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PhoneDrone turns your phone into an autonomous quadcopter

We’re not sure if this is a bad idea or a brilliant one, but the more we think about it, the more it starts to make sense. PhoneDrone, which launched on Kickstarter earlier this week, is basically an exoskeleton attachment that turns your smartphone into an autonomous quadcopter drone.

Sounds pretty stupid at first, right? Who in their right might would willingly put propellers on their smartphone and allow it to fly up into the air? I’m a drone-happy hobbyist myself, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the experience, it’s that no matter how skilled or cautious you are as a pilot, you’re eventually going to crash. Gravity will always win in the end, and so from that perspective, yes, PhoneDrone is most definitely a bad idea — but if you look at it from another standpoint, it’s also kind of brilliant.

The problem with most drones, and the reason that it’s tough to find a decent one for less that 500 bucks, is that they generally have a lot of tech under the hood. Tear open any card-carrying consumer-oriented drone and you’ll likely find GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi radios, a high-resolution camera, and an on-board computer.

And all these technologies are typically what makes drones so expensive. Instead of building that tech into the PhoneDrone directly, xCraft designed a system that leverages all the sensor tech and computing power you already carry around with you inside your smartphone. Using this approach, they were able to create a drone that only costs about $250. In truth, xCraft is just providing the drone body, battery, and control software — your phone provides everything else.

But this system isn’t without its own set of shortcomings. If you want to get the most out of it, you’ll need a second smartphone. PhoneDrone can fly autonomously using your phone as its brain, but in order to utilize the craft’s auto-follow functionality or manually control its flightpath, you’ll need a second device on the ground.

xCraft has already raised over $65,000 in pledges on Kickstarter, and still has well over a month to reach its $250K funding goal. All the early-bird-backer rewards have been snagged at this point, but if you back the project now, you can still get your hands on the base model PhoneDrone for $250. If all goes well, xCraft expects to finish production and begin shipping sometime around November.