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Using the Sparrowscope, a kite, and a smartphone or iPod Touch, take aerial photos with wireless control from the ground!

I've been flying the Sparrowscope around Toronto, but check out some photos people have taken from kites around the world for inspiration!

Please help me get the word about this project (there are share buttons under the video), and thanks for your support!

Protip: sharing Sparrowscope pictures you took is a sure-fire way to amaze your friends. #SkySelfie
Protip: sharing Sparrowscope pictures you took is a sure-fire way to amaze your friends. #SkySelfie

Hey Kickstarter! My name is Ori Barbut. Since I finished my Master's of Engineering at the University of Toronto, I've been doing freelance robotics, electronics, and software design work. Since August of 2012, I've been focused on an idea I had for taking aerial photos with ease—the Sparrowscope.

The Sparrowscope securely mounts a smartphone (iPhone or Android) or iPod Touch (see FAQ for compatibility details) to a kite line, with motorized pan and tilt motion. It's easy:

Casa Loma in Toronto, photographed with the Sparrowscope and an iPhone. Click to see the original photo in full size!
Casa Loma in Toronto, photographed with the Sparrowscope and an iPhone. Click to see the original photo in full size!
 

The Sparrowscope either automatically rotates between different angles and takes pictures, or allows for wireless pairing (over wifi, so it doesn't use up your data plan) and remote control from a mobile device the ground (a tablet, smartphone or iPod touch). You can even see what the Sparrowscope sees!

The Sparrowscope pans by spinning the paddlewheel to push against the air, and tilts by turning the phone tray.
The Sparrowscope pans by spinning the paddlewheel to push against the air, and tilts by turning the phone tray.

Simplicity

The Sparrowscope isn't the first kite aerial photography rig, but if this project is funded it will be the most advanced one to ever be commercially produced. Before now, you'd be easily spending over $500 (assuming you know where to look for the best deals, and that you already own a camera for your the build-it-yourself rig) and a lot of time to set everything up in hopes that you'll eventually get the same results that you get out-of-the-box with the Sparrowscope. The Sparrowscope leverages the technology in your smartphone or iPod Touch to make kite aerial photography significantly easier and less expensive than ever before.

How it works

The Sparrowscope connects to your device via the headphone jack (cable included), using a open-source protocol which I developed (Arduinos and Raspberry Pis are welcome aboard; I have two bad puns for you in the FAQ). Those audio signals tell the Sparrowscope how quickly to tilt the device up or down using a tilt motor, and how fast to turn the paddlewheel so that the Sparrowscope will pan left or right.

The free app can remotely pair the device in the sky with another device on the ground, or can be set to Solo mode where no ground device is needed—the Sparrowscope automatically rotates and takes pictures.

The Solo mode options screen
The Solo mode options screen

The rear-facing camera of your device looks down through the cutouts of the Sparrowscope phone tray for taking pictures and providing a live preview from the sky.

The elastic harness will hold a phone securely with or without a case, and won't come loose even with the harshest vibrations. Though you should always use the Sparrowscope with all three harness cords, two cords will still hold your device securely.

The Sparrowscope has a Micro USB connector for charging the built-in lithium polymer battery, a recessed power button to avoid being accidentally pressed, and it powers down automatically to preserve the battery if you forget to turn it off. Run time depends on how much aiming you do, but it easily runs for two hours in normal conditions.

The first circuit board from the Sparrowscope, shown while I was testing the charging functionality.
The first circuit board from the Sparrowscope, shown while I was testing the charging functionality.

Models and upgrades

The Sparrowscope

There is only one model of the Sparrowscope, which is the same whether you get the base model or the backpacker model—what changes between those models is the kite itself. The Sparrowscope comes with an audio cord to connect to your device and a Micro USB cord for charging.

The kites

The base model delta is the Hi Sky Delta made by Gomberg Kites, made of ripstop nylon with a single-piece fiberglass spreader and a pair of matching tails.

The backpacker model parafoil is the Parafoil 10 kite made by Into The Wind; a beautiful kite that has no spars (the rods that make up the frame of a kite) so it packs down very compactly small included case. The top of the foil is white, letting light shine through for a stained glass effect of the bottom panels.

The designer delta upgrade was in the picnic scene at the beginning of the video; it's the Trooper, designed by Dan Leigh and manufactured by Into The Wind. It's made of Icarex polyester with a balloon keel that makes it even easier to fly. This kite looks absolutely stunning in the sun. Add CAD$98 (US$92) to your Sparrowscope + Delta pledge to substitute the base model for this designer delta.

The base model delta will come in a limited-edition case with the Sparrowscope logo on it.

A mock-up of how the Sparrowscope base model delta kite case will likely look.
A mock-up of how the Sparrowscope base model delta kite case will likely look.

Kite line

All kites come with 300ft of braided (not twisted!) dacron kite line, the best and safest choice for single-line kites.

Want to fly your kite even higher? Upgrade to a larger spool and 500ft of line by adding $12 to your pledge. This is particularly useful if you are flying anywhere downwind of tall buildings or trees, so you can fly the kite into clear air (above ground turbulence) with ease and still have line left to send the Sparrowscope up with.

Schedule

December

  • Kickstarter fundraising

January

  • Order tooling and have production samples produced
  • Place (what might be the largest ever) order of kites!
  • Finish porting app to Android

February

  • Receive and test first production samples
  • Buffer time for revisions in production samples

March

  • Buffer time for revisions in production samples
  • Finalize iOS (Apple) and Android apps

April

  • Start mass production
  • Finalize shipping logistics
  • Sparrowscopes and kites arrive at fulfillment warehouse

May

  • Ship rewards to backers!

Safety

The Sparrowscope is designed to securely hold your smartphone or iPod Touch, and by connecting to the kite line below the kite itself, you can get the kite flying in smooth winds (where it isn't affected by turbulence near the ground) before attaching the Sparrowscope.

I've tested over a dozen kites in a range of wind conditions to find which models will fly reliably and easily—you can see one of these tests in the following video.

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In all of my time testing, I've never damaged a phone or rig. But even with all of the safety considerations integrated into the Sparrowscope, using the Sparrowscope has risks that you take on your own: neither myself, the manufacturers of the Sparrowscope, components or accessories, nor Kickstarter are responsible for any damages to persons or property through the use of the Sparrowscope.

Every time you go out to take aerial photos, make sure you are flying in a safe space with no trees, power lines or other obstacles that the kite may reach. Have a clear area in front of you to land the Sparrowscope and retrieve it safely, and an area behind you in case you need to take a few steps back and pull in line. Fly the kite by itself first and get comfortable with it. If winds are too high, too low, or too inconsistent (gusts or direction changes), just come back another day. While flying, pay attention to changing wind and weather, and be ready to take your kite down if conditions are deteriorating. With some simple precautions, using the Sparrowscope can be fun and safe!

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

I've backed a lot of projects on Kickstarter. Based on that experience, I made a decision from the start that I wouldn't launch this project until the design was completely finalized and it was time to start tooling as the biggest delays tend to be the result of incomplete designs. The common adage is that last 20% of any design project takes 80% of the work, and I've found that to hold true for every project I've worked on.

That said, sometimes a designer needs to make changes once production samples arrive. Parts from several different manufacturing processes are coming together to produce the Sparrowscope, and any one of them could have some wrinkles that need to be ironed out. For that reason, I've allocated two full months of buffer time in the schedule for revisions to be made and new production samples to be tested before going into mass production.

Over the past year I have been dedicated to designing the best kite aerial photography rig, and I will continue just as dedicated in doing whatever it takes to get the Sparrowscope to you, and keeping you informed throughout the process with regular updates.

I look forward to seeing the great photos you'll take with your Sparrowscope!

FAQ

  • On the Sparrowscope, an iPod Touch (4th or 5th generation) or iPhone 4 or newer will work.

    On the ground, you can use any iPad, the iPhone 3GS or newer, or the iPod Touch (3rd, 4th, or 5th generation) can be used for remote control of the Sparrowscope.

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  • The app will work with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) or newer.

    On the Sparrowscope, any phone that is up to 140mm tall x 75mm wide will fit—that's basically any modern Android phone, but not a tablet/phone crossover. The most popular models, like the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Nexus 4 and 5, will all work.

    On the ground, any phone or tablet running Android 4.0 or newer can be used for remote control of the Sparrowscope.

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  • The signal used to control the Sparrowscope normally comes out of the headphone jack of the iPod Touch/smartphone that's attached to it. However, I've designed the encoding and the electronics so it will be easy to control with other devices.

    I've always loved opening gadgets up and tinkering with them (I might have made the first CD alarm clock when I was a kid), and I wanted to make this product 'hacker-friendly'. If you want to send up some cool aerial electronics project, you can use your Sparrowscope as an easy platform.

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  • You can finally do some real cloud-computing! The sky's the limit.

    ;)

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  • Kites are very light, but the shipping costs are still high because of their packed length. That's further amplified when trying to ship these kites outside of the US and Canada. For that reason, the reward tiers that include a delta kite are not available internationally.

    Fortunately, the backpacker kite really shines here—the no-spar design means it can ship in a reasonably-sized package, so the backpacker model is available worldwide.

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  • You don't need to have an internet connection for paired mode, the two devices just need to be able to communicate via wifi. Fortunately, most devices can create their own network.

    You configure one of the two devices as a wifi hotspot, and the other device connects to that 'network.' That's usually a feature called "Personal Hotspot" (on an iPhone), or "Tethering & portable hotspot" (Android), which you can find in the phone settings. Now that they are on the same network, the app running on the ground device can 'see' the app on the sky device and vice versa.

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Project by
Ori

Toronto, Canada

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    Every pledge helps! You'll be kept up-to-date on the project as it unfolds.

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    A postcard featuring aerial photos taken by the production-version Sparrowscope—a device you made possible! Picked at random, worldwide shipping included.

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    Full set of 5 postcards featuring aerial photos taken by the production-version Sparrowscope—a device you made possible! Worldwide shipping included.

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    ($55 USD) BASE MODEL DELTA: Go fly a kite! Support the project and get the same high-quality kite, carrying case with the Sparrowscope logo, tails, and 300ft of line as the base model, because flying a kite is fun even without taking photos. Does not include a Sparrowscope. Includes shipping to Canada or USA only.

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    ($190 USD) SPARROWSCOPE ONLY: Already have a high-quality kite suitable for lifting a rig? Get the Sparrowscope to start taking pictures with a smartphone or iPod Touch! This reward level does not include a kite or line. Includes shipping to Canada or USA, international backers add $15 to cover additional shipping.

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    ($234 USD) DELTA + SPARROWSCOPE: Get the base model delta kite, tails and 300ft of line, as well as the Sparrowscope! Save $13 by getting them together in this bundle. This is everything you need to lift your smartphone or iPod Touch into the sky. Includes shipping to Canada or USA only.

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    ($288 USD) BACKPACKER + SPARROWSCOPE: You get the sparless parafoil kite, a drogue tail, 300ft of line, as well a Sparrowscope, so you can bring the Sparrowscope with you on any adventure! Save $20 by getting them together in this bundle. Includes shipping to Canada or USA, international backers add $15 to cover additional shipping.

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    ($329 USD) DELTA + BACKPACKER + SPARROWSCOPE: You get the backpacker kite for taking on adventures, and the added low-wind capability of the base model kite when there isn't enough wind for a parafoil, as well as the Sparrowscope! Save $35 by getting them together in this bundle. Includes shipping to Canada or USA only.

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    BELIEVER: Thank you for believing in this project. You'll get one of the Sparrowscope prototypes to proudly display and a personal thank you letter from me. Of course, you'll want to get out there and fly a Sparrowscope too, so you'll get a production Sparrowscope laser-engraved with your name, as well as one of each of the base delta, designer delta, and backpacker parafoil kites. Ships to anywhere in the world.

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Funding period

- (30 days)