"The Private Drone Industry is Like Apple in 1984"

Good article at The Atlantic's Quartz site comparing DJI with 3DR. Sample quote:

The UAV industry is a fairly new one, and right now its main focus is on consumer products. That’s partially because it is growing from a consumer base: What has made them possible is the smartphone revolution, which drove down the price on the tiny electronic components needed to turn low-power remote control aircraft into flying robots that navigate, communicate, and sense. While defense contractors were making expensive and powerful drones for the US military, hobbyists were basically bolting iPhones onto remote-controlled helicopters.

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Comment by Harry on January 26, 2013 at 4:08am

I like my Apple II.  The ArduIMU makes it an Apple IIe.    

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on January 26, 2013 at 7:26am

Hi All,

The only difference here is if you wanted to use your Apple II computer for commerical purposes in the early days of computing, you did not need approval from the Federal Government to do so.

Here in my area of Southern Florida RC planes and other hobby type aircraft (read as amature drones) are highly restricted as to where they can operate. Most municipalities require AMA membership and additional liability bonds in the millions of dollars. Woe be unto any hobbiest who crashes his drone outside the designated areas of operation.

Just a thought.



Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on January 26, 2013 at 7:36am

But all that is expected to change in 2015, when the FAA is expected to give the go-ahead to commercial UAVs.

Why does everybody think this?  There is absolutely ZERO indication that the FAA will allow commercial use in any kind of reasonable manner.  They are only committed to rule on the matter, not necessarily allow it.  In 2015, they could come out and say "yeah, no I don't think so."

Comment by R. D. Starwalt on January 26, 2013 at 8:41am

Kicking Robert's point down the road further...

The FAA has to rule and it *could* mean, like government is apt to do, another FAA office to manage micro-aviation. (John Githens and I are using that term regularly now.) Management might include certification such as schools for training, business that make 'flight certified' components, etc.

The analog I made before was ham radio but the difference is one of insurance and liability. The intellectuals will debate privacy laws and other things they deem ominous. Who will have to pay up when a person or property is damaged will be the arena of lawyers and insurance companies.

My 2 cents:  For professional use (a definitions to be established) a licensing scheme will be developed that also includes some form of certification for the pilot and/or cameraman as well as the aircraft. They may pass out certification numbers like tail numbers on airplanes.

Who knows? My crystal ball is in for calibration and recertification...


Comment by R. D. Starwalt on January 26, 2013 at 8:47am

Oh... I still have dibs on the phrase "Drone Police".

"Drone Enforcement Agency" would clash with an existing acronym... wouldn't that make a great scene in a movie?

Bruce Willis' character walks up to kid buzzing his quad around a football field. He whips out his badge (a propellor icon with braid and other bling surrounds his badge number) and ID. "I'm Joe Wilson of the DEA." The kids brings his quad in for a neat, crisp landing and looks at Joe. 'DEA? I don't know nothing about drugs!"

Joe looks at the kid, "Not that DEA! Drone Enforcement Agency..that DEA."

"Oh. The Drone Police.. why didn't you say so?"


Comment by thomas Butler on January 26, 2013 at 10:44am

This article has been picked up by dozens of web sites. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/private-drone-industry-apple-1984-142... No doubt lots of investors will be jumping on the UAV bandwagon soon.  However, the FAA might not rule in favor of drones.  We're now in the age of the "war on terror".  I have no doubt that the FAA will increase restrictions on UAVs rather than reduce them.  The liability a quadcopter creates flying around the neighborhood unrestricted is enormous. 

It's true the sensor technology used in smartphones has improved the electronics for personal UAVs tremendously, but so has the takeover of electronics production by the Chinese. Attached is one of the first stabilizers I developed for RC (see attached image).  It was more of an academic exercise, and it never got off the ground.  The last controller I created used modules from Sparkfun; only because it was a prototype for use as a software development platform (see attached image) until a board with full SMT components coul dbe made.  After Crius and a few other Chinese company's came out with their FCs, I decided to give up on the hardware.  The Crius and the APM encompass all of the features I want for a UAV controller using the 6000 serius dream gyro/accel chip from Invensense.

We(Americans) cannot compete with China in the production of hardware; who actually makes the iPhone (this will only last until Chinese wages catch up)?  Where we have an advantage is in the higher-level application software (forget firmware and let them make the hardware and use public domain firmware).  Copyright laws restrict infringement, and the immense intellectual effort to create software is another roadblock for the Chinese.  There has been quite a bit of banter on DIYDrones recently about the Chinese "copying" the APM hardware design.  Folks, it's in the public domain, so stop whining. 

The drone market will no doubt explode if the FAA opens up the airspace; IF!  With more money coming in, big players will try to capture the market, squeeze out the small players, develop standards, and eventually collape into a market with one or two prime players (re. Apple & Microsoft).  I've seen this happen personally in the election business with the year 2000 election snafu in Florida.  Election software development was inundated with small time "experts" who muddied the water and now there are stringent software standards mandated by Congress that would make an aircraft software developer cringe; note that the election industry standards are a farce and they provide no real benefit in software reliably or robustness. The standards have only bogged down the development to a point that it crawls at a snails pace, blocks innovation, and blocks only companies with deep pockets (there are now only a few companies in the U.S. that now provide 99% of the voting machines).  Same is going to happen in the personal UAV market if the FAA opens the airspace.

The PC was/is an open system just like the best personal open UAV systems available; APM & Multiwii to name a few.  However, the best systems available now are NOT open systems.  In part because, they have droves of paid programmers that get up every morning, go to work, and must work on fixing bugs.  Gates, Jobs, Wozniak, and other took a hobby market and created a couple of the most profitable companies in the world.  Why? Because they didn't pussyfoot around selling have baked bug ridden products, and they hired experts to work full time and got down to business.  Just as PCs, laptops, and smartphones are all made overseas and the software for them is made in the U.S., so will be the drone market.

To qualify my remarks, I should say that I've been a professional software developer for 30 years and am self-taught in electronics.  A used PDP8 I bought at an auction for $100 and a Radio Shach trash-80 were my first computers. I've worked for 20 years in the election industry on voting systems and wireless data communications; CDPD, GPRS, TCP/IP.  I've built from scratch sevarial iterations of quadcopters after I gave up on th ejunk RC helicopters from China.  I have Crius controllers with MPNG and Multiwii, using GPS, XBEE, Blutooth.  I've developed my own GCS with data link to my own FC firmware (see attached docs).  I read DIYDrones blog nearly every day. I chime in now and then, but dos so infrequntly because of the barrage of spam I get when I do.

Finally,  sorry for the extra long post!  I hope what I've said has been worth hearing...

one of my first quad flights some time ago

Comment by Phil Gordon on January 26, 2013 at 11:47am

I`m fairly new to the scene Chris,and from what I`m seeing it is the start of something exciting that the GP can get into and enjoy.

When I look at a multirotor etc I see a lot of technology that has been around for a long time,though improved and modified somewhat.

I`m waiting for the real technological changes eg power systems,and systems to power a vehicle.

Comment by Paul Thompson on January 26, 2013 at 3:33pm

I enjoyed your long post Thomas and I promise not to spam you unless you consider this spam. :-)

I agree with what you said and have known for some time that this hobby I enjoy will get outlawed someday. But I may continue until the laws are enforced because we have too many laws that aren't enforced so that one will just be one more. :-) I hardly ever even draw much attention these days but of course I know that one bad accident could change all that in a split second. :-(

Comment by Scott Berfield on January 26, 2013 at 3:35pm

Incredibly cheap computer systems with great I/O, Powerful and afffordable power system and motors, sensors unavailable to consumers until very recently (many of them pioneered by the game industry), advanced vision systems, cheap compilers, home computer-driven fabrication for parts -- we are definitely at hte beginning of a very interesting world -- ain't it fun??

Comment by John Wiseman on January 26, 2013 at 4:27pm

In 2015, they could come out and say "yeah, no I don't think so."

This doesn't seem realistic.  The trend for UAVs is clear, and isn't the current status for commercial UAV use in the Unites States already pretty much already "I don't think so"?  My prediction: They will allow commercial use, but with restrictions that DIYers won't be particularly happy about.


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