CES 2015 best drone/robot – Latvian AirDog

    Latvian AirDog, the extreme sports filming drone whose US$ 1.3 million Kickstarter campaign in July 2014 made it Latvia’s biggest Kickstarter project to date, unveiled its latest prototype at world’s biggest technology and innovation exhibition ‘Consumer Electronics Show 2015’ (CES 2015) in Las Vegas on Jan 7-9. As Engadget polls closed today, AirDog was announced the winner of best robot/drone title and landed second in ‘Best of CES 2015 Awards’ overall poll.

    AirDog was the only Latvian company present at the massive event with more than 160,000 attendees. National media and Latvian twitter is going ballistic about the news. All core team present at the event is from Latvia. ‘Helico Aerospace Industries’, the company behind AirDog is based in Riga and employs 20 people. Even AirDog stand that was hosting live skateboarding demos every hour was built by a Latvian ‘Mindworks Ramps’.

    Engadget deputy managing editor James Trew explains AirDog’s main advantages that helped it land the prestigious title:

    “What separated AirDog from the many (many) other drones at CES this year was its clear focus. Its sole purpose is to be your dedicated aerial cameraman. It supports Sony and GoPro cameras, follows you wherever you go, folds down to a backpack-friendly size and comes with custom “modes” for different sports. It may be designed to follow, but when it comes to action sports video, it leads.”

    Since AirDog’s first launch in June 2014 that we covered here the drone has undergone several upgrades. The device has now acquired ground collision sensors, received several software upgrades, new AirLeash and new AirDog frame design. But the most important feature is the obstacle avoidance solution (OAS) that was particularly desired by its early Kickstarter backers.

    Below you can see a video by The Verge featuring AirDog live demo stand at CES 2015 and the new OAS in action. It is still not automated, but seems to allow users to swipe over so-called no-play areas on a satelite image. In that way usual obstacles like trees and overhead power lines can be finally controlled for. The risk of potential collision with unexpected moving objects remains.

    At the time of AirDog’s first launch another drone, an iPhone-compatible HEXO+ had launched a similar product and raised about the same amount of funding through Kickstarter. At that point AirDog revealed that it had been testing smartphone-compatible solutions yet had eventually arrived at the conclusion that they were not safe and actionable for extreme sports, particularly for disciplines like surfing or downhill skiing. Back then one of the challenges was to stick to this conviction and prove that a separate device which the team has named AirLeash was the way to go.

    “Now AirDog is officially world’s best drone and this is a great achievement to all of us,” AirDog idea author Edgars Rozentals reveals to Latvian Dienas Bizness.

    It is true – AirDog has now reached a new status and is featured all over the top media. This gives the company more credibility and an edge over competition. We are always excited about startups from the region bringing their name out to the world.

    We only hope that the hype around this success does not stand in the way of delivering great customer service and shipping the products to their backers. We have spotted a thread of comments from confused backers on Kickstarter and a desparate Facebook user trying to get attention on AirDog webpage, right under the twitter feed from CES 2015:

    4 days ago Helico Aerospace Industries reported a hack of their servers and assured users that their team is working on the issue.

    Currently we can only hope for the best. Knowing that their Kickstarter had exceeded the initial goal 5 times and that worldwide Kickstarter campaigns are by default quite a management challenge for startups, we are looking forward to updates.

    For now we just congratulate AirDog team and Latvian startup scene as a whole with a notable worldwide victory.