Snap is mostly known for its sticky social network consisting of fleeting messages and legitimately impressive augmented reality filters. But every so often Snap, which calls itself a “camera company,” produces new hardware. Things get a little weird. This is one of those times.
During its annual Snap Partner Summit today, the company showed off a flying camera, the type of device otherwise known as a drone. Called Pixy, this flat, yellow plastic copter is designed to pair with the Snapchat app, lift off from the palm of its owner’s hand, quickly capture a photo or video, and zoom back down to the person’s palm, probably at Coachella. The captured media is then wirelessly shared to Memories in the Snapchat app, where Snap’s signature AR filters and video effects can be applied.
The tiny drone costs $ 230. For $ 20 more, you can buy a Pixy kit bundled with two extra batteries. You’ll probably need the extra batteries, because a fully charged Pixy will be able to complete somewhere between five and eight short flight paths before requiring a recharge. (A palm-sized drone that weighs less than a pound doesn’t exactly allow for big batteries.)
Pixy will appeal to a specific kind of Snap user, and Snap knows this too: It’s only selling a limited number of units, “while supplies last,” in the US and France. In an interview with WIRED about the drone and Snap’s broader AR goals, cofounder and technology chief Bobby Murphy wouldn’t say how many he expects will sell, though he says the company’s goal is to “create something that really resonates with our community.” That seems to align with the company’s earlier hardware efforts. From its Spectacles camera glasseswhich were at first only available via a Snap-branded vending machine when they launched in 2016, to the AR glasses it showed off last spring, which were only available to developers, Snap is very good at generating buzz around, not necessarily revenue from, its hardware business.
That doesn’t mean the hardware products developed in Snap’s labs aren’t technologically significant. Snap released video-capture glasses years before the much more influential Meta did. Last year AR-capable Spectacles offered a glimpse of immersive and delightful AR lenses, as Snap calls them, viewed through the glasses on your face. This new drone Pixy relies on computer vision and object recognition technology to identify people’s faces and body parts, so it can follow or “orbit” around Pixy users, capture the best possible photo or video clip, and afterwards land itself in the palm of one’s hand.
“We’re looking forward to evolving Pixy and really uncovering all the different ways that a computer-vision driven flying camera can add value,” Murphy says.
Still, both in conversation with Murphy and during Snap’s virtual partner summit today, the company made it clear that its focus is squarely on its AR technology. Snap stands out for a few reasons in the broader social media landscape, and one of those reasons is its AR tech. (It’s also worth noting that Snap has many more millions of daily active users than Twitter does, which has sucked up all the air in the news this week due to Elon Musk’s purchase and planned privatization of Twitter.)