The Snap Pixy drone would like to take your picture

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Social media company Snap has not had the best of luck manufacturing and selling hardware. Still, it tries again – this time with a miniature drone to take casual photos and videos. It’s the kind it’s hoping you’ll share on its messaging app, Snapchat.

Pixy is a square $ 230 drone in a light shade of yellow. It is the size of your palm and designed to require as little drone flying skills as possible. The toy-like design tries to make the flying camera look so friendly that people might overlook any consequences for privacy.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced the drone on Thursday at his Snap Partner Summit. Pixy – which can be ordered now, but will be shipped in 11 to 12 weeks – takes pictures and videos in about the same quality as modern smartphones. It does not have a controller and instead just floats up from your hand to do its business and then comes down again.

Social media companies have been trying to break into hardware for the last few years. Spiegel has been using the line that Snap is a “camera company” since its first IPO in 2017. But actual cameras from Snap have been in short supply.

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The company’s entry into hardware began with the original Spectacles, a pair of hyped sunglasses with cameras in the frame, which could only be purchased at smiling yellow vending machines – or at the retailers who established stores around them. The company last released a pair of camera glasses to the public in 2019, and it has since focused its efforts on its next-generation glasses, its first laptop with built-in screens for augmented reality.

Facebook’s parent company Meta released similar glasses last year, called Ray-Ban Stories, that can record video and photos from small built-in cameras. The company has not published sales figures for the product.

The glasses-with-cameras category has raised concerns from privacy and surveillance experts, going back to Google’s own experiment, Google Glass. Adding small, hard-to-see cameras and microphones to a standard accessory can make hands-free videos and photos easier to take, but it is difficult for subjects to know when they will be recorded and give consent.

It was rumored that Snap was working on a drone as far back as 2017, and after those rumors began to solidify last year, the company finally managed to build its flying camera. Snaps’ official launch of drone technology puts the company in competition with established companies like DJI, the popular Chinese drone manufacturer.

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Other companies have tried, and failed, to make similar casual drones. GoPro launched its doomed Karma drone in 2016 and stopped it less than two years later. ZeroZero Robotics created the Hover Camera Passport, which is no longer available on their website. And in 2015, a company called Lily Robotics made an incredibly similar drone specifically for capturing selfies and other social media-friendly moments, but it cost $ 1,000. That company has since closed.

Despite similar attempts in the past, Pixy has some important differences from many of the drones flying at the moment. There’s no way to manually fly Snaps’ drone – instead, it flies along one of four preset flight planes to act as an airborne photographer. And although the Pixy comes with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, there does not seem to be a way to add more when needed.

This means that when the Pixy is full of photos and videos (or “Snaps”, in the language of the company), customers can not swap memory cards and start capturing more. Instead, the media is meant to be transferred to a smartphone, after which photos and videos can be edited inside the Snapchat app. However, the biggest limiting factor may be the drone’s battery life.

The company says the Pixy can be sent out for five to eight flights from a single charge of its included battery, and of course, Snap will sell additional battery packs to keep the drone flying and shooting longer.

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