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AirDog: A Hot Kickstarter for a Cool Idea

COW Library : Crowdfunding : Tim Wilson : AirDog: A Hot Kickstarter for a Cool Idea
CreativeCOW presents AirDog: A Hot Kickstarter for a Cool Idea -- Crowdfunding Editorial


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Crowdfunding expert (and successful coordinator of Kickstarter campaigns for her own films) Diana Ward Roark recently wrote a terrific article for Creative COW on what she's learned about successful crowdfunding efforts.

Her first piece of advice still strikes me as one that most people miss: if you're not committed to completing your project even if it's not funded, then you're not ready to ask other people to fund it for you.

Some of her other advice:

  • Study your platform of choice (typically Kickstarter or Indiegogo) to see which campaigns work and which don't

  • Identify a specific audience in mind, and build on their enthusiasm with a clear message

  • Have a well-thought out game plan
It really is a wonderful article that needs reading, or re-reading, by everyone considering crowdfunding, keeping in mind her additional observation that the category with the very lowest success rate is film projects.

Which brings me to AirDog.

There's no doubt that GoPro enthusiasts – and, really, is there such a thing as a GoPro owner who's not enthusiastic about it? – shooting action footage are a massive constituency. There's also no doubt that GoPro enthusiasts are driving the sharp uptick in camera drones for video production.

The folks at AirDog came up with an idea remarkable for both its simplicity and its immediately obviously usefulness: an auto-follow, gyro-stabilized GoPro drone tracking system based on a wrist-mounted transmitter known as AirLeash, with the ability to set the relative position of the drone (such as a specified height and angle relative to the wearer), for only $1495.

And in keeping with their goal of satisfying sports-oriented GoPro-ers, AirDog can work at high speeds, in extreme climates and environments, and at great heights. Skydiving, watersports, motocross, surfing – good to go, at a range of up to 1000 feet from the AirLeash.


The 3D-printed AirDog prototype. AirLeash.
Left, the 3D-printed AirDog prototype. Right: AirLeash. Click to enlarge.


In practice, then, even if the wearer of AirLeash is at, say, 10,000 feet (demo videos show as high as 14,000 feet), the height of AirDog above that isn't so impossible to believe. And with an auto-follow drone whose camera is always pointed in the right direction, both hands and both eyes can stay on the task, without having to also manage the drone.

It really is a very simple idea. The rider is wearing an AirLeash, so wherever he goes, AirDog goes. He's always in the frame, and the camera is gyro-stabilized for smooth footage.
It really is a very simple idea. The rider is wearing an AirLeash, so wherever he goes, AirDog goes. He's always in the frame, and the camera is gyro-stabilized for smooth footage.


They weren't only thinking about sports, though. They also imagined the possibilities for independent filmmakers, producers of commercials and music videos, and all kinds of other visual artists for whom aerial video was neither practical nor affordable.

Sports make cooler demos, though. Here's the first promo video they made. Note that it includes precisely zero post-production stabilization. This is AirDog footage, just as it was shot.





It's a very cool idea, but the Kickstarter campaign was hot. Its target was $200,000. They reached it in four days.

The funding pledged by the end of their campaign: $1,368,177, over six times the goal, making it one of only 0.027% Kickstarter projects to pass the $1 million mark.

I'll be honest: I was absolutely floored when I saw AirDog. You'll enjoy hearing about the product and its technology, even if you never plan to use it. But I was also floored by the Kickstarter campaign, by far the best I've ever seen. So let's take a look at both: the AirDog auto-follow GoPro drone, and the remarkable campaign that will be helping make it possible.





Stepping aside for a moment from the specifics of the product itself, the Kickstarter page is a masterpiece. In addition to crisp design, it features a careful elaboration of AirDog's features, specifics about its capabilities and the underlying technology, why they chose the technology they did, a team introduction, and a description of where the money will be going.

One of my favorite things on the page: a clear-eyed description of risks and obstacles. This is standard Kickstarter stuff, but the way these guys talked about it for AirDog made me feel that they understand exactly what it's going to take to bring it to market.

Spend a little time there yourself, see what you think.


AIRDOG'S CAMPAIGN

Mind you, I haven't seen any more of the product itself than you have at this point. I haven't held one or taken it for a spin. Your guess is as good as mine whether they can actually ship the thing. I think the signs are pointing in the right direction, though. In any case, as much as the product and the idea behind it, the campaign is what caught my eye. I dropped a line to Martins Villums of AirDog's makers, Helico Aerospace Industries, to ask about the campaign's specifics.

"We started really early, November 2013," Martins told me. "We studied successful Kickstarter projects, including all the do's and don'ts. Fun fact: we discovered that projects with bad grammar are less likely to succeed."

After that, Martins says, "We created content for our Kickstarter and web page, we created a media contact list, worked on our e-mail templates, press releases and so on."

They didn't actually launch the campaign just yet, because they didn't have anything to show. I think this is huge. They didn't ask people to pay for an idea. They asked people to help them bring to production something that already existed, and already worked remarkably well.

By early spring 2014, they had a couple of working prototypes that they'd printed with a 3D printer, as well as an early, very bulky, AirLeash prototype, so they headed to southwest Europe to capture aerial videos of action sports. You've seen some of the results already. Here's what they wrote at the time:


We met two insanely talented FMX athletes, Antonio Navas and Marc Pinol Guardia. We spent two days shooting wild moto-freestyle and motocross action using AirDog.

We attached AirLeash remotes to the rider's helmets as they raced their motocross course. To our surprise, AirDog was able to keep up with riders at speeds exceeding 70 km/h! This was the perfect test field for our technology. The athletes were executing can cans, ripping supermans, and doing backflips in their own backyard track. It was epic! These were the nicest guys you could ever meet – super friendly, open, fun-loving. What's more, they had insane talents on the bike! AirDog kept up with the insanity, completely dealing with the dust, speed, and erratic movement of the bikes.

Next, we travelled to France where we met local downhill longboard riders Benoit Lagardere and Toma Netliau. They cruised on their longboards down steep hills with AirDog keeping its eye on them from the skies. These boarders were doing standup slides while carving through narrow roads of French villages. We had to watch out for trees, so we set AirDog on a flying course with enough altitude to clear the trees. All the shots were incredibly stable considering the strong winds coming from the coast.



"We decided to go with Kickstarter only when we had a functional prototype and could do real follow-me video footage," Martins told me. "Then, one month before the campaign, we published our webpage (with limited information to begin) along with first teaser promo video, and a countdown to our campaign launch date: June 16."

Another part of their campaign that really struck me was their effort to tell their story. They contacted dozens of tech news, and even general news, outlets around the world: print, web, and television. The list included the BBC, Reuters, Bloomberg, CNBC, c|net, and Engadget, among others. They also reached out to sports-oriented reporters at Rollernews, Skiing, Dirt, Canada Motoguide and the like.

As part of their outreach to independent filmmakers, they reached out to still more outlets, including IndieWire and Creative COW.

"When we reached our goal after four days, we knew that this was the real deal, that people really want this technology – an auto-follow drone for their GoPros. It inspired us to work even harder." It also inspired them to quickly identify stretch goals. The first was simply to have AirDog available in multiple colors. Their next goal was to develop a backdoor charger for the camera, so that your GoPro is being charged by AirDog's own battery in flight. Nice!

Their third goal stretch goal was even nicer: building in automatic obstacle avoidance. With funding pledged, they plan to ship AirDog later this year.


The AirDog team<
The AirDog team


Along the way, they kept adding videos as updates to backers and potential backers. Some of those videos were to identify stretch goals and to show the progress being made toward them. Others were just to show new, cool things. My favorite is a piece with AirDog following a paraglider. Not as dynamic as motocross or surfing of course, and not quick-cut the way that action sports typically would be, but it's very elegant, and most important, illustrates a function that would otherwise be extremely difficult to replicate: one flying object at high altitudes following another.

Of course, the AirDog's altitude above the paraglider isn't very high at all, and there's the key. The hilly terrain, crossing over water, long distance covered, altitude – because of AirLeash, the control for the drone was always quite close, the camera was always pointing in the right direction, and the gyro-stabilized footage was always smooth.





(By the way, I found this at AirDog's YouTube channel, which has some other pretty cool stuff.)


NOT SO SECRETS TO SUCCESS

To review, here are the steps that AirDog followed. They're applicable to filmmaking Kickstarters too.

Carefully study similar campaigns that worked and ones that didn't. Map out steps to take, and steps to avoid.

Clearly define your audience. Diana Ward Roark mentioned the importance of this in her Creative COW analysis of film projects at Kickstarter. General-interest projects tend not to interest anyone. Sharpen your focus, or at least your message.

Have something persuasive to show. Parallel for filmmakers: it takes more than just a trailer. Anyone can make a trailer. Give people enough to persuade them that you can make your movie.

Reach beyond your immediate circle. Yes, start with friends and family, but don't just hope that people stumble across your page. If you've got a story worth telling, engage other people to help you tell it.

Show the progress you're making. This gets back to Diana's very first point: committing to do the project even without funding. There are obviously degrees of freedom here. It's not as if the folks at AirDog could actually start shipping without a successful Kickstarter campaign. If you could complete your movie without additional funding, you wouldn't be asking, right? But they didn't wait to get funded before doing the hardest part of the work.

So, for your film Kickstarter, what's the work you're doing while you're waiting for help?


You know the rest of what it takes to build a good campaign. Good writing. Good design. Good grammar. You have to get the basics right. More than right. You have to get them razor sharp.

A good idea factors in there somewhere, too. The thing is, the world is littered with great ideas. There's nothing cheaper, or, honestly, less fragile. Get too many great ideas, and none of them get done. Execute one poorly, and it may never live long enough to get a second chance.

Again noting that I only know what I've seen across the reviews I've read, the interviews I've watched, and the footage I've seen online, these guys appear to have gotten AirDog right – not just as an idea, but as a prototype that people around the world have been using already. The videos the team has shot themselves, and ones by the journalists who've been able to operate AirDog, are strong indicators that these guys are on the right track.

AND, they're showing the progress they're making, offering evidence that they're going to spend their funding wisely and effectively, and that they can deliver what they're promising.

"I think the main reason for such success with our Kickstarter campaign was that this product is really useful," says Martins."It is well thought out and designed, and we have created new demand for personal drones. We hope that AirDog will inspire people in their adventures as much as GoPro did."

I think it would also be pretty cool if AirDog also inspired you to create a Kickstarter campaign that's this hot.






Do you have a Kickstarter or Indiegogo project related to film and video production that we should know about? Have a success story to share? Drop a line to .

Comments

Re: AIRDOG: A HOT KICKSTARTER FOR A COOL IDEA
by Jamie Franklin
Great idea. Until the inevitable incident that ultimately results in these drones regulated by some pols pet cause...
Re: AIRDOG: A HOT KICKSTARTER FOR A COOL IDEA
by David Norman
the tech i amazing and the videos are great...

ocean, lake or wide open field are good places to use it... nothing to run into

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@David Norman
by Mark Suszko
Exactly, David. But will users limit themselves to such locations? Based on my assessment of human nature... no. And then, you REALLY need a safety pilot who's only concern is supervising the quadcopter and keeping EVERYONE safe.
Re: AIRDOG: A HOT KICKSTARTER FOR A COOL IDEA
by Mark Suszko
I have one worry about this technology: it tracks the subject wearing the AirLeash, but doesn't look where its going itself, so there is a possibility it will run into obstacles, even people, if the performer doesn't anticipate that during the programming stage. This is why, while I think the concept is cool, and the kickstarter campaign impressive, that I'm not down with the project, because it lacks a dedicated safety operator who's only job is to keep an eye out for everything going on around the quadcopter and person being tracked. The marketing stresses "set and forget", but I've seen what happens in an inadvertent quad crash. Now, if you added an ability for a safety man to monitor the flight and freeze/abort it instantly and remotely, I'd change my mind a bit. Without such a safety option, I think its usage should be highly regulated.


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