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powerup 3.0

WHAT IT DOES

It’s literally a smartphone-controlled paper airplane. Using a simple Bluetooth enabled app and some lightweight hardware, a standard sheet of paper transforms into a lean, mean remote-controlled flying machine.

Wait, say that again

WHY I MADE IT

I discovered my love for flying at a very young age. Like most kids, I always dreamed of being a pilot or an astronaut. At sixteen, I started jumping from mountains with hang gliders, and later with paragliders. Eventually I was lucky enough to fulfill my childhood dream and become a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. After my service, I began my day job is industrial designdf, so naturally I enjoy solving problems and transforming old ideas into something new and useful.


Back in 2006, I learned about this new phenomena called “micro-fliers,"  which was inspired by the introduction of tiny components that were actually developed for smartphones, like miniature motors and miniature high-capacity lithium batteries. All of these were turning low cost commodities that could be used to propel small objects or toys. I took that technology and analyzed it, thinking about what else I could do with it. The first thing that came to mind was paper airplanes.


Paper airplanes are a form of origami, which is an extremely precise art. My idea was to think of a configuration for the components such that, regardless of the design of the airplane, the outcome would be a stable flying machine. Eventually, I came up with the idea to put the power source in the nose and the propulsion in the rear. And it worked! It was that moment of inspiration, sparked by a weekend project, that turned it into something more.

HOW I MADE IT

After realizing I had a real product here, I began working to perfect it. The first prototypes focused on the general issue of connecting a propulsion device equipped with a reliable power source to a paper airplane. Over time I figured out that this device needed to securely rest in the v-fold where the center of gravity is located, which is universal to all paper airplanes. Starting out, I was using everyday items like cardboard and paper clips to build prototypes. Back then 3D printers weren’t nearly as common as they are now.


Aesthetics was next on the agenda, and I eventually figured out I wanted to make the battery and receiver unit look like a cockpit up front. Next, it needed to be ultra lightweight and durable. It was a fun process creating something that was lightweight enough for ten minutes of flight but durable enough that it could crash again and again.


Two years of research and 57 prototypes later, I had a working radio-controlled paper airplane, which was never manufactured. It then turned into a free-flight model, which was PowerUp 2.0. Bringing back radio control, via smartphone Bluetooth, brought us to the 3.0 version.

WHO I WORKED WITH

We contracted a German company to assist in developing the Bluetooth smart module and the app itself, which has received great feedback. In parallel, we had a great manufacturing partner in Hong Kong, JDH Toys Limited, that took a huge load off our chests. They were able to provide quality assurance and could produce thousands upon thousands of our products with a relatively low defect rate. They played a key role when our Kickstarter campaign ended. Production was only a month late, which is considered pretty good for Kickstarter. I’d say we’re happily invested.

HOW IT'S WORKED OUT

With regard to media exposure before, during, and after the Kickstarter campaign, the product basically promoted itself. It didn't need much PR. We experienced great success with crowdfunding, bringing in $1.2 million from more than 21,000 backers. It generated mass appeal internationally; we shipped to 70 different countries literally all around the globe. We landed on practically every major media outlet and had all sorts of buzz with tech and toy blogs. It was featured on major TV networks including ABC and NBC, and specifically on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. Also we won Popular Science's "Best of Toy Fair 2013" award. It's so rewarding seeing all these people enjoying something I created.

WHAT I LEARNED

I learned that as an inventor, mistakes happen. An inventor thrives on mistakes to learn and progress. We made a few ourselves after our Kickstarter campaign ended, specifically with shipping methods. For example, we didn’t realize shipping regulations varied so dramatically from country to country when shipping lithium batteries, which are considered explosives in some places. Problems with rules and regulations on lithium batteries actually delayed shipping even after production was finished. US customers weren’t affected, but for the rest of the world it was a disaster. It took a long time to find carriers that were able to ship these products where we needed them to go.


But I think the major lesson I took from this experience is that once you’ve identified a problem, it’s important to be transparent with your customers and admit that you’ve made a mistake, especially when dealing with so many people. It’s always a frightening thing to do, and naturally there'll be some blow-back, but it will eventually fade because your backers really do support you at the end of the day.

WHAT'S NEXT

Although our Kickstarter campaign has ended after having successfully shipped thousands of PowerUp 3.0s all over the world, we still have two of our three stretch goals to deliver. The first one, which was to develop an Android version of the smartphone app, is already done. We also promised to produce a multi-engine paper airplane, which launched this week. Meaning making it possible to connect two units together, which is something that our backers asked for specifically. The last stretch goal is what we call "dogfight mode." It’s going to be an awesome update that adds a gaming experience where two people can fly their PowerUp 3.0s around and actually shoot each other down. That should hopefully be released in the next few months.


However, our biggest news is with the introduction of the PowerUp FPV. This is the world's first paper airplane with a live-streaming camera on it. Not only can you drive it with your smartphone like our 3.0, but now you can put it into a Google Cardboard VR headset, and see what it's like to sit in the cockpit of an airplane and control it with your head! The kickstarter will launch on November 10 and we expect it to be amazing!