Using simple code, kids can teach the $99 Tello drone their own tricks

Sure, drones can be tools — but they’re also very much toys, and startup Ryze Tech is taking a new approach to toy drones. Unveiled during the Consumer Electronics Show on January 8, Tello allows kids (and adults) to learn code by programming their own tricks.

Tello uses Scratch, the MIT program designed to teach kids code, to expand the drone’s flight options. Using block-based coding, kids can move around blocks of code to create different drone tricks or flight patterns, like flips in eight different directions. Ryze Tech says that besides the benefits of actually knowing code, learning how can build problem-solving and communication skills.

But as a drone designed with kids in mind, the Tello also has several safety features built in, including DJI’s tech for flight stabilization. The HD camera, paired with a vision-processing unit from Intel and five different sensors, enables a collision-detection system. The drone also uses flexible propellers with guards. Low-battery protection is included alongside auto takeoff and auto land features.

Tello also incorporates several smart features designed to make the flight simple — the drone can launch with a toss and lands in an outstretched hand. The app also includes a handful of flight patterns for automatic flights, or can be flown with a third-party joystick controller.

The onboard camera will send Tello’s pilot’s eye view to a smartphone or tablet, as well as some third-party headsets. The feature allows kids to see the view from the drone in real time.

Tello’s small body weighs less than 3 ounces, while the main body is about the size of a smartwatch, the company says. Kids can also customize the drone with removable top shells for swapping out different colors.

With a design for kids, the Tello isn’t designed for top-notch specs — the camera is 720p and the flight time is only about 13 minutes. But, if the company’s statements hold up, the safety features and code options could make the Tello a fun buy. The drone is expected to launch in China this month and in the United States in March, retailing for $99.