Flybrix Mini-Review

As someone who loved building and playing with Legos as a kid and loves flying and tinkering with multirotors now, I knew as soon as I learned about it that I had to check out Flybrix, but because it doesn’t really fit with my usual video structure (and other reasons that will soon become obvious) this won’t be one of my usual full-length reviews, but more akin to a “quick look” or “mini-review”.

Video review:

Transcript:

As understood of from the official website, Flybrix is the name of both the company and its product, the company being a three person Silicon Valley startup and the product a kit – of which there are a two varieties – for building multirotors out of Lego: A basic one with smartphone control only and a “deluxe” one with a DSM2 receiver module and a re-branded Blade transmitter.

Included in both kits you’ll find…

  • A moderate assortment of Lego bricks needed to assemble the three suggested models: Some original and some obviously custom, like these motor mount pieces
  • An all-in-one flight controller, voltage regulator and power distribution “flight board”: I believe this is a custom Teensy 3.2 Arduino compatible development board
  • 8 brushed motors with pin headers for easy attachment to the flight board
  • An assortment of propellers and a wrench for removing them
  • 2 single-cell 380 mAh LiPo batteries with Losi Micro connectors
  • A USB charging cable
  • A USB-to-micro USB cable for connecting the flight board to a computer (more on this later)

What you won’t find included in the kit is instructions of any kind, just a leaflet instead redirecting you to the official website which hosts these in both printable and interactive form.

The instructions are written with emphasis on experimentation, creativeness and learning-by-doing. I think they strike a good level of information, informative while still keeping things moving, and – for the most part – do a good job of guiding you through the process of building the three suggested models: a quadcopter, an octacopter and a hexacopter.

Whether based off the provided designs or your imagination, the process of putting a multirotor together is easy thanks to the custom pieces that fits nicely with both original Lego bricks and the RC components included in the kit. The actual building process takes only 15-20 minutes, with the possible exception of the octacopter with its 8 motors and as many wires to keep track of.

Flying your finished creations can be done either with your smart device of choice over Bluetooth or – if you got the “deluxe” kit – the included (or any DSM2 compatible) transmitter. This is where you could say things, both literally and figuratively, start coming apart. Two things kept me from enjoying the flight aspect of Flybrix:

Firstly, out-of-the-box (at least when using the transmitter) none of my creations (not even designs straight from the instruction manual) flew well: Responding either not at all or way too much, making flight for more than a couple of seconds at a time practically impossible. I figured this was a software issue and – sure enough – by changing a few parameters of the flight board via the official Chrome app, I was able to mitigate most of this.

Secondly, more often than not the multirotors I build fall apart, either gradually in the air or completely at the point of takeoff. I don’t know if this is the custom bricks being ever so slightly off in terms of fit, if the included bricks wear down a little with use or simply that Lego brick in general don’t have the right properties to support the weights and forces involved for long. What I do know is that this was the point where Flybrix started to feel less like play and more like a chore to me.

This is also the point where this review kind of runs out of steam, not least because I’m out of usable footage and a little tired of spending 15 or so minutes of building for every attempt to capture more.

As you’ve probably already surmised, I can’t recommend Flybrix. At the same time, I dont take any pleasure in bashing a small start-up that seems to genuinely care about their product. While individual aspects, like the well-written instructions and reliable apps for both computer and smartphone may stand out, basics, like multirotors that fly right and don’t disintegrate are just not there.

There are also higher level problems, like who Flybrix is actually for. The tone and level of depth varies a lot between the different apps and sources of information. While this is spun as Flybrix being a product for everybody, I’m more inclined to think the opposite (except possibly people into electronics or coding due to the programmable flight board and open source code): If you’re a beginner, the instructions won’t cover all available features and if you’re more experienced, you probably won’t see the point as you can just as well build a better “real” multirotor for less money.

Flybrix isn’t crowdfunded, but feels like it could have been. It has a great sounding idea and a very polished pitch, which is fine as long as that idea works as well as it sounds and all that emphasis on selling you on it doesn’t come at the cost of the actual product being delivered. Sadly, I don’t feel this is the case with Flybrix.

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