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Open Source Technology

Inside Chris Anderson's Open-Source Drone Factory 56

the_newsbeagle writes "The former editor of Wired is betting that the 21st century skies will be filled with drones, and not the military sort. His company, 3D Robotics, is building open-source UAVs for the civilian market, and expects its drones to catch on first in agriculture. As noted in an article about the company's grand ambitions: 'Farms are far from the city's madding crowds and so offer safe flying areas; also, the trend toward precision agriculture demands aerial monitoring of crops. Like traffic watching, it's a job tailor-made for a robot: dull, dirty, and dangerous.' Also, farmers apparently wouldn't need FAA approval for privately owned drones flying over their own property."
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Inside Chris Anderson's Open-Source Drone Factory

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  • Hmmm... who else might be interested in a UAV for fun, sport, or clandestine bombing runs?
    • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:13PM (#46353689)

      Heh, you should look at what ArduPilot is capable of.

      Anyone can own a fully autonomous vehicle, be it land, sea or air. ArduPilot/ArduCopter/ArduRover will fly/sail/drive pretty much anything, fully autonomous, with waypoints automatically or using remote control telemetry. It can live track a target (using GPS data from a ground station) or carry out a mission like a 'bomb drop' all on its own.

      I drop water balloons from mine on my dogs for fun and games, they love it, I've only done a couple fully autonomous missions, but it most certainly will fly its course and do what its told and do it exactly where it was supposed to. I've been unable to get it to drop a water balloon down my chimney, but it hits within about 6 feet EVERY TIME.

      That is MORE than accurate enough to do damage.

      Fun however, is first person view obstacle course races with a couple friends. All the thrill of flying an airplane through places you shouldn't, and some serious risk when you consider that you could lose $1,000 worth of autopilot and camera gear. The quads themselves are cheap, mine is custom built now, if you exclude the autopilot itself, camera gear and radios, the quad is actually cheaper than any of my other RC aircraft.

      Its also the one with the shortest range and lowest payload.

      These autopilots now days may not rival military tech, but they are so close that it makes me want them to bring back GPS dithering almost. This thing could EASILY be made into a lot of death.

      Of course, so can a truck full of fertilizer if you know what you're doing. Except this thing will fly itself to the target while you drive the other direction. Thats the scary part.

      • It was astonishing to Westerners, at least the ones I've interviewed, how many Jihadi soldiers were initially willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. You could stand outside Walmart all day long promising eternal happiness in exchange for the sacrifice of a single pinkie toe, and not fill a thimble with pinkie toes for all your trouble.

        The attacks we labeled as suicide bombings were renamed martyrdom by the clerics for good reason: suicide is frowned upon (eTrade baby voice) in the Koran. But still, even

      • I own 2 APM's, one on my quad, and one of my hex, and they are AWESOME bit of kits. Fun as all get out to fly, and when I want to do some easy flying missions they do that very well as well. For a hundred dollar flight controller they do as much or more than many costing up to 10 times as much.
        And while I'm not a huge fan of 3DR, the fact they are open source, allows me to get Clones that are just as good and not have to deal with 3DR directly, so it is a win win for me ::)
      • Perhaps it wouldn't be completely infeasible to consider a large fixed-wing model aircraft (like a C-130 model?) programmed to autonomously land on an aircraft carrier? One nice and stable and stationary, like in Norfolk Naval Yard? With an onboard video camera transmitting to an external recorder of course, since the Navy probably wouldn't have much of a sense of humor about this sort of thing and you might not want to ask for it back.

        Sure would make for a hell of a Youtube video though :-)

        Not that I'm s

  • by cupantae ( 1304123 ) <> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:45PM (#46353511)

    Whatever the fate of this particular company, it's pretty clear to me that most (or all?) farming jobs can be automated with a combination of current machinery, sensors and some reliable software. I predict a world where several hectares of farmland will be simply monitored by each "farmer". Automatic combine harvesters are already a reality. Drone surveillance is near. Pest control? Can't see why not. A complete automatic milking system which lovingly cares for each cow? Maybe 30 years.

    A system where animals to be slaughtered never see a human face? Don't be shocked, it's coming.

    • A complete automatic milking system which lovingly cares for each cow? Maybe 30 years.

      Almost fully automated dairies are already a reality, systems in place that allow the cow to enter into an automated system when it feels the need to be milked, the finds it's way to a system of machines that disinfect the teats, milk the cow, send it on it's way. There are automatic massage / scratching machines, systems that robotically clean stalls... Seriously, most people don't realize how automated dairy science is. 30 years? It's already here.

      Google it.

    • That's not too far off from where we are now. Modern combines already drive themselves more precisely than humans can drive them all day. When you're working a million dollars worth of crops, you don't want to be six inches off and run of $20,00 of seedlings. I'm sure some of my neighbors who work in the agriculture departments here at Texas A&M could give some great examples. I'm in security and safety engineering agency of A&M myself, so while ag isn't my field I know there's some amazing stuf

    • it's pretty clear to me that most (or all?) farming jobs can be automated with a combination of current machinery, sensors and some reliable software.

      During the 20th century the proportion of the total workforce employed in agriculture declined from 34% to 3% [], so your prediction is already about 90% fulfilled!

    • by m00sh ( 2538182 )

      Whatever the fate of this particular company, it's pretty clear to me that most (or all?) farming jobs can be automated with a combination of current machinery, sensors and some reliable software.

      Then, in that same vein, so can cooking jobs.

      Robots measure and mix ingredients and move them into ovens and heat etc.

      Also cashiers, taxi and truck drivers, medical technicians and so on and on. Many of the medical work can be automated - physical checkups, testings, some forms of surgery. Large swathes of office and factory jobs can be eliminated as well.

      • so can cooking jobs

        Only if the cooking is formulaic enough, I'd say. For someone who "can" cook, there's a feedback process of tasting and altering. But maybe you're saying that taste sensors will do this with algorithms good enough to rival any human cook. Maybe. Who knows?

        Otherwise, I totally agree. And I do not fear a world with less work in it. Life can be so much better. We will still always need academics, entertainers, experts, customer service people and carers, I believe. Imagine a world where everyone can do what th

        • tasting and altering is only required because the initial ingredients were not accurately measured or quality controlled. A robotic system wouldn't have such problems.

          For example (a bad example) McDonald's burgers come out identical, every time, everywhere. Its not much of a stretch to imagine the same processes being used to produce food!

          Cooking would become something designed for pleasure - a hobby or personal pastime.

          • I think you're wrong. I think it's an oversimplification and over-rationalization to say that there is one combination of ingredients which is optimal, and to be aimed for every time. I never want my food to be uniform; I want it to be varied and imperfect, as that adds to the excitement and interest of eating.

            And I know I would much prefer the variation to be down to a cook's whims rather than a process which intentionally introduces a quality-controlled level of randomization.

    • I predict a world where several hectares of farmland will be simply monitored by each "farmer".

      Why would you need a farmer at all? A computer can take an infrared photo and determine where photosynthesis is occuring and where it isn't, it can send out bots to take leaf and soil samples in the weak spots... A computer can do a better job than a human, eventually.

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:03PM (#46353639)

    His factory is a joke.

    They don't ship product on time, they claim to have shipped things they don't, and they pretty much lie at every turn when you deal with their customer support. Their website claims items in stock that aren't, and claims items out of stock that get shipped.

    I made repeated calls and met with repeated lies.

    This pattern is repeated time and time again by others than myself on their forums.

    When you want to actually get your product you have to post a rant online on their forms, twitter and other social media sites ... then all of the sudden, mysteriously your package will be shipped with stuff they said they wouldn't have for a week ... of course this is already 2 weeks after they claimed to have shipped it over night ... given you a tracking number that still claims FedEx hasn't been picked up.

    I eventually got my package about 3 weeks after placing an over nighted order for things the website (AND customer support by phone) claimed they had in stock. Even FedEx seemed a little irate that I'd been giving a tracking number for an overnight package that was entered in their system for pickup and hadn't been picked up in 2 weeks when I spoke to them.

    Chris Anderson is a blowhard loud mouth that has almost nothing at all to do with 3d robotics other than his name, and thats a good thing, cause its a shitty company that appropriated GPL'd code for its own profit, which would be fine, if it weren't such a shitty company.

    He's just riding on other peoples work like he does everywhere. He has basically no actual involvement with the company other than claiming CEO and using his name to drum up investment funding for his coffers. Half the time it doesn't even appear that he knows what his company actually does, and I doubt for an instant that he's ever held the controls of one of his drones.

    Fuck 3d robotics and Chris Anderson, its a horrible company to do business with and deserves to die a painful death. Stay far far away.

    ArduPilot rocks. 3d Robotics sucks ass in every conceivable way.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "others than myself on their forums"

      That's if your posts don't get deleted [].

      3DR is definitely a juggernaut in the hobbyist space, give them that credit when its due folks. And the GPL'd development is run much like RedHat did in their early days (aside from the 0.0.x h/w changes no one it told about), where as the new Pixhawk platform appears to be moving to either a ubuntu style control or ETH's "Linus approach" of strict control. But there are always alternatives:

      • DJI Innovations (ACE system runs waypoints
    • It sounds like you're saying you weren't completely satisfied with your shopping experience at 3D Robotics.

      Tell us what you really think.

    • by DuncanE ( 35734 )

      Your post is oddly not very specific while sounding specific. What did you actually order and how long did it take to arrive?

  • Scarecrow, but with a UAV/drone.
  • Summary is wrong (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:16PM (#46353703)

    Farmers most certainly would require FAA approval for using their own drones.

    You can not use an ariel vehicle (ANY ariel vehicle) for commercial purposes in the US with a waiver or certificate of air worthiness.

    Doing work for your farm would most certainly be commercial, even if you don't sell the product itself. Research alone can be commercial.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      BTW the word is "aerial". You would look like much less of a dumbass fuckwit if you actually take a moment to understand the words you use especially if you are telling other people how wrong you think they are. Maybe it isn't "fair" but that is the reality. When you screw up something so basic and simple it is natural to wonder why anything you say should be taken seriously. Perhaps your understanding of FAA policy was obtained with the same carelessness and incompetence. Who knows? I couldn't find o
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Look - if the little mermaid wants to lend out her vehicles (ANY of her vehicles) to support god-fearing american farmers, who the f*** are you to criticize?

      • Yep, misspelled the word, repeatedly. Does make me look the dumbass.

        The regulations however are written in very clear text and have been around longer than I've been alive and likely you too.

        It has been repeatedly clarified by the FAA every time some jackass like you tries to twist it's very clear meaning, so, smarty pants, go fuck your self in your own ignorance. Even slash dot has covered people being stopped for commercial use.

    • [[Citation needed]]

      "Commercial" normally means "for revenue" - farmers using them on their own property would seem to be private, as they're not offering the service to others.

      • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

        While I agree with you in principle, the FAA has been taking an extremely harsh view towards this issue. If you snap a photo from a drone and put it on a website that has ads on it they'd probably argue it was commercial use, let alone putting it in a newspaper.

        If somebody pays a pilot the cost of fuel for flying them someplace the FAA would argue that this requires a commercial license as well. At most pilots can split costs evenly, and they can't even count fixed costs like maintenance/hanger/etc in tha

  • UAVs are already used for commercial applications in other countries. Like agriculture in Japan, for example.

    Thanks to our FAA's habit of sitting quietly like a lap dog until one of the major US aerospace manufacturers give them a command, foreign UAV development is decades ahead of us. When they are approved for use here, manufacturers with experience will overrun this market.

  • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @12:26AM (#46354331)

    A lot of people are getting excited about what drone can do in agriculture. Folks on the diydrones forum, when they find out my brother and I actually are farmers, get all excited to try to solve problems for us. The problem is, it's going to take a lot of work to make drones useful in agriculture. I attended a presentation recently by an professor specializing in remote sensing and agriculture. She uses satellites, planes, and drones to try to get useful data from crops. It would be really handy to determine crop disease or monitor moisture use, etc.

    Turns out, though, these are very hard problems, and small UAVs are actually making it harder in the short term. Here's why. A UAV map of a field, typically is done at low altitude, but stitching together thousands of high res images taken as the aircraft passes back and forth across the field in a pattern. Stitching is done using standard image algorithms that try to identify common pixels to line things up. The problem with this is that the very process of stitching the images changes the data. Is this pixel really this color of green, or did it get changed to fit in better (exposure adjusted)? Also the crop looks very different when you pass over it one way vs another way. For example a silk rug changes color if you view it from a different angle or rub your hand across the nap. This becomes a problem with UAV mapping because the resolution is so high, and the number of pixels is so great. With satellite imagery stitching doesn't really enter into it.

    And once you get your image, what does it mean? I see some dark spots. Are these individual plants, rocks, dirt clumps, or shadows? Or is it horrible disease? And even if you can detect a difference in the crop's NDVI [] pixel values, that does that mean? Is the plant just dry? Soil is naturally poorer? Or is disease. Sometimes disease shows up very clearly in an NDVI map taken from a drone. But in the end a human really has to walk the fields anyway, and take samples.

    So the field (no pun intended) of UAV imagery is just getting started. I believe it will do cool things, but we have to be patient as we address the inherent problems with stitching, and also develops a means of understanding and exploring the data (google maps zooming for farmers' fields!).

    For me the number one thing I'd like to get from UAV imagery would be accurate 3-d mapping of the topography for drainage purposes.

    For right now, it's an expensive toy for some farmers to play with (UAV mapping and agronomy companies), and a project for researchers. And for me, UAVs are just a fun hobby.

    • Not crops but animals - there's a lot of crime involving theft or plain vandalism (think people irresponsibly walking their dogs near sheep) that could be better handled by remote drones with cameras. Currently such crime is easy to perpetrate as farms are far away from anyone, including the police who aren't exactly thick on the ground in rural areas.

      A drone that could stay aloft for a long time could well help deter these or at least provide some video evidence later.

    • Is this pixel really this color of green, or did it get changed to fit in better (exposure adjusted)?

      It's really not a big problem, because adjusting exposure digitally is a well-known problem. Further, you can reasonably shoot all the images in such a series with the same EV, aperture, what have you, because you're shooting them all at the same time and the land is homogeneous by definition. You can also take images that humans can't understand and perform the analysis on them. A human can't look at a picture and tell where photosynthesis is occurring. A machine can.

      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        Easy for you to say. Tell that to the researchers working in this area. Just shifting your angle of view is enough to change the colors dramatically. It doesn't matter that it's the same time, same aperature, etc. Trust me, even a slight change in perspective can alter the shades and make the shadows appear differently. It's not as simple as you make it out to be, believe me.

        Not sure what you mean by land is homogeneous by definition. The crops move in the breeze, dirt is a different color from area t

  • GoPro camera is a wrong choice for the UAV. It has a display. But at the UAV there is nobody to look at this display during the flight.

    Still a display adds to the weight. And the weight of the UAV is crucial for flying inside the city. If UAV weighs 100 - 150 grams then it is safe, if 1000 - 1500 grams flying is extremely unsafe for people and property on the ground.

    A new ultralight HD, wide angel camera is needed for UAVs. Then they could be used inside the city for mapping, surveying, etc.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.