Using a kit called PowerUp 3.0, paper planes can become miniature drones. The kit offers a miniature propeller with a rudder for the back of the mini-vehicle, plus a small box on the front with a small, rechargeable battery and electronics that provide control over 180 feet via Bluetooth. The controlling app is available for iPhones and Android 4.3 devices.
But this is just the beginning of a new golden age for paper planes.
In the works is “a dogfight mode,” PowerUp North American sales manager Shen Vijayananthan told VentureBeat. “When your 3.0 plane gets close to another 3.0 [and is behind],” he said, “it will set off a signal to shut down [the other plane’s] engine, like ‘shooting it down.'”
In that context, it’s not surprising that the inventor of this new dimension for paper products is a former Israeli Air Force pilot, Shai Goitein, who developed the idea in 2006. Other PowerUp versions on the drawing board include multi-control, where two motorized planes can be controlled with one app.
Last fall, the company sought $50,000 for this project on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. It got that in eight hours, and went on to raise $1.2 million.
The 3.0 version now has 20,000 units coming out of production, which will “go straight to the [Kickstarter] backers,” Vijayananthan said. He added that the company hopes to have units for sale to the public by mid-August, with a suggested retail price of $49.99.
And then there’s plane design. PowerUp’s website offers what Vijayananthan described as “detailed folding instructions on how build a paper plane,” and there are reports of customers using the 3.0 kit to power a 3D model plane or even a toy flying saucer.
For the moment, the Federal Aviation Administration has said the PowerUp is a toy. It told the Wall Street Journal that users should “fly safe and have fun.”
But we’ll see what the FAA says when PowerUp or some competitor develops the next step is this do-it-yourself era of drones – more powerful propellers and electronics for larger craft.