar sensors all around for more obstacle avoidance. There’s an Nvidia TX1 chip processing all this sensor data. Right now that mostly just means Aire is stable in the air, can land automatically, and can carry out very basic Alexa and IFTTT commands.
But there’s enough technology here to do some very interesting things if Aire is successful. For instance, you could ask Aire to scan your entire home for insurance purposes, or create a 3D map of your home for help with a remodel. Aire could search your home for a specific person, or patrol your home for anomalies. These are all features that could set it apart from a traditional security camera setup, or a traditional drone, but who knows if they’ll ever get built. Aire’s autonomous skills are very limited right now: it can take off and land from a wireless charging dock if it can see the dock, and it can take a photo when you ask it to over Alexa.
Aire is supposed to ship in December of next year, with a beta model out that September. The retail price is supposed to be $1,499, but the Kickstarter price is $749 if you’re willing to put your money down right now.
I’m stoked about this drone and its potential for home robotics. It’s that floating orb you see in sci-fi movies that’s never explained, except just a little bit louder. The creators are trying to be very conservative about their promises, while building a platform that’s capable of very advanced tasks with the right software. I don’t know who would pre-order a home drone on Kickstarter for $749 that won’t arrive until December 2018, or why they would, but I hope those people exist. I want to live in this future