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lily

WHAT DOES IT DO?

It's a flying camera that follows you around automatically. You literally just throw it in the air and it takes off, following a tracking device that you put in your pocket or wear on your wrist. It also uses an optical tracking computer to keep you nice and centered and framed.

SEE IT IN ACTION

WHY DID YOU MAKE IT?

The initial idea came about when my good friend went on vacation with his family. He was looking at the pictures afterwards, and he noticed that his mother was not in a single shot: she was taking all the photos. It's a problem most of us have; in my family, it's my father. He's never in a picture, because he’s taking them all.


So, we identified two main problems with cameras today. One of them is that the user isn't in the shot, but is instead always behind the camera, missing out on all the fun. The other is that the quality of the shot is limited by your skill and ability to position it correctly. If you are pointing the camera at a strange angle, there's nothing the camera can do to make that picture look good. 


We solved the first problem by having the camera away from the user, looking back. So the user can be hands free, having fun. And we solved the second problem by allowing the camera to actually move itself. It can point the lens and choose the angle of the shot, all by itself, based on what's the best way to pose that shot, and regardless of the skill of the user. You don't have to know anything about photography or anything about drones. You can just throw Lily in the air, and the pictures come out looking great. It’s stunning photography.

HOW DID YOU MAKE IT?

We actually started in a basement on the UC Berkeley campus that belonged to a professor we knew. He wasn't using the space. It was nice to be able to work there, but it was also nearly the worst place to fly a drone. We were basically flying in a basement—very low ceilings, hard tile floor. Every time you crash you break something.  


We were in a couple of other small offices in Berkeley after that. In one of them, we had a nice outdoor testing area down the block, like five hundred steps away. Which really isn’t that far. But our current spot in South Bay has a big open patch of land literally right outside the door, and we realized what we’d been missing. We really need an environment where we can program the device and then walk fifteen steps and put it in the air. Now we can test fifty times a day instead of five.  


We started out just hacking together off-the-shelf products. But we quickly found out that off-the-shelf hardware was inadequate for a couple reasons. First, there's just not enough computational power on the platforms to do what we wanted them to do. And second, the user experience was not there. We think it's very important that the user can just pick it up, get it in the air very quickly, and get on with taking pictures. It's very portable. You can stuff it in a backpack and don't have to worry about getting it wet. We found that nothing on the market really gives you that level of reliability in the experience. So we had to build our own armor.

WHO DID YOU WORK WITH?

My co-founder's name is Antoine Balaresque. We met in school, about 4 years ago now. We were taking classes together, but we actually met at a Hackers at Berkeley hack-a-thon. Hackers at Berkeley is a big organization and they were pretty influential for me personally. Antoine was a business major, but taking a lot of technical classes and studying computer science. He was at the hack-a-thon, just making stuff. We met and started working on projects together.


The team we have now is really expert. Our industrial designer, Robb Englin, is stellar, with twenty years of experience developing all sorts of products. His work has been invaluable in making the product easy to use. We also have a computer vision expert, Nghia Ho, on our team, and a controls expert, Rowland O'Flaherty.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?

I think the design of our product is very unique compared to other products. The usability we offer is unique, and we’ve made a lot of bold product decisions that have paid off and make us stand out. Seeing those decisions coming together has been very rewarding. And all of us on the team believe very deeply in the product. We've been very happy to see that others believe in it as well.

WHAT'S NEXT?

We’re eighteen months in, and there's still a lot of challenges ahead. We're in the manufacturing stage right now. So we’re spending our time building factory product, and shipping it everywhere. That's going to be our main focus for awhile.