Mar. 14, 2015 | By Alec

Remember the ELF 3D printed quadcopter? While 3D printed quadcopters themselves aren’t usual nowadays, this particular pocket-sized drone (launched last October) gathered a lot of attention last year for its awesome virtual reality compatibility. But now, the Chinese company ElecFreaks who developed it are back for more. They launched a crowdfunding campaign for their follow up model: the 3D printed ELF hexacopter drone, and it looks like its flying towards success at an alarming speed. They have already gathered 102% of their intended goal in pledges in just two days.

That success is hardly surprising, as the ElecFreaks team have come up with a wonderful, very modular and fully hackable drone that will appeal to geeks in all shapes and sizes. And like its illustrious predecessor, it will put virtual reality in your hands for just a few bucks. "ELF is your nanocopter and high definition (HD) aerial photo robot that fits in your pocket and enables anyone to capture videos and photos from the sky," they write. "ELF features both cutting-edge technologies and fully hackable platform, all specifically designed for ease, joyful and affordable piloting experience."

This 3D printed drone is in every way an updated version of the ELF quad that has been born out of a desire for high quality and affordable aerial photography. "We’ve been into the research of drones for some time, initially wanted a solution that is small enough, seamless and reliable for new comers and experienced technologies alike," Senior Engineer Robi Wang revealed. "One fundamental limitation of existing aerial photography drone design, is the inaccessibility to ultra-realistic flight experience. The concept that integrates virtual reality jumped out as a ways."

While 3D printed drones themselves aren’t so special anymore nowadays, the ELF’s virtual reality option adds a whole new dimension to it all. And instead of relying on the very expensive Occulus Rift, ELF relies on the cardboard-smartphone option. Simply insert your smartphone in the cardboard goggle set, and the app does all the work. "The virtual reality cardboard toolkit creates 3D image by sending each eye its own information. It’s a very low cost alternative for other VR devices that sit at high-price point if you’re not looking for hundreds more dollars in cost," the guys from ElecFreaks argue.

A preview of the drone's VR options.

It’s also remarkably simple, relying on Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi connections to photograph and record whatever you want. "No flying skills required, no stereotyped perspective, just great-looking live videos in 3D. One person flies, while the other view very realistic live aerial shots through cardboard," they explain. It is therefore a perfect device for the latest selfie phenomenon: the ‘dronie’, and its developers promise that the 720P HD video camera that comes with the ELF will capture perfect aerial footage every time.

But perhaps more interesting for 3D printing enthusiasts out there is the drone’s completely programmable, hackable and modular nature. As its developers explain, its utterly open source and users are encouraged to modify and redefine all of the drones functionalities and options. "Open source also means there’s no limitations (if still some) to what you can make from it. Anyone can learn and start building your own ELF with released files including main board design, electronics layout, schematics, etc.. We take open source seriously."

And of course 3D printing is at the core of the ELF drone. True to the spirit of open source development, all the 3D printable files for the ELF hexacopter are already released through Thingiverse (which you can find here). These can be 3D printed at home (or customized, if you prefer)  in either ABS or PLA, though you will need to separately order all the electronic hardware to make it fly.

Alternatively, backing their Indiegogo campaign will enable you to get a completely 3D printed kit, alongside the hardware, sent to your home. "We provide 3D printed hull and motor mounts in the kit. You can directly set them up to your ELF. No soldering, no screw is required," they reveal. "We adopt super compact sophisticated design, you can stuff it in your pocket and go. It’s ready to fly the moment you pull it out with everything you need out of the box."

That crowdfunding campaign is necessary for gathering the funds for actual production, rather than for further developed as is the case for many other campaigns. That means that your model can be delivered to your home as soon as July. Interested? Go to ElecFreak’s Indiegogo page here.

The ELF drone in flight:



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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