Social media company Snap hasn’t had the best luck making and selling hardware. Still, it’s trying once again — this time with a miniature drone for taking casual photos and videos. It is the kind that it hopes you will share on its messaging app, Snapchat.
Snap chief executive Evan Spiegel announced the drone Thursday at its Snap Partner Summit. The Pixy — which can be ordered now but ships in 11 to 12 weeks — captures photos and videos at around the same quality as modern smartphones. It doesn’t have a controller and instead just floats up from your hand to do its business then comes back down.
Social media companies have been trying to break into hardware for the past few years. Spiegel has been using the line that Snap is a “camera company” since its initial public offering in 2017. However, actual cameras from Snap have been in short supply.
The company’s foray into hardware began with the original Spectacles, a pair of hyped-up sunglasses with cameras in the frame that could only be purchased at smiling yellow vending machines — or at the resellers who set up shop 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 Spectacles, its first wearable with built-in displays for augmented reality.
Facebook parent company Meta released similar glasses last year, called Ray-Ban Stories, that can shoot video and photos from small built-in cameras. The company has not released sales numbers for the product.
The glasses-with-cameras category has raised concerns from experts about privacy and surveillance, going back to Google’s own attempt, Google Glass. Adding small, hard-to-spot cameras and microphones to a standard accessory might make hands-free videos and photos easier to take, but it is difficult for subjects to know when they’re being recorded and give consent.
Snap was rumored to be 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. Snap’s official launch of drone technology puts the company in competition with incumbents like DJI, the popular Chinese drone maker.
Other companies have tried, and failed, to make similar casual drones. GoPro launched its doomed Karma drone in 2016 and discontinued it less than two years later. ZeroZero Robotics made the Hover Camera Passport, which is no longer available on its site. 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, the Pixy has some key differences from many of the drones currently flying. There is no way to manually fly Snap’s drone — instead, it flies along one of four preset flight plans to act as an airborne photographer. And while the Pixy comes with 16 gigabytes of onboard storage, there doesn’t appear to be a way to add more when needed.
That means that once the Pixy is full of photos and videos (or “Snaps,” in the company’s parlance), customers can’t swap memory cards and start capturing more. Instead, it is meant to transfer that media to a smartphone, at which point photos and videos can be edited inside the Snapchat app. The bigger limiting factor, though, might be the drone’s battery life.
The company says the Pixy can be sent out for five to eight flights off a single charge of its included battery, and naturally, Snap will sell additional battery packs to keep the drone flying and shooting longer.