Rob Thompson's Posts (5)

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Innovative leaders in robotics technology have recently announced the launch of their Kickstarter

crowdfunding campaign to bring Ground Drone, the next evolution of ground robotics, to the market.

Washington D.C., November 3rd, 2014

Ever since the 1940’s when Isaac Asimov developed the Three Laws of Robotics and so powerfully

described a future that many people want to see become a reality, the anticipation of fully autonomous

robots has been growing stronger. However, the reality of obstacles scattered around our environment

(steps and stairs being the biggest problems) has only allowed even the best funded companies to

produce “two dimensional” bots that can only effectively traverse flat and clear surfaces. Thanks to

Transcend Robotics, that paradigm is about to change. The company has recently announced the

launch of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to bring to life “The Ground Drone Project”; an

affordable and capable robotic platform that can be utilized in many different environments and for a

myriad of needs.

“Roboticists have been so taken with Asimov’s vision of bi-pedal mobility that they have spent

decades and uncountable millions trying to skip an intermediate and affordable evolutionary step in

the process,” commented Andrew Ferguson of Transcend Robotics and inventor of ARTI, (articulated

traction control), the technology behind the project. “Yes, eventually we will have affordable walking

robots, but in the meantime, we CAN have full home, factory, and office mobility today.”

According to Transcend Robotics, ARTI is the current rendition of this new approach to overcome

obstacles in the environment. Most current solutions employ complex “flippers” that require trained

human intervention to surmount even the simplest of obstructions. With the ARTI platform, getting

up and down obstacles is as simple as pointing and shooting. ARTI accomplishes this by leveraging

a mechanical chassis innovation that avoids the extra complexity to allow for natural and smooth


The Kickstarter Ground Drone Project, led by Phillip Walker, will launch this solution to makers and

hobbyists worldwide. Various rewards will be available for backers including tee-shirts, do-it-yourself

instructions, a bare bones chassis kit, piloting a remote tele-presence ARTI, and even a fully assembled

R/C controlled ARTI. To say this news has caused excitement in the tech and robotics community

is quite the understatement. “For many of us, this is a dream come true – and we are only a few steps

away from even more amazing things,” Walker states.

The innovative chassis has three, enclosed boxes with plenty of room (450+ sq in.) for electronics

and actuator additions. Most of the assembly parts & components are off the shelf or can be easily

fabricated. In addition, if ARTI is successfully funded, documents will be open to the public including

a bill of materials, CNC vector files, and assembly instructions so that anyone can build his/her own

ARTI from scratch.

“We want to provide a versatile and affordable ground robotic chassis to stimulate robotic development

for individuals, small businesses, and the maker community so that innovation can move forward

aggressively,” noted Walker in mentioning his motive for opening up a patented technology.

“This technology is needed now, not in 10 or 20 years. Once roboticists have access to true and

affordable mobility,” Ferguson added, “the promise of robotics will finally be realized in ways that will

stretch our collective imaginations.”

To join the evolution, go to or go to and google “Ground Drone Project”.

For more information on Transcend Robotics be sure to visit

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We like to think what we are doing is new, however some folks have been pioneering the way for us for a long time. People like Bert Wagner of Advanced Aerials can remember a time he would use film to capture images and then run to the 1 hour photo to have them developed. Only when the film was developed did they find out if they got the shot or if they had to go back and re-shoot. This article I am linking to is from 1998 Rotary Modeler Magazine about Bert's quest to provide aerial imagery for civilians. This is a fascinating read and a step back into to time on how the original pioneers operated aerial imagery on model helicopters. 

Original Article with Photographs link here

Developing the "Hornet"

This article is by Bert Wagner of Advanced Aerials, and was edited by Malinda Brent.
It has been reprinted with permission from The March/April 1998 Issue of Rotory Modeler Magazine.
Many thanks to Bert Wagner as well as Mike Mas of Rotory.

A television and a recliner huddled in the corner are the only items remaining in my living room that indicate it used to be a place for rest and relaxation. A couch used to occupy the space where the three and half foot tall Formica-topped work bench sits, bearing the tools of my avocation, pieces of twisted aluminum tubes of adhesive glue, metal lubricant and miscellaneous nuts, screws, bearings and bolts.

The fireplace mantle provides a perch to keep the Hornet - the l9-pound helicopter that is the product of and reason for the industry that mattered more than anything else in my world for the last three years. My marriage and financial security were sacrificed on the altar of my mission, my passion to create the radio controlled helicopter that takes superior aerial photographs.

Despite the hard times and the long road, I wouldn't trade a minute of the journey - a quest to combine remote controlled flying and photography to create a unique product. It was nearly four years ago when I was taking photos of a bridge under construction in Loudon County, Virginia that the inadequacy of ground-level photography hit me. I could either shoot from under the bridge in progress looking up or from the bridge looking across. To me, as a photographer who is always seeking a unique way to see a subject, these two options just weren't creative enough. It was a perspective everyone could have. The construction company who hired me was happy enough with the photos, but I wasn't.

"The inadequacy of ground-level photography hit me"

So I set out to find an eye in the sky. I first tried a tethered helium-filled balloon, which had to have at least a nine-foot diameter to carry my camera gear and accompanying electronics. Storage was a problem because of the balloon's size, but deflating it to bring it inside and reinflating it later wasn't cost-effective due to the high cost of helium. Wind also decreased the payload, interfering with lifting capabilities. And it was difficult to shoot straight down anyway. That's when I started looking into helicopters.

But getting information was difficult; people didn't seem to want to give up their secrets. I bought an instructional videotape but it was nothing more than a promotional selling the helicopter's electronics. And it told me nothing about how to take photographs using a helicopter. It just showed other people doing it.

As a radio-controlled enthusiast since I was a child, I decided I would just have to figure it out for myself. When I was seven, a next-door neighbor gave me an old fashioned airplane using rubber band powered servos. I couldn't fly it but I was intrigued by it. When I was 21 years old, I finally had enough to buy a $600 remote controlled airplane, radio and starting equipment. It survived one brief, but spectacular flight.

But eventually I taught myself how to fly. Now convinced I needed a helicopter, I put the word out to family and friends. The following Christmas, 1993, I got my wish, a MFA Sport 500. It was a fixed pitched helicopter that used a radio-controlled airplane engine and radio. Too impatient to wait for better weather, I spent the winter teaching myself how to fly it in a parking garage with 10-feet ceilings. The noise, smoke and height limitations made flying nearly impossible but I couldn't wait for the spring.

When warmer weather finally came along, I moved my practice field outside and continued to improve, teaching myself forward flight. But I got cocky, trying to fly beyond my abilities and crashed the helicopter. Every time a gift-giving occasion came along I'd be asking for another helicopter. My wife, Claudia, always asked, "Why do you need another one?" And I would say "Well, why do you need another lipstick?" But she didn't understand, so after a while I stopped asking.

"I started to realize the money-making potential in this type of aerial photography"

I quickly learned I could get more control from a helicopter with collective pitch, like full-sized helicopters use. I borrowed $2,500 to buy a model Gas X CELL and a Futaba Super Seven radio transmitter and accompanying electronics gear. As my interest grew, I started to realize the money-making potential in this type of aerial photography. Flying at altitudes from a few hundred feet to the ground, a small helicopter with a camera mounted on the craft could take pictures far superior in detail and perspective than a full-size airplane or helicopter for a fraction of the cost.

I thought of asking Claudia to invest, helping me realize the dream that was slowly and painfully but surely becoming a reality. But the debts mounted as I became more and more preoccupied with building this helicopter. When I would scrape up enough to buy another piece of equipment she would ask, "Do you know how many bills we could have paid for that?" I knew she was right but I had to keep on going.

I spent the summer of 1994 practicing hovering. Then I decided to bolt my $1,100 camera onto the helicopter. Always the voice of reason, my wife was skeptical. "What if it crashes?" she asked. My first photo taken from the helicopter was an out-of focus shot of curb and gutter taken at a construction site about a half-mile from my house in Manassas, Va. I was ecstatic, sharing the picture with polite but puzzled friends who had no idea what it represented to me.

"I knew I would have to get some sort of micro-video camera and downlink system"

Realizing the necessity of isolating the camera from the helicopter's engine vibration, I made my first gimbal, the bracket that tilted back and forth via electronic command. Of course, this function also gave me new options of perspective. It was right around this time that I teamed up with my first pilot, Peter Hirschburg because I realized that it would require two people to man the controls, one flying the helicopter and one operating the on-board camera. Together, we were getting closer. Out of two rolls of film, one or two photos would be usable, but they still weren't sellable quality. I knew I would have to get some sort of micro-video camera and downlink system.

With that $2,500 purchase, I went further into debt. And my wife walked out of the home we had purchased together two years ago. At that point, I seriously thought about giving it all up. But as she carted the sofa out of the living room, I realized that spot would make a perfect place for my workbench. Suddenly the equipment in the workshop that had been cramped into a back bedroom migrated into the living room.

We continued to work on vibration isolation to the point that our photographs started to improve. The shutter speed was between 2000th and 1000th of a second but limited in F-stop. Because of the vibrations, we were forced to use a fast film that didn't work on anything other than a sunny day. And with the camera six inches away from the engine, I knew we needed to improve vibration isolation. A few months later, with a new gimbal design that incorporated camera stabilization, we managed to lengthen shutter speed to between 500th and 1000th of a second.


By this time, we were able to start selling our aerial photos. But our ground-based viewing system, which consisted of an old television, severely limited my mobility as well as my ability to see the screen in the glare of the sun. A Sears tool belt and a camcorder viewfinder finally made us portable. And in July 1995, we started calling ourselves Advanced Aerials. It was winter 1996 that I met Jim Langley, right around the time Peter's wife had a baby and he decided to limit his involvement with the project.

Jim and I quickly discovered we shared the same mechanical aptitude and a keen interest in low-altitude photography using model helicopters. He was also willing to invest time into improving our abilities and equipment. At the same time, we continued to do jobs, taking photographs of golf courses, buildings and construction job sites. Six months later, the Thing we knew would happen sooner or later did happen-we crashed. We'd been having vibration problems earlier in the week and as we're photographing a golf course, the power supply to the on board controls shook loose and the helicopter went down.

"The craft dove into a retention pond"

From an altitude of 200 feet at about 40 miles an hour, the craft dove into a retention pond. Both of us stood there watching in horror as the graphite blades splashed into the water. The last I saw was the tail rotor still spinning, spitting up water. All I could do was yell "*&%$#@ !" We had just watched about $8,000 worth of equipment and the blood and sweat of years of effort lost. I spent the next three hours in 4 feet of sewer water at the spot where we saw it go down. But it must have drifted. We couldn't even find an oil slick to clue us in on its whereabouts. Finally, a few pieces of paint surfaced and we found the water soaked helicopter.

We managed to salvage the majority of the craft but the $1,100 35 mm camera was totaled. Most of the film and the electronic gear were usable. I thought it was all over. We got arrogant and that's what happens when you get too sure of yourself. But we have solved that. Now we do a pre-flight check that rivals full-scale aircraft. Despite his apprehensions, Jim decided to stick with it. With what we had left of the old helicopter and what we had to replace, we now had the equipment for two helicopters.

Then we started modifying the pan and tilt function and came up with a system that allowed us to record video on board. It wasn't exactly Hollywood, but it was good for video acquisition. Through word of mouth, through contacts in the hobby community, people expressed an interest in our gimbal design. With our new video capabilities, we were finally able to start sending out demos to interested people throughout the country. Because of my unsuccessful attempts to obtain information when I embarked on this journey, I want to share my knowledge with people who wanted to know.

Today, we are shooting film at a 60th of a second and recording on-board video. We call the helicopter prototype the Hornet because of the vehicle's yellow body and the engine's buzz-like sound. My goal is to start educating people about the capabilities of such a helicopter and create an industry. I would like to have a nationwide network of trained operators working with Advanced Aerials to respond to disasters for news organizations and insurance companies.

The possible number of commercial uses for this type of helicopter are endless. I also envision a unified professional organization whose members follow uniform safety guidelines. Anyone who would like more information is encouraged to write to us at 8909 Cherry Tree Lane, Manassas, Va., 20110 or

The above address and information is not current

Please follow Bert Wagner (@a2usacustom)  on Twitter.

Please follow Rob Thompson (@learntoflyva) on Twitter

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First off these guys were in the wrong and got caught, I am not defending the stupidity of flying close to an aircraft. However, to create a story with a headline "nearly hit" misleading most. Drones can be dangerous if flown next to aircraft. This is theoretically possible and flyers should stay away to avoid being arrested or at fault for a death!! 

Original story with photos here:


TWO MANHATTAN men were arrested early Monday after they piloted a drone close to the George Washington Bridge and nearly struck an NYPD helicopter, police sources said.

Wilkins Mendoza, 34, and Remy Castro, 23, were remotely piloting a DGI Phantom 2 drone as it flew near the Hudson River crossing, at about 800 feet in the air, around midnight, the sources said. An NYPD helicopter crew spotted the drone and observed the unmanned aircraft as it circled the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge over the Harlem River about 12:20 a.m., the sources said.

At one point, the NYPD helicopter pilot had to veer off course to avoid being struck by the drone, the sources said.

The helicopter crew followed the drone and watched it touch down at Fairview Ave. and Fort George Hill in Inwood.

Mendoza and Castro, both of Inwood, were arrested at the landing zone at 12:34 a.m., and police also recovered a second drone, the sources said.

Both men were arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on a single felony count of Class D reckless endangerment, a charge stemming from the fact the pilot said he felt the drone endangered the NYPD helicopter.

But a prosecutor requested the men be released without bail, and a judge agreed.

A prosecutor told the judge that police reported the drone as having flown 2,000 feet in the air, but a defense attorney said the model used can only fly at heights of 300 feet.  

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This article is written for all levels of pilots to follow as a guideline in your flying progression. With the many choices that UAV pilots have today for vehicle configurations, flight management and equipment it is important to remember that your vehicle can be dangerous and expensive if not respected and maintained. The importance of respecting regulations and the airspace system for UAV’s is the same as any aircraft, this may seem like a giant leap for RC pilots, to believe they are as important as a 747, but you are. There are many risks of flying within our complex national airspace system and operating “unmonitored” is an important responsibility to maintain no matter how you slice it, no pun intended. UAV operators that are not aware of local airspace procedures and abatement policies are a risk to our industry.  Youtube Warriors and GoPro Cowboys are what will ruin the fun for everyone; if you know someone that fits into these categories please do the responsible thing. This article does not represent the views of anyone other than myself. Enough of my soapbox speech, the politics and red tape in our industry will work themselves out; we just want to fly our vehicles, here is how to get started.


Progression as defined is

 “a movement or development toward a destination or a more advanced state, especially gradually or in stages.” Merriam-Webster

It is not defined as quickly advancing and inadvertently missing concepts and foundational learning to gain a goal. At one point in our flying we were all rookies or beginners let us always keep that in mind as we progress. Training for success from day one is the best way to progress, starting with a goal that is attainable and then envisioning the steps it will take to get to that point. Your goal should not be to just get to the end result, which is usually some money or fame, but rather enjoy the journey and as a by-product of that journey understand how you got there. Learn to, appreciate, respect, the innovation, dedication and intelligence of others it took to get to you to where you are now. Learning from mistakes is another journey…. for fools. We will all make mistakes, but stating you are going to crash or that you will probably crash a few times is a bad way of thinking to begin with, you are setting yourself up for failure. Retrain your brain for success and think to yourself “if I crash, I will…” and then proceed to move through the emergency checklist procedures you have set for yourself. This way of tuning yourself for a prepared mental state shall keep one fit for all occurrences and situations.  

Types of Systems

There are many different types of vehicle systems to choose from today, please chose a vehicle within your given abilities that will allow for progression, however keep within your skill level. Automation doesn’t give you the right to cut corners on learning, what happens if something fails? Autonomous systems that have position hold can fail and leave the user in an undesired state of mind, it is important not to panic during these brief moments. Systems that are large take longer to slow down and control, this can be unforgiving to the untrained flyer in various forms such as legal, financial and emotional.


Simulators are a great resource and no one should think they are above polishing up their skills. Simulators provide the very best form of progression within UAV. Simulators allow you to fly other models and get a sense of the flight characteristics specific to that vehicle without buying the vehicle. They also allow you to understand where your limits are, what maneuvers you can control safely and how to complete certain procedures. Simulators can help you learn how to recover in unusual attitudes and prepare you for the visual aspects of knowing where the front of your vehicle is. The many types of optical illusions that will be displayed as your vehicles leaves you will be hard to interpret, the simulator can prepare you for these difficulties safely and without risk to your wallet.

The Importance of Flying a Basic System

This is the center of this article; flying a basic system is the best way for people to progress in UAV besides using a simulator. Basic systems are flown manually and give the operator the best sense of flying, maneuvers and operations. Basic systems let the pilot control every aspect of the flight manually without the assistance of automation. Automated systems however give the pilot a false sense of control in that they are not really giving accurate input to the control system. The automation dampens the movement of the control inputs, the vehicle flies to pre set destinations programmed into a ground station. Automation is great and in no way am I saying someone is superior by flying a basic system. The appreciation of the basic system is the essence of the article, flying basic systems teaches the student many things about the flight characteristics and prepares the operator to fly bigger systems manually in the event of a system failure.

Pre Assembled Vehicles

Pre assembled vehicles cut down the learning curve and provides a false sense of security that relies heavily on the safe operation of all on board systems. Without the use of flying a basic system, pilots gain an inflated sense of control and lack the progressive steps to fully understanding the vehicle. There is not an easy way to demonstrate this unless we compare it to aviation and the progression of licensed pilots. As a pilot I remember the many hours of training, learning and experience it took just to receive my first basic license of private pilot. Pilots rarely if ever train in a multi-engine aircraft in the beginning of the training, this is for a number of reasons such as costs, complexity and access to complex aircraft. It is however possible for someone with no experience to learn to fly a multi-engine aircraft, but most would say you are wasting your money and not really learning to fly, rather you are a monkey at the controls, preprogrammed to act accordingly, but without any thought to their actions. This type of progression is a badge of honor for pilots. We remember the shaky trainer aircraft we flew successfully and the many hours we spent learning about each aircraft. Learn to fly a basic system, people will respect you more and you will gain a deep understanding of piloting and vehicles.

Build Your Own

Build your own at least to save on the costs if not to learn every aspect of the vehicle. By building your own vehicles you learn what each part’s function and action are as part of the whole picture. You will also learn an appreciation to fixing your gear, unless you want to pay someone else to fix your vehicle. By building your own UAV you receive a world of knowledge as to how and when to replace parts, what upgrades to attach and which vehicle to upgrade to. Another benefit of building your own vehicle is the hands on time you will spend assembling the parts, by gaining this understanding you may inadvertently gain insight as to how to improve your vehicle and become an innovator, not just a follower of the latest and greatest technology. 

Be Professional

Become a professional not a UAV “bro” “slacker” or “hero” pilot, people want to feel like they have a connection with someone who is a professional when the services become available. In other countries this is already a possibility. Operators should once again take a page from the aviation community and represent yourself as a professional. This means dress to impress, use appropriate language, and educate yourself and others on UAV. I knew a banner tow pilot who wore a tie everyday to work, even though there was no dress code and most pilots showed up in flip flops and shorts to fly planes. When the owner of a regional jet operation stepped in the hanger looking for new recruits for his company, (this is 1980) he specifically asked to see the boy with the tie on. This pilot now flies g5’s all over the world because of that chance meeting, he had already impressed the community with his sense of professionalism, I think we should all learn from this example.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

This phrase from Ice Cube says everything about our industry, if we want to protect our rights, we should act safely and responsibly. Use a checklist, read my other article Play It Safe, UAV Operations Checklist For Beginners, Enthusiasts, and Professionals. Checklists are a way for people to have a resource of the procedures for the safe operation of the aircraft right in front of them, like following a recipe to cook the operator can refer to the checklist during any phase of flight. Everyone should also have an emergency procedures checklist so that in the event of a failure the operator can get the vehicle safely to the ground and hopefully not damage any person place of thing. A preflight checklist is also another good idea to inspect the vehicle before you fly for cracks and loose equipment.


In closing I would like to mention that this article is purely written from my opinion and is not the expressed concern of my work place Advanced Aerials, nor is it by any way a legal binding document. Advanced Aerials is a contributor to my learning experience within UAV and a great resource for the history of UAVs, pioneering gimbal mounted cameras and advanced vehicle design. This was written to protect others from harm and to preserve our industry of professionals and hobbyists.

 Please follow me on Twitter @learntoflyva

Questions, comments, amendments and concerns please email me 


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