At 20 years old, Jordi Muñoz found himself in Riverside, Calif., an hour east of Los Angeles with not much to do. He'd settled there to wait for a green card after leaving Mexico to start a family with his wife, a U.S. citizen. He was away from friends and family, and he could not work or continue school in the U.S. either. So, with an internet connection and his programing skills, he began tinkering with a remote control helicopter.
"I was extremely bored," he said. "I could only watch TV or program something, so I decided to program."
In his bedroom he tweaked his toy, splicing motion sensors of a Nintendo Wii controller with the mini copter. He calls those eight months "the most productive months of my life." That's because his pet project put him at the front of a budding industry: the personal drone market.
His eureka moment came when he was able to stabilize the helicopter's flight using computer code. He posted his progress on DIY Drones, an online community started by Chris Anderson, who was editor of Wired magazine at the time. Muñoz also acquired more and better sensors, like a geographical positioning system, or GPS, probably the most important component on a drone, he says.
Anderson took an interest in Munoz's work. He found Muñoz's accomplishments "impressive" and began collaborating with him virtually.
"He was able to quickly learn about very advanced technology. He did all that by teaching himself on the internet," Anderson said. "He's that generation of people who don't know what they don't know. He didn't know he was supposed to have a PhD to invent a drone. He just did it."
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