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Snap Pixy: hands-on with Snapchat’s selfie drone

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More than five years after the release of Spectacles, Snap is back with a second hardware product. And this time it will fly.

Yes, Snap made a drone. A small yellow pack called Pixy captures a video that can take off from your hand, chase you, and send it back to Snapchat. This is Snap’s attempt to create a drone that is more familiar and familiar than any other product on the market, and may suggest that a more advanced future Snap utilizing AR is aimed at. There is.

Pixy will be available online for $ 230 in the US and France starting Thursday. Unlike most existing drones, it’s small and light enough to fit in your pants pocket. There is no controller. Take off and land from your outstretched palm and use six pre-programmed flight patterns accessible from the dial at the top of the device.

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Why does Snap, which mainly operates temporary messaging apps, make selfie drones? This is the first question I ask CEO Evan Spiegel.

“Because we are a camera company,” he recently told me in a video chat. Snap has been waving its tagline since it renamed Snap from Snapchat in 2016 and released its first Spectacles. “Our mission is to enable people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world and have fun together. And this product does just that.”

Spiegel has been interested in drones for years, dating back to at least 2016 when Snap began messing with how the device could fit into the camera company’s strategy. At that time, he was about to buy a Chinese drone company called Zero Zero Robotics, but it was off the timing. Investors were skeptical of Snap’s growth prospects as a new public stock as Facebook actively copied its key story features. And the transaction eventually collapsed beyond the price. The company isn’t consistently profitable yet, but Snapchat is currently growing much faster than Facebook and already has more users than Twitter.

So far, drones haven’t spread beyond professional use cases and early adopters. Most are heavy, noisy, and expensive. Some require permission. The main focus of Pixy was to make it friendly with a friendly sounding propeller and a pocket-fitting design. “We finally got to a place like ourselves.” Wow, this is a lot of fun. I think it should probably be released, “says Spiegel.

The Pixy weighs only 101 grams with a replaceable battery inserted. According to Snap, a full charge will allow 5-8 flights, with a range of about 10-20 seconds. This is a short flight, even by the standard of a small drone. An additional battery costs $ 20, and Snap sells a portable dual battery charger for $ 50. Pixy’s 12MP sensor captures up to 100 videos or 1,000 photos, all stored locally on a 16GB drive.

The footage is wirelessly synced to the Memories section of Snapchat, where it can be edited (it doesn’t capture audio, so Snap can use songs licensed from music labels) and share it directly in the app or elsewhere. Snap contains several Pixy-specific AR effects to choose from. We look forward to more effects from this company and its creators in the future. The auto-trimming feature allows you to quickly transform horizontal footage into the main vertical direction of a snap centered on the main subject. The quality of the video isn’t amazing — you don’t want it to appear on the big screen — but it’s good enough to display on the phone.

Thanks to the downward camera, Pixy’s main trick is to take off and land in the hand. The front camera should be aligned approximately eye level during takeoff. That way, you’ll be automatically tracked as you move around. When you’re ready to end your flight, simply reach out to Pixie and you’ll be back in the palm of your hand. Both outdoor and indoor tests have shown that this is the most impressive part of using a drone. It just works and causes a rare “wow” moment when it first happens.

Spiegel sees pixies as a new way to capture human-centered moments. This is a narrower view than the way drones were traditionally deployed. “I think Pixy will open up a whole new space here because smartphones can’t fly,” he says. “You get a whole new, different perspective. That’s why I think Pixy is significantly better than what a smartphone can create.”

Pixy sets itself apart from competing small drones for its simplicity. DJI has been building small drones for years that can take off from your hands and chase you automatically. These drones also feature longer battery life and higher quality video. However, these competing models are more expensive and much more complicated to use. And they are still much larger than a pixie that can be put in your pocket.

There are some other limitations to Pixy’s design. The device is so light that you don’t want to use it in windy conditions. Snap also advises not to use the lower camera, which automates flight, on water or other shiny reflective surfaces that can confuse it.

Snap does not plan to make a lot of money from Pixie. “The goal is actually to get it into the hands of people and have them mess with it,” says Spiegel. “And if people love the original product, they might make more in version 2.” If anything, Snap sets his own expectations for version 1 too low. He says it could have been. “Honestly, I should have done more in the future. And now it’s hard for the whole supply chain to be in progress. I didn’t think it was so good. “

In 2016, I noticed that Snap was advertising a job with the tagline “Toys are a prelude to serious ideas” before the glasses fell off.

First created by the famous design duo Charles and Ray Eames, this phrase has proven to symbolize the behavior of Snap. What started primarily as a sexting app 10 years ago now has more than 330 million daily users, including 75% of people aged 13-34 in more than 20 countries. Over 250 million of these users use AR effects (lenses) every day. Those lenses started by making people spit a rainbow and put on their dog’s ears. Now they can solve math equations and let you try on clothes.

Eyeglasses have never been commercially successful, and Snap initially overestimated demand for eyeglasses, but now many engineers, including MetaCEO Mark Zuckerberg, will be the next major wave of computing. It is a full-fledged AR glasses that expresses what you believe in. Despite being much less expensive than Meta and Apple, Snap is a peer set with unconnected, functional AR glasses and a fast-growing ecosystem of hundreds of developers making lenses. It is the first one of.

Spiegel sees Snap’s hardware efforts as a way to push the boundaries of the camera’s potential. He is focusing on the camera. Because it’s the way people are already expressing themselves on their mobile phones. “When we look at our approach to hardware, it’s really about extending the core of what people like about Snapchat,” he says. “One of the things that really changed our way of looking at cameras was the hands-free nature of eyeglasses because people made something completely different.” Naturally, flying cameras extend that idea.

If the glasses are any sign, Spiegel probably has multiple future generations of pixies on his sleeves. He sees hardware building as a long-term effort, especially when it comes to AR glasses, but he doesn’t think hardware will be mainstream for years. “It’s so important to the long term of our business that we wanted to steadily improve over time,” he tells me. “At the same time, there are many technical constraints that exist today, which means that AR glasses are difficult to reach scale in the short term. Therefore, a wise approach for us is a product that is not yet ready. I don’t think it’s about trying to scale up. “

Ultimately, Spiegel believes Pixy has the potential to be a hit in the short term than Spectacles. “After several versions of camera glasses, it became very clear that the market for camera glasses was actually very small and limited to those who wanted that first-person view,” he says. “I think the Pixy market is bigger.”

Entering our conversation, like the first version of Spectacles, there is a theory that Pixy is a Trojan horse with a bigger idea. Drones are already being used to create 3D maps. This helps to build a more realistic lens rooted in the real world. Snap recently purchased a French startup called NextMind that made a headband to control your computer in your mind. Is there a future where you can wear AR glasses and control the pair of pixies with your head?

When I ask Spiegel about all this, he laughs and shows that it’s the most I get from him on the record. Pixies are just toys, at least for now.

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