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Canterbury students develop photographic drone

DRONE DEVELOPMENT: Luke Schwartfeger (left) and Owen Flanagan work on a mechanical arm for the SelfieBot prototype.
PHOTO: Hannah Herchenbach

University of Canterbury students and alumni are pooling their talents to develop a photographic drone, dubbed SelfieBot.

Project leader Owen Flanagan said the team hoped to have a functioning prototype of the small flying robot, which will hover and take photographs from just about anywhere, in the next two months.

A selfie is when the person in the photo holds the camera and takes a photo of themselves.

The idea for the personal drone came from people’s fascination with selfies, but was not about selfies per se: “It’s a camera you can put anywhere.

“People just respond far better to, ‘Do you want to buy a SelfieBot?’, than, ‘Do you want to buy a drone?”‘

He said SelfieBots could remove the need for photographing with a tripod – and for handing phones over to strangers to take group photos in public.

“It opens a whole new world of photographs that you could take on the go,” Flanagan said. “We are making a camera you can put anywhere, that you can adjust with an app and it also happens to be a platform for developers to build on so we can make it a consumer product.”

The team has been assembling prototypes using 3D printers at the digital fabrication lab MakerCrate.

Electrical engineering graduate Luke Schwartfeger has been working on the project fulltime for the last three weeks.

“I’ve been going to bed at 2 o’clock in the morning over the last few days.”

Flanagan, who was initially funded through the UC Innovators Summer Start-Up Scholarship Programme, had originally planned to develop a pet drone but found it was impossible to build in one step.

Another idea for an educational robotics kit for children was discarded when build costs were estimated at $500,000.

The SelfieBot was “something for us” and would appeal to the technologically adept, he said.

Selfies have often gone viral on the internet, especially when famous people or places are involved.

_Hannah Herchenbach for The Press