When Amazon unveiled its plans to launch delivery drones into the sky in December 2013, suddenly, a slew of people were a lot more interested in drones and the things we can do with them.
Trace, a startup based in Venice Beach, Calif., is one of a slew of companies looking to find new uses for these unmanned aerial machines, which is the technical name for drones. But instead of sending them to your door with your pizza delivery, Trace is hoping to change the way people create and consume user-generated video content.
Trace has built an “intelligent camera” dubbed as the Tracer1, which is self-operated and can follow a subject by locking onto a logo or pattern on his or her clothing. The company plans to sell the camera alongside three portable, motorized vehicles: a quadcopter for aerial shots, an ATV the size of a remote-controlled car, and a tripod with a gimbal head, allowing for very precise control of the camera lens. The Tracer1 camera is interchangeable, meaning it can be slotted in and out of the tripod and drones at will, depending on the kind of shooting a user wants to do.
On Tuesday, Trace announced it had landed $2.5 million in funding in a round led by Salman Partners, with additional funding coming from the Business Instincts Group Network. The idea is to allow users to record themselves while playing sports or doing stunts at the skate park – something similar to what GoPro is doing, only Trace gets a third-person view of users’ exploits without needing their friends to hold a camera.
“We just thought, wouldn’t it be cool if everything could be live all the time? Rather than having to have a GoPro or a camera and always be taking pictures of things, what if that was just automatic?” says Cameron Chell, Trace’s CEO. “I could just have a drone following me and filming me.”
This isn’t Chell’s first foray into a startup that prides itself on its cameras and visual tech. Trace is actually one of a handful of startups linked to the Business Instincts Group, which is made up of a core group of shareholders and partners who have built their own companies over the years.
With offices in Canada and the U.S., Business Instincts Group first made a name for itself with UrtheCast, a company which put two cameras on the International Space Station to stream footage of space online. But at ITBusiness.ca, we’ve also covered a few of the others, like visual search startup Slyce and Vogogo, a startup that helps businesses process cryptocurrency and fiat currency transactions.
While all of these startups are separate companies, the group’s specialty is coming up with intriguing ideas and seeing if they can bring them to market, says Chell, who is also the CEO of Business Instincts Group.
“What we love doing is creating really cool projects and doing things that weren’t thought to be possible, or not practical,” Chell says. “We don’t do analysis up-front to determine, how big is the market, and can we make money at it – that’s so far down the list for us. We just want to fuel our desire to create and to build.”
Chell adds to support these projects, Business Instincts Group will try to take its startups public much earlier than the norm, at least among startups that are bootstrapping or backed by VCs. That allows them to drum up the funding required to get their projects built.
This approach to quickly building startups also applies to their internal terms. Chell was originally the CEO of Slyce, helping to take the startup to market until he judged it ready enough for another CEO to come in and build the company up further.
With Trace, he plans to stay on as CEO for at least another year or two as the startup continues to develop its prototypes and to attract customers. He adds he expects the tripod to become available in September 2015, while the drones should be ready in the fall or winter of 2015. In the meantime, he and his team are brainstorming different ways of monetizing Trace’s technology.
Chell envisions footage being directly live-streamed through the user’s data connection on his or her smartphone. Eventually, the company hopes to launch a network showing live-streamed content, so people can watch cool stunts all day, everyday. Like YouTube, Trace would make money from advertising and sponsorships.
Chell adds there could also be plenty of business and productivity-related use cases for the Trace camera, too. For example, police officers, emergency aid workers, and security guards could make use of a camera that could stream footage of different areas. And of course, creative digital marketers could always create campaigns around cameras and drones, like taking event footage.
Pricing is set at around $300 for the camera, as well as $300 for each motorized vehicle. However, buying a camera and vehicle together would be $500.