Venkatesh Rao, a Forbes.com columnist, mentioned DIY Drones in a post, saying that drones interest him. His portrayal of DIYers however, would lead a novice UAV builder to believe he is both ignorant of, and resentful toward the people who are leading innovation on a grassroots level.
Mr. Rao is years behind in his understanding of the capabilities of the average person, and of the UAVs he speaks of. To dismiss the DIY Drone community as a bunch of yahoo wackjobs is paramount to the mistake Cornwallis made when assesing the resolve of America's rag-tag Revolutionary War Militias. (No offense to our British brothers and sisters. This makes for interesting dinner conversations around my American/British family) Mr. Rao, there is certifiable worldwide talent behind this "movement", and frankly I am surprised that such a poorly researched article would be accepted to grace a page within the Tech section of such a recognized magazine.
The thought that we as a community would reside in any one corner of the political spectrum is laughable, and a passing role in the development of an early quadrocopter does not give the right to claim newer advancements are equally lacking in capabilities.
According to our esteemed commentator the following is a list of the top ten things to do with a UAV:
The Top 10 Applications List
- Spy on cute girl next door. This will only work if there is enough ambient noise to drown out the quadcopter noise.
- Paparazzi 2.0. Commercial use of drone photography is currently prohibited, but where there are celebrity pictures worth money, the paparazzi will find a way.
- Start a revolution. If drones are the new guns, and the burgeoning political movement to ensure a “right to bear drones” succeeds, you and a few hundred of your friends can secretly build a drone swarm. The USAF can shoot down one or two very easily, but if (say) a new bill in Congress annoys you enough, and you and your friends send your 100-drone swarm to rain dog-poo on the political rally of the Congressperson in question, that might be worth something.
- Attach guns to drones. There is absolutely nothing stopping drone hackers from doing this technically, and there is almost no conceivable scenario where this will ever be legal, but if you’re on the wrong side of the law already, for murder say, what’s one more charge for “attaching gun to drone”? The mayhem possible with a bunch of armed drones would make Columbine look like a kid’s tea party.
- Disaster relief. On the good side, you could imagine a future Katrina where Washington is bickering over FEMA’s incompetence, and a bunch of drone-flying amateurs are busy dropping food packets to people stranded on rooftops. The Far Right will probably drop food+gun packets onto the roofs of stores, to help owners fight back looters.
- Monster Drone Rallies and Drone Racing. Frankly, this seems like the most likely outcome to me. Drone culture becoming a harmless subculture, where amateur drones face off against each other in competition arenas, trying to kick each other out of the sky.
- Post-apocalyptic survivalism. When the whole thing comes crashing down, and you are out of toilet paper and canned food in your cabin in the woods, what do you do? Pilot your drone over to your neighbor’s cabin and assassinate him from the air of course.
- Drone Art. Formation flight is what makes cheap little drones a potent force. But much of the potential will be illegal to explore, so expect to see Drone Flash Mobs suddenly putting on a show in some public space.
- Citizen search and rescue. This is one area where serious potential exists. If somebody gets lost in the backwoods, a swarm of drones, even with just ten minute endurance levels, can probably be coordinated to do better than a police helicopter, at 1/10 of the cost.
- Home/office cranes. For your basic couch potato, a little home drone with serious lift capability will be able to pick up the TV remote from across the room and bring it to you. Or a cold beer (in coordination with a smart fridge). It will be much easier to move light objects around without moving. Within controlled environments (like the Googleplex say), you might even have drone messengers venturing farther afield to pick up stuff for you from the coffee shop. We will all get fatter, quicker.
Maybe in the future, Mr. Rao will have more success without smearing the respectable work we are doing. In fact, our may be the most coordial international venture in history.