Maybe you caught the talk by the Kickstarter cofounder at the Walker Art Center the other night? If so, perhaps you ran into one of the team members of Minneapolis-based startup QFO Labs — the latest Minnesota product gurus to launch an ambitious project on Kickstarter. The trio seeks to raise $230,000 on the site by November 13. And it’s off to a great start, with backers including Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of WIRED, and the very successful Kickstarter projects Pebble (which has now raised $10.2M) and SmartThings (our coverage here), along with WIRED’s Geek Dad, who published an awesome post about QFO Labs recently.
What’s it all about? QFO Labs describes its project as “real-life aerial gaming with a flick of the wrist.” The product combines a single-handed controller that makes a palm-sized quadcopter mimic your movements. But this is no ordinary copter. I had the opportunity to meet one of the team members, COO Jim Fairman, and learned this group has been developing and perfecting its remote control quadcopters for more than five years.
The three-member team has skills that include electrical engineering, software development, estimation and control systems, material science, product management, and intellectual property management. The three first met through a new product development course at the University of Minnesota in 2007. “We have a broad range of experience in areas such as unmanned aircraft systems, manufacturing process improvement, medical device design, and even running a science museum,” said Fairman.
The controller, called “Mimix,” was designed to provide an intuitive experience. And what it also means is no more two-handed flying! As it is tilted forward, back, left, or right, the “NanoQ” copter responds “just like you think it should, so you feel engaged and in control,” says the Kickstarter page. QFO Labs says the ergonomic design of the Mimix controller is based on U.S. Air Force Human Factors data for aircraft controls. “By using the latest sensors, radios, and processors, Mimix puts you in command with precise, crisp control … so simple that flying becomes second nature.” The other cool description QFO uses is this: “Now you can fly by feeling instead of thinking.”
QFO says its product will enable real-life, multi-player aerial games – indoors or out. Think multi-team dogfighting. You select your team through the Mimix controller, and the LEDs then display your team colors on both the NanoQ and the Mimix. With a pull of the trigger, you unleash a photon burst at your opponent. If you hit their sensor pod, you score.
Here’s the video the team posted on Kickstarter:
QFO Labs says this first product is just the beginning. Ship date is projected to be March 2013. The company plans to introduce a series of products for real-life 3D gaming, and wants suggestions from its Kickstarter backers on what they’d like to see for future games. Beyond gaming, “our team has many more ideas about what to do with the technology behind the Mimix and NanoQ,” it says.
Hackers Take Note!
The NanoQ uses an open communications protocol. You can connect your computer to the Mimix through the USB port or optional USB RF dongle and communicate wirelessly with the NanoQ to:
• Tweak the control parameters
• Update the NanoQ firmware
• Send control commands directly from a laptop
• Send customized signals out of the IR transmitter
• Receive craft telemetry such as attitude, control commands, and even raw sensor data
You can even connect your own electronics payload, like an Arduino, camera, or home-brewed project to the auxiliary serial (UART + power) port on the NanoQ. And QFO promises a Developers Forum on its web site where everyone can share in their achievements.
How to Back the QFO Labs Project
Just go to the Kickstarter page here and select your Reward Level. I did — I’m a backer! And I encourage the Minnesota tech community to do the same…
Help support more awesome Minnesota tech innovation — help the QFO Labs team reach their goal on Kickstarter. Their deadline of November 13 is only 16 days away!