xCraft founder JD Claridge on innovating in the drone world

In October of last year, JD Claridge and his business partner Charles Manning stepped into the Shark Tank asking for $500,000 for 20% equity. They walked out with $1.5 million and a deal with all five sharks.

The product? The X PlusOne, a drone designed to switch from hover mode to flight mode, and whip along at 60 mph and heights up to 10,000 feet according to Claridge.

The drone, which gets its name from the X-wing inspired shape, with a subtle nod at the mathematical equation, is the brainchild of Claridge, a long-time aviation fanatic.

At seven years old he built a (mostly) functional hang glider and made his best friend flight test it. He went on to attend LeTourneau University, majoring in aerospace engineering, and continued in that field at Volant Technical and then Quest Aircraft.

Eventually, Claridge decided to run his own aerospace design firm, AeroDesign works. That’s where the fun began.

Building the X PlusOne

It was during this time that he began to fiddle with a side project, a design for a drone that he had come up with after noticing some problems that pilots were encountering. At the time, the two main types of drones were either airplane or multi-rotor, both of which offered certain qualities that the other did not.

“Multi-rotors are really good at sitting in one place…but not very efficient at moving quickly,” he said. “So if you’re trying to do something with speed and efficiency, or flying a long time, multi rotor is a horrible choice. They’re using power to support the weight, and that’s not a good way to do it.”

Meanwhile, airplanes excelled at speed, but failed when it came to control.

“For a pilot is was pretty much impossible to take off and land,” he said.

So? Claridge combined the two.

“The X Plus One is a hybrid that combines the connections of the multi rotors with the capabilities of the airplane,” he said.

xplusone

The design is an X shape, with four multi-rotors and a larger wing span. Pilots can now use vertical takeoff and hover, as well as fly the X PlusOne at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. Claridge thought of the idea while flying his own quad copter, and reimagining the design.

“It’s not a new concept overall,” Claridge said of the X PlusOne. “It’s implemented in a different way, and it’s definitely gotten some traction.”

Some traction is a bit of an understatement. In addition to the Shark Tank deal in October, the X PlusOne raised $143,400 in a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, almost 300% of their initial goal of $50,000.

Currently their main audience are drone enthusiasts and a few commercial companies that tote the section Federal Aviation Administration’s Section 333 exemption. The X PlusOne can be used to film with a GoPro as well; a recent commercial was filmed using the drone to create the perspective of a hawk as it soars through a valley. Others include car commercials, where a fast-flying drone is needed to keep up with the vehicle, Claridge said.

Meet the PhoneDrone

Of course, Claridge’s mind hasn’t stopped exploring new projects either. Up next is one that recently raised $325,952 on Kickstarter called the PhoneDrone. This is a drone that encases a smartphone in it, allowing users to fly their phone around and take photos from new heights.

“It’s he only drone that can take your phone to the third dimension,” Claridge said.

The idea came from parallels Claridge drew between the smartphone world and the drone industry.

“I saw that all the sensors used in drones were the same used in phones,” Claridge said. “What we also saw was – there’s really not right now, an app drone. What iPhone has done for phones, PhoneDrone can do for drones.”

Claridge recalls back to when the iPhone first came out, and people didn’t understand it. But then the exploration of apps began, and suddenly there was an app for everything. He hopes to see similar innovation happen with the introduction of the PhoneDrone.

“Now apps can be developed for a drone,” he said. “What does that open up?”

Claridge buffers concerns that phones could be damaged or lost by showcasing the material that protects the phone, as well as offering the alternative of using a cheap phone inside the drone.

They haven’t shipped any just yet, as they are still refining the product, Claridge said. But they do have thousands of pre-paid orders, he said.

“We’re in the final stages of refining the design for manufacturing. We’ve nailed down the factory that we’re using and moving forward with getting the bolts made,” he said. “We don’t want to overdo the first run.”

As for other projects behind the curtain at xCraft, Claridge hints that there are big things to come. For him, it’s simply a part of his brain to keep thinking of new ideas, new ways to fly.

“It’s something I can’t shut off,” he said. “It’s part of me. Flying objects. Developing new ideas. I can’t turn that off and I don’t really want to.”

 

Come and hear JD Claridge share more about xCraft, drones and the future, at Drone Focus Con 2016, June 1, 2016.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

, Drone Focus