Hello everyone, I feel the time has come to make an announcement, which I've been avoiding for a few weeks now, but which I can't put off anymore.
As some people are aware (and some maybe not) for a little over a year I have been doing development work and community support as a full time job, with the generous support of 3DRobotics. This represented a major shift in the direction of my career from industrial mechanical engineering, to this burgeoning field of aerial robotics. However, 3DR has decided to discontinue that support. As the project has grown in scope and complexity, the overhead time requirements just to stay on top of program development and developer group communications has grown with it. Prior to the support provided by 3DR, I was moonlighting while maintaining a "day job" outside of the industry, but that ended up burning me out and I won't go back to that situation.
This has led to me scrambling to figure out what to do next in order to pay the bills, etc. I actually saw the writing on the wall several months ago and began working in the direction to solidify my future in this industry, but the change happened a little before I was ready.
In any case, regretfully I must announce that my efforts to directly support the community, answering questions, analyzing logs and doing general improvements to the code will be ending. I am committed to seeing AC3.3 finally go Stable for Tradhelis, and updating the Wiki to be up to date with this. But beyond that, I'm not sure how much I'll be able to help out.
My hope is to produce revolutionary new turn-key UAV helicopter systems and use them for professional services, or 3rd party sales. If I can make this transition, I will likely continue to do Alpha testing on new AC code and contribute new features. I have almost completed design of an excellent new 700 helicopter design, and hoped to do a proper 500 size helicopter for mapping after that, but likely won't have the cash to bring these to market on my own at this point. Unfortunately, due to timing, I may be entering into development contracts with other companies which will be a bit more "closed" in nature.
It is my hope that the community can get to the point where it is self-supporting. We already have several members who are quite successful with helicopters, and are still coming around to help others, and that is encouraging. Hopefully this can continue to grow. I don't want to see Helicopter support in the code die. Helicopter mechanics are largely a "solved problem", and this platform delivers superior combination of flight performance. VTOL of a multirotor, range and speed similar to many of the foam airplanes used today, and absolutely unmatched stability and weather tolerance, while carrying payloads greater than any platform of similar size. And Ardupilot is the only full-featured autopilot system that will fly a UAV helicopter, unless you purchase military-grade autopilot systems. I feel, and I think the worldwide UAV community agrees, that Ardupilot is the most reliable, full-featured, high performance and cost effective autopilot system available. The fact that it is truly open source, distributed under a GPLv3 license means that is flexible, extensible and capable of meeting the needs of all users, big and small, while reflecting a share-and-share-alike mindset. And I don't need to tell you guys that Ardupilot is flexible and cost effective on the hardware side as well, capable of running on a wide variety of hardware systems from many companies offering differing capabilities to meet various user needs. This could be anything from tinkerers and hobbyists, to small service companies, UAV builders, academics and research groups. It's important that the project continues to keep UAV technology accessible to all, and not be locked down by big corporations or governments.
I think, like many, Open Source, Free Software gets confused by people who invest their time and what it really means to be involved.
Free Software is predominately about freedom. That means you can at any point take something you depend upon and do with it what you will and go your own way. If your way is an army of paid developers and you morph it into something cool, that's ok (though the code will still be public domain i.e. your customer will have the same choices)
Open Source is similar, but more permissive as it allows you take something in the public domain and make it your own. You choose what you share, but in most cases sharing the core and making it stronger is better than just going it a alone. The power of a community of developers involved, exceeds the few.
And both of these where created to strengthen commercial goals. They strengthen the customer and keeps the supplier honest. And the customer need not worry about future support when supplier is no longer, and human endeavours and creations are not lost when suppliers fail. Customer are not held hostage when only one supplier wins.
There are other side effects of Open Source/Free Software that benefit developers as a community. We get to use and play with production quality code which would otherwise be hidden from view (this only makes better developers)
Another side effect is that customers can get involved in very early stages of a product (as in the case with ArduPilot) and essentially make it a reality. This just helps scratch and itch for the many makers that have been here on this journey to date.
The success of 3DR has been tied closely to this site and 3DR have invested hugely in making it happen for them. I wish them good luck for the future. 3DR seems to be focusing on how to make drones useful, here on this site we are very much focused on how do we make drones work (to make then useful)
There still lots of work to be done. And I am sure there are lots on opportunities ahead. I think DIYD as community needs to focus on what excites us, and I'm sure other companies will offer support going forward. We should stick true the mission of the site, which is to foster development of open source/free software/open hardware sUAVs/Drones/Autonomous Vehicles.
I personally don't think people leave Open Source, they are not jobs, but a passion.
Great post Bill.
Your last sentence is to the point. Not planning on going anywhere, this is my passion. Just have to figure out how to make it work.
You can check out (of Git) any time you like
but you can never leave (GPL)
It was not my intention to in any way disparage "Open Source" or 3DR.
It is just a more complex method and mixing volunteers and for profit is always bound to produce some inequity.
There are 2 diametrically opposite forces in play, profit and altruism and balance in that is very hard if not impossible to achieve.
I think that 3DR is quite possibly the most successful single example of making it work to this point in time.
And I think they got a lot of their more forward thinking investors based on the thought that it just might work.
Unfortunately those of us who do and have primarily donated our time (and not just the testers) quite frequently see the fruits of our labors no longer being supported by those who are benefiting commercially, perhaps as in the Solo's Pixhawk 2 system and more advanced systems not being made available to us outside of the Solo.
I also know Rob that you did almost all of your initial firmware development unpaid and with even minimal hardware contribution, so I am surprised to hear you say it is really just the testers who are the for gratis contributors.
I put in well over a thousand hours on the wiki and eventually got a bit of hardware from 3DR and there are many others in a similar position.
But as Bill says, it isn't just about 3DR.
Entirely separately DIYDrones is it's own thing and it is up to us to keep it alive and moving in a worthwhile direction for us.
I am very much in favor of that, I really think that open source is one of the best ways where creativity and individual initiative can be leveraged effectively into the real world.
It can just be a rocky road sometimes.
re-The success of 3DR has been tied closely to this site
Just wondering.... Is Tower and all the testers of that going to benefit in the future in the DIY realm or simply Solo? I think it's safe to say many testers have paid a price working with that platform and helping to get it right. In fact if ever there were a time and place for testers it was with DP and Tower. It's awesome!!! But will it be in the future for the DIY crowd or simply Solo?
ps sorry Rob perhaps this isn't the place for this question but it seems relevant in the general premise of your thread.
Tower is the MAV Link compatible GCS. Solo has it's own Andorid and iOS apps
I used to have a 'Wizard Badge'. i'm not a wizard!
Anyway, Thanks for the reasonable post Chris. Please don't be surprised by the response. ;-)
Since this is a passion for me and I think it is to many others, I have to ask would you take the same view with any job? Companies remunerate you for the work you have done. Rob was lucky enough to get a role for a while, some would say it's a dream job to some degree (it would have had strings). It was up to him to indicate what he's happy to do for what price, 3DR's choice to say it's good for them.
Some workplaces we can become connected too but remember the only risk that Rob had was that he may loose his job, the owners of 3DR have accepted all the risk (and it appears they have strings too but from the investors). Does it feel right to the person, maybe not but it's a fact of life. People often fail to understand how many businesses fail, the money for that comes from people, it doesn't originate from thin air.
I think both 3DR and Rob were lucky to find a good match. I hope that Rob that you enjoyed the time in that role and hopefully bigger and better things come along.
okay I stand corrected I thought it was based on DP / over.
Bill Bonney's comments on Open Source are very well informed. However, Open Source is a very good model for a service oriented business. It is not such a good model for a commodity electronics manufacturing business of any scale. This is the nub of it. Solo could have been the most successful quadcopter in history. It would in large part have been cloned in short order.
3DR/Ardupilot worked well for a while and but in the end I hope the Ardupilot project will find a way to operate more independently of any one business. That does require funding, maybe not so much, but at least something. And it also requires some leadership. I wish this was something that could be more openly discussed on DIYD.
This seismic change is not simply moving to the mobile revolution, as it has been presented, even though in the big picture this is of course going to happen.