Smartphone makers have been using camera features to help set their devices apart for years. Some phones take stellar shots from one or two cameras. Others have a bunch of cameras to cover everything from wide-angle to telephoto photography.

Now it looks like Chinese phone maker Vivo is considering something different. Very different. The company has filed for a patent on a smartphone that uses a flying drone as its camera system.

The folks at Let’s Go Digital spotted a recent listing for the patent application at the World Intellectual Property Office. Vivo filed the paperwork in December, 2020, but it was published July 1, 2021.

Keep in mind that companies file for patents on designs that never see the light of day all the time. There’s no guarantee that Vivo will ever actually produce a phone/drone hybrid of this type, and it honestly seems rather unlikely.

But it’s not like it’s impossible. The technology for flying cameras already exists. All Vivo would need to do is pack it into a design compact enough to fit inside a phone when you’re not actively using it.

Anyway, here’s the idea – the concept phone shown in drawings looks like a standard phone. But when you want to use the flying camera drone, it slides out from inside the phone, revealing a battery-powered device with four propellers to keep it aloft, at least two cameras (one on top, one on the side), and three infrared sensors.

The system would hypothetically allow you to capture images or videos that would be impossible to record using a normal smartphone camera held in your hand. You could get high above the action for aerial shots, for example. Or you could direct the camera to hard-to-reach, or far-away locations before it returns to your location to reconnect with the phone.

You’d most likely use your phone to remote control the camera drone, but its integrated IR sensors could help prevent it from crashing into objects.

Since this is just a concept at this point, there’s no word on what kind of battery life you’d expect, how far the drone would be able to fly without losing the signal, whether it can beam imagery to your phone in real-time or if it would save data when docked, or any of the other million questions that spring to mind.

The whole thing reminds me of the Nixie flying drone that generated buzz in 2014 when it won an Intel wearable design award, but which never actually came to market as a real product. But drone technology has come some way since then. Even Amazon is getting in on the action – last year the company introduced a Ring Always Home Cam flying camera that’s intended to function as part of a Ring home security system. It’s expected to sell for $249 when it goes on sale sometime this year.

I somehow doubt that flying cameras will the future of smartphone photography. But given the smartphone camera arms race, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if Vivo or another company at least gave it a try.

Vivo is no stranger to trying unusual things after all – last year the company introduced the first smartphone with a gimbal-style image stabilization system. Vivo was also one of the first companies to adopt pop-up selfie cameras (a trend which has largely disappeared), and in-display fingerprint sensors (which are still a thing, for better or worse).

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  1. Smartphone makers: oh no, slightly increasing the battery took up all the space from the headphone jack, looks like you’ll have to buy a pair of BT earbuds!
    Also smartphone makers: ha-ha look we can fit a small helicopter inside your phone now! Also still no headphone jack…

  2. Where’s the magnifying glass, corkscrew, tweezers, and leather-punch accessories?