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This startup is letting people fly drones remotely all over the world for just $7

·Senior Writer

Sometimes, you want to get away but don’t have the time. Now, there’s a startup for that.

FlyThere, a new startup that lets people remotely fly drones all around the world from their own laptops for about $7 a flight, is branding itself as a quick way to travel without actually traveling.

“You can experience the world in a truly immersive way through the eyes of a drone,” FlyThere CEO Tal Fromchenko told Yahoo Finance’s YFi PM. “We have drone operators standing by in the most exotic locations — places like Thailand, Bali, Brazil — waiting for our users to remotely pilot these drones in real time.”

The platform, which lets drone owners in exotic countries leverage their own expensive drones to get paid, launched its beta in October 2018 and has been fully operational as of its June launch. Fromchenko says FlyThere racked up more than 10,000 total flights during its testing period thanks in large part to word of mouth from customers who, like Fromchenko, might have otherwise not been able to explore new areas.

“Recently, my first child was born and that made traveling a bit more challenging,” he said, explaining the impetus for the idea. “FlyThere is my getaway now.”

Testing out a FlyThere flight

Part of FlyThere’s initial problem was convincing people that they could actually fly a drone from their laptop on the other side of the world in real time.

“You have no idea how many users told us this was a fraud,” Fromchenko says, “and then they try it and say, ‘Woah.’”

As someone who has never flown a drone, I was curious to see how involved controlling a drone thousands of miles away might actually be. To answer that, we decided to put FlyThere to a live test.

After creating an account, users can sign up for a monthly subscription or buy credits on a per-flight basis. A five minute flight averages about $7.50. Drone operators list their flight availability for different hours and after about a three minute waiting period, I’m matched with a drone owner in Cancun, Mexico, named Yair.

According to Fromchenko, drone operators are paid a day rate to be available to launch FlyThere customer flights and be there on the ground to supervise flights. The company has a contract with each operator and the rates are confidential.

“They will make sure you stay safe,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s their equipment. They are the [legal] operator.”

With a wave of his hand on the impressive live video feed, Yair let’s me take the controls. Admittedly, it took a couple of minutes to learn how the keys on my keyboard were moving the two-pound drone flying above Cancun traffic, but eventually I get the hang of it.

FlyThere lets users snap pictures mid-flight, like this view overlooking a waterpark in Cancun, Mexico during our test flight. [FlyThere]
FlyThere lets users snap pictures mid-flight, like this view overlooking a waterpark in Cancun, Mexico during our test flight. [FlyThere]

Flying a little too close to people at a nearby water park elicits a warning from Yair. “You can’t fly over people so maybe be a little careful over there,” he tells me.

Based on feedback, FlyThere recently added the ability to take pictures and record a full flight. Just as I snap a couple shots of dolphins by the beach, Yair lets me know my time is up before resuming control for the landing.

Overall, the experience of flying a drone thousands of miles away from my desk in real time is incredibly impressive. The latency is nearly non-existent, which Fromchenko says was critically important to replicate the feeling of normally flying a drone. As another revenue stream, the hope is that others might want to passively watch live flights as well.

“We’re now working strongly on the ability to broadcast your flight,” he says. “Sort of like Twitch on steroids.”

Outside of consumer-use cases, FlyThere is also pitching investors on more business applications as well, including resort tours for prospective customers looking to book travel and stadiums potentially live streaming pre-game festivities.

For now though, Fromchenko is focused on adding more and more locations and drone operators to the list of sites across Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, Bali and Brazil.

“We want to tap into the gig economy and let anyone with a drone operate and make money flying,” he says. Just don’t make the mistake of labeling his company “the Uber of drones,” Fromchenko jokes.

“It doesn’t sound as good if I pitch it as the Uber of drones.”

Yahoo Finance’s McKenzie Stratigopoulos contributed to this report

Zack Guzman is the host of YFi PM as well as a senior writer and on-air reporter covering entrepreneurship, startups, and breaking news at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @zGuz.

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