DON’T PIGEONHOLE TEAL AS just a racing drone. Sure, with a top speed of 85 mph, it is twice as fast as a DJI Phantom 4and it will leave almost every consumer drone eating its dust. But its appeal goes well beyond air speed.
Buying a drone typically means having a specific activity in mind. There are aerial photography drones, racing drones, follow-me around drones—it can all be a little overwhelming, particularly for someone who’s new to UAVs.Teal wants to solve this problem with a modular machine you can tailor to suit to your exact needs.
“Companies in the consumer drone space are focusing on a specific use-case,” says George Matus, Teal founder and CEO. “DJI has about 70 percent market share, and they’re focusing on aerial photography. Then there’s the Lily, the follow-me drone. A few out-of-the-box racers are good for FPV. But nothing that combines all those use cases.” In other words, Teal wants to be the drone for people who don’t know what they want to do with their drone.
Being all things to all people necessitated a flexible, modular design. The drone’s entire underbelly is a battery, and you get two of them in the box. Swapping one for another buys an additional 10 minutes of top-speed flight. A heavier battery (sold separately) will get you 20 minutes at lower speeds. The company is working on modules for sense-and-avoid systems and a thermal-imaging camera. Tucked inside the drone you’ll also fine an Nvidia TX1 board. Jack the UAV into a monitor, and you can use it as a computer.
There’ll also be an app store. Matus says the platform will have an open SDK that he hopes to see app developers and drone makers eventually adopt.
Teal’s versatility extends to its flying modes. It’s ready to race out of the box, and it can stay on course through 40 mph winds. It features novice-friendly follow-me modes and simple controls via mobile apps. More seasoned pilots can choose racing mode and a bulky remote control.
For high-speed FPV-racing, the Teal offers modules with low-latency cameras and analog transmitters. There’s a wide-angle camera for capturing 4K video and 13-megapixel stills built right in as well. The drone is small enough to fit in a backpack. Measuring 10 inches on the diagonal, the 1.6-pound machine is a curvy, durable mass of carbon-infused, injection-molded plastic.
Matus, who is 18, has built and flown these kinds of machines for nearly half his life. The CEO flew his first remote-control aircraft at age 11, and at 14, he started building his own drones. This year, he was a competitor on the TV showBattlebots. (Alas, the battle didn’t end well.)
His experiences inspired him to start designing this do-it-all drone. Two years ago, he started his company—then called iDrone—to work on his idea for the ideal consumer UAV. Since then, the company has raised $2.8 million in funding.
The recent high-school graduate won a 2015 Thiel Fellowship and a $100,000 grant. While the company’s name-change from iDrone to Teal seems like a reference to Peter Thiel, that apparently isn’t the case. Instead, the new name is a nod to the teal duck, one of the fastest birds on the planet.
The Teal’s blend of speed and versatility will cost you, but the price is right in line with the market-leading DJI Phantom series. At $1,300, the drone won’t be available to the general public until early next year, but there are incentives for preordering the quad now. The first 500 people to order one will receive a special-edition model, as well as a third 20-minute “endurance battery” thrown in. Those early birds will also receive their drones in time for the holidays, while everyone else will need to wait till 2017.