Timothy Reuter's Posts (27)

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Drone Life recently ran an article about the Drone Social Innovation Award, a $10,000 cash prize for the most socially beneficial use of a low cost drone. The Drone User Group Network is extending the deadline for submissions by two months to August 20 to give people more time to complete their projects. We hope many readers of this blog will send in entries. The article is excerpted below and you can read the original at http://dronelife.com/2014/05/20/drone-innovation-idea-win-10000/ 

Got an Idea for a Socially Beneficial Drone Innovation? Win $10,000

Prime the pumps! It’s required in all new industries and that’s exactly the mission of the Drone Social Innovation Award and the $10,000 prize that goes along with it. NEXA Capital Partners and the Drone User Group Network (DUGN) have combined efforts to spur innovation, creativity, attention, and investment in the civilian drone space. The Drone User Group Network’s Drone Social Innovation Award is will be given for the most socially beneficial, documented use of a drone platform costing less than $3,000.

“We think drones are a revolutionary technology with tremendous potential to make the world a better place, and we wanted to focus our prize on low cost drones to highlight the fact that this technology is cheap and accessible enough that ordinary people and community groups can drive innovation and do new things with them,” said Timothy Reuter, founder of the Drone User Group Network.

Michael Dyment, NEXA Capital Partners Founder and Managing Partner said that they agreed to sponsor the Drone Social Inovation Award ” because the contest fits the mandate of NEXA, a highly innovative investment bank focusing on high growth aerospace sector opportunities. Through the competition, the $10,000 Prize will help draw out the most transformational ideas in drone use for social benefit. NEXA hopes to invest in the best concepts and the exceptional people behind some of these entries, which by the way may not include the prize winner.”

The dealine to submit an entry has been extended to August 20th. Announced judges include Patrick Meier, founder of the UAViators humanitarian UAV network, Illah Nourbaksh, Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, and Andra Keay, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics.  Entries will be judges on three tiers of evaluation criteria. In order of importance they include:

Tier 1- Depth and type of impact: Did you help a community to better manage their natural resources? Expose government corruption? Assist first responders in a disaster situation? Protect endangered species? Tell us what your drone does to change the world.
Breadth of impact: How many people benefited? How many acres of land were impacted? How many animals or plants were positively affected? Tell us how we might quantify the impact of your project.

Tier 2
Cost: In addition to the $3,000 cap per drone, we have a preference for less expensive solutions. If you can accomplish for $500 the same thing it takes another group $3,000 to do, we’ll select the people using the less expensive equipment.
Replicability: How easily could another person or community do what you did to benefit their own area?

Tier 3

Coolness: We like things that have a little bit of a wow factor.
Popularity: Try to get as many people as possible to like your video. There will be a “people’s choice” award for the most popular project, and popularity might factor into the cash prize choice as well.

Here’s are some ideas which are unlikely to win the $10,000 but may make their way to America’s Funniest Home Videos.

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Drones featured prominently at The Smithsonian's Future is Here Festival last Saturday. DC Area Drone User Group Director of Education Christopher Vo gave a great presentation on the topic, which included him receiving a bottle of water via drone in the middle of his talk. You can read the original article and see video of the delivery at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/drones-180951485/. A write up of the presentation is excerpted below.

It’s probably safe to say that drones will play a key role in our future.

“People have long been fascinated by the ability to see from the sky,” says Christopher Vo, a graduate researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Like the hot-air balloons, zeppelin, and airplanes before them, drones allow humans to look at their world from a different perspective. Vo spoke about the potential for personal drones at the Smithsonian’s The Future Is Here conference in Washington, DC.  Exactly what role these flying robots will play in our future remains to be seen.

Drone technology was developed for military use, but a growing number of alternatives have popped up in the last decade. Citrus farmers now use drones to monitor crops. Conservationists keep tabs on endangered species, as well as any poachers. Police departments are thinking of using them in rescue and hostage situations. Drones have even helped shoot some major feature films, including Man of Steel and Skyfall. “The technology has become smaller, easier, safer, more accessible, and mainstream,” says Vo.

So, what’s changed? Two trends have driven this expansion: open source technology and the “makers” or DIY movement.

The technology has gotten better and more readily available. Drones and the sensors used to optimize them have gotten smaller. The push to open source technology and coding has made software to program drones readily available. “Because the software is open source, people can download it and use it as is,” says Vo, who develops and optimizes algorithms for use in drones as part of his research. “They don’t have to tweak it at all if they don’t want to.” If people tweak their code for niche drone applications, they can publish it online for another coder to use.

The same makers movement that spawned Etsy includes drone hobbyists with a desire to build their own flying robots. Through an organization called the DC Area Drone User Group, Vo works with a “makers space” NovaLabs in Reston, Virginia. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a place where people can use tools to make stuff. There, he teaches build-you-own drone workshops. Building a basic drone is actually fairly straightforward. “The drone that they would build with the recommended parts is kind of like a roadster,” says Vo. “You buy all of these parts off the shelf, and then you put them together just like a hotrod.” The parts could cost as little as a few hundred bucks, but costs can increase by a lot when photo or video cameras are added.

These drones are far different from the ones designed for military purposes. “A drone is basically a model airplane with a smart, autopilot brain,” says Vo. When he and his compatriots get together to test-fly their creations, it’s not different than flying a kite, really, and in fact most the drones they build are about the size of a kite. Drone enthusiast groups are popping up across the country, and groups like DIY Drones and the Drone User Network have created online communities as well.

Most people who come to these workshops use their drones for aerial photography or videography—to survey crops, take real-estate and wedding photos, see who’s at the end their driveway, check their gutters, or just take a selfie.

Before the technology can truly proliferate, the Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of devising a regulation plan, especially for commercial drones, that eases public fears of drones and prevents them from colliding with piloted airplanes. Currently, the FAA handles commercial drone use on a case-by-case basis, and breaking the rules comes with a hefty fine. Fears of unregulated surveillance and privacy issues need to be addressed and relieved before drones start delivering us groceries or even as, Vo demonstrated at the conference today, a bottle of water. 

Congress has given the FAA until September 2015 to figure out what to do about commercial drones, but the organization forecasts that by 2018 around 7500 drones will fly across U.S. skies. According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, that translates to 100,000 new jobs and 100 billion dollars flowing into the economy. Some companies already have plans to incorporate drones into their businesses practices. Most notably, Amazon announced plans last year to pursue using door-to-door drones for delivery. Along similar lines, future drones could transport vaccines and medicines to remote areas.

It’s easy to imagine a future filled with drones buzzing about. What will the drones of the future look like? Vo thinks they’ll be quieter; camera technology will shrink and so will battery technology; tomorrow’s drones might also be autonomous. As the tech gets better and better, more and more applications arise.

What would you use your drone for? 

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Drone Social Impact Award Announced


The Drone User Group Network just announced a drone social impact award, which will be a cash prize for the most socially beneficial, documented use of a drone that costs less than three thousand dollars. I hope some of you will consider submitting entries for this award as it is aimed squarely at the kinds of people who are in this community. Let's work together to show the world the positive potential of drone technology. Details about the prize can be found at http://www.dugn.org/prizes.html . Our press release is below.

Drone Social Impact Award Announced

New York - The Drone User Group Network (DUGN) announced the creation of the Drone Social Impact Award at the Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference last weekend at New York University. DUGN will be providing a cash prize for the most socially beneficial, documented use of a drone costing less than three thousand dollars. Through this prize, the group hopes to spur innovation, investment, and attention to the positive role that civilian drone technology can play in society.

“We think drones are a revolutionary technology with tremendous potential to make the world a better place, and we wanted to focus our prize on low cost drones to highlight the fact that this technology is cheap and accessible enough that ordinary people and community groups can drive innovation and do new things with them,” said Timothy Reuter, Founder of DUGN and President of the DC Area Drone User Group. “Also, while the U.S. has decided to put a moratorium until 2015 on realizing the economic benefits of drones, now is a great time to think about services that you can give away to help people,” he noted, referring to current Federal Aviation Administration regulations that prohibit the private commercial use of unmanned aerial systems.

Submissions for the prize are being accepted through March 10 with the award being granted in May 2014. The group expects to receive entries in a number of fields including natural resource management, search and rescue, exposing government corruption, and delivery of vaccines in remote areas of developing countries. “We kept the definition of ‘socially beneficial’ intentionally broad because we didn’t want to limit people’s creativity,” Reuter explained. The competition is international with people and organizations from anywhere in the world being eligible to win the award.  Participants are asked to submit short YouTube videos along with a brief write up of their work.

The Drone User Group Network is an association of community organizations dedicated to teaching people how to build and operate their own drones and that seeks to promote the use of civilian drone technology for the benefit of humanity. More information about the network and prize can be found at dugn.org/prizes . This prize is being administered in cooperation with Nova Labs, an innovation hub in the Washington, DC area. More information about Nova Labs can be found at www.nova-labs.org .

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As part of Drone Community Service Month, the Los Angeles and Orange County Drone User Group (LA/OC DUG) assisted with the California Coastal Cleanup on September 21. The LA/OC DUG shot aerial footage of the cleanup for the benefit off the El Dorado Nature Center and the California Coastal Commission, which were sponsors of the event. They will be posting the aerial videos on their respective websites and in other promotional materials. The daylong cleanup is the largest volunteer event in California.

Representatives of the El Dorado Nature Center were excited to be able to capture the event from a new perspective. LA/OC DUG is already planning future community service projects to perform in cooperation with the El Dorado Nature Center.

3689553417?profile=originalAerial shot of debris retrieved by a scuba diving team from the bottom of the ocean.  


Drone Community Service Month is an initiative of the Drone User Group Network (DUGN). DUGN is an association of community organizations that teach people to build and operate drones and seeks to promote the benefit of civilian drone technology for the benefit of humanity. If you are interested in starting a new drone user group in your area or affiliating your existing group with our network, please contact us at info@dcdrone.org .


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Drone U recently posted an interactive map that shows UAV legislation by state and where DIY drone groups are located. An analysis posted in Slate today is copied below. 

Drone U: Census Uncovers the U.S. "Drone Belt"

Every Wednesday on Future Tense, we will highlight insights from a leading thinker from Drone U on the topic of what our drone future may look like. Drone U is produced in cooperation with the New America Foundation. (Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University.) 

Drones deliver your tacosDrones walk your kid to school! Behind the headline-grabbing news, a complex ecosystem of industry, legislation, community groups, and research powers the exponential growth in drones.

In order to better understand all of this interconnected activity, Deloitte GovLab, where we work as consultants, decided to conduct a “drone census.” We gathered data on stakeholders driving the drone movement, including: members of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus; do-it-yourself drone groups; American universities researching drone technology; state-by-state unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)legislation; past Certificate of Authorization applicants who applied to the FAA for permission to operate UAVs; and corporate members of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International—a major UAV industry group.

The map is on the New America Foundation’s Drone U website. What was discovered was revealing and promising, so let’s peel away the layers:

  • The political drone belt: The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus aims to educate members of Congress on the value of unmanned technologies. The caucus currently has 48 House members (39 Republicans and 9 Democrats) who represent nearly 35.5 million Americans. In addition, 41 state legislatures have become involved in the drone debate and have proposed or passed drone legislation, covering everything from privacy to safety.
  • The drone bowl—rural vs. urban universities: Much of the innovation in the non-military applications of drones is occurring at academic institutions. Not surprisingly, we discovered that universities in the rural areas, especially in the Midwest, are focused on drone applications relating to the environment (example: Utah State University’s research on wetland mapping and wildlife tracking), while universities near urban centers are more focused on technology that makes drones more agile and maneuverable (like Carnegie Mellon University’s sense-and-avoid systems).
  • From India to Iowa: Similar to the garage startups that resulted in the personal computer boom, the next great leap in drone applications may come from hobbyists experimenting in their backyards. DIY groups help hobbyists purchase materials, assemble drones, and learn from one another. The 81 DIY groups we identified come from 18 countries; however, this figure is likely a low estimate given the decentralized nature of the DIY movement.
  • The next drone frontier: As technology continues to improve and become more affordable, drone use is expanding outside of the military into civilian government agencies. Of the 241 COA applicants, 116 (48 percent) were either from civilian agencies or universities, indicating a shift in demand toward non-military application of the technology.
  • A bullish Rust Belt: Eager to tap into a potential $89 billion market, the Rust Belt states are home to 64 AUVSI member corporations and 34 COA applicants. The states of Ohio, New York, and Michigan have all applied to host FAA UAV test sites with the hope of luring future UAV jobs. Ohio alone is home to 15 COA applicants.
  • A new gold rush: The combination of Bay Area tech brain power and Southern California military brawn make California arguably the most active state in the drone ecosystem. With seven Unmanned Systems Caucus members, including Chairman Buck McKeon, 80 AUVSI member companies, 22 COA applicants, and 15 DIY groups, California is the current leader in the UAV marketplace.  
While the public has been focused on drone use abroad targeting terrorists, the technology landed in our backyards and is poised to transform our skies. We’ve laid out our findings in the DroneU census map. However, we want to hear from you: What trends do you see happening in your neighborhood and what are we missing?
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The DC Area Drone User Group (DC DUG) shared their UAV designs with children as part of the National Museum of the Marine Corps Robot Festival on September 14. About ten group members showed off a variety of designs ranging from FPV enabled micro-copters to large fixed wing aircraft. Seeing the world through the eyes of a drone using FPV goggles brought a huge smile to the face of the young students, and a few adults as well.

Many of the people who stopped by the booth had questions about what were the applications for these aircraft. They were excited to hear about uses in agriculture, mapping, natural resource management, and search and rescue for UAVs.

As an additional service, DC DUG volunteered to take some aerial photography and videography of the facilities. These are being provided to the museum managers for use in their promotional and educational materials.

These efforts were undertaken as part of the Drone User Group Network’s (DUGN) Drone Community Service Month.  DUGN is encouraging all drone operators to start projects this month where they volunteer to use their equipment in ways that benefit their communities, and then let people know about those projects by writing them up for outlets such as DIY Drones and sUAS News. If you are interested in starting a new drone user group in your area or affiliating your existing group with our network, please contact us at info@dcdrone.org .



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Using Drones to Protect Human Rights



Some of you may enjoy the most recent Drone U podcast about how drones could be be used to protect communities around the world that are at risk from genocide or other mass atrocities. The write up on Slate, copied below, won't be anything people on this site haven't heard before, but the speaker in the podcast goes into much greater detail that may be of interest. At the end of the talk, Sentinel Project Executive Director Christopher Tuckwood asks for our community's help with implementing his suggested program. Hopefully the embed code for the podcast will display correctly below.


Drone U Podcast: Can Drones Help Safeguard Human Rights?


Every Wednesday on Future Tense, we will highlight a talk from a leading thinker from Drone U speaking on the topic of what our drone future may look like. Drone U is produced in cooperation with the New America Foundation. (Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University.) 


This week Drone U features Sentinel Project Executive Director Christopher Tuckwoodspeaking about using drones to protect human rights. Christopher sees this as a time of opportunity for applying new technology to the challenge of preventing mass atrocities, which is the focus of the Sentinel Project. Theories for predicting when and where mass atrocities will take place have been in place for many years, but only recently has the technology become available to gather the data needed to develop models for early warning that can help communities protect themselves.

Over the last 10 years, drones have gone from being the exclusive preserve of militaries and intelligence agencies to being available, relatively affordably, for commercial and nonprofit entities. There is also a growing talent pool of professionals and advanced hobbyists around the world that can be tapped into to help adapt this technology for socially beneficial uses. Anti-poaching applications have gained a lot of attention recently with Google providing millions of dollars to the World Wildlife Fund to help them use drones to protect endangered species. The Sentinel Project is betting that similar efforts can be undertaken to use drones to protect endangered people.

In fact, the biggest challenges for applying drone technology to human rights protection will probably not be the technical ones. Christopher notes that Sentinel Project staff consider what they call the "10/90 rule" whenever they work with a new technology. In designing programs the technology usually represents just 10 percent of the challenge, with the rest being social, ethical, logistical, and human behavioral challenges.

In the eyes of many people, drones remain a potent symbol of human rights abuses committed by governments around the world. In his podcast, Christopher lays out an intriguing alternative vision for how this cutting edge technology can be put in the hands of endangered communities to help them protect themselves against outside groups that seek to abuse them.

Join us on Sept. 11 for the next episode from Drone U, featuring David Kilcullen, CEO of Caerus Associates and author of The Accidental Guerrilla.  He will be speaking about drones and counterinsurgency.

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September is Drone Community Service Month


Community service is a core value of the Drone User Group Network, and we are excited to announce that September will be our first “drone community service month.” We are challenging our groups and members to start projects in September where they use their drones for good. We would also like to encourage those of you on this site who feel your skills and equipment are ready to come up with your own projects like helping a charity organization film an event from the sky, help a local school inspect their facilities, help a park map their natural resources, teach kids about UAVs to encourage them in STEM disciplines, or develop your own completely new ideas.

And once you have completed your awesome project, post about your activities on DIY Drones to let everyone know what you have done. Let’s work together to show the world the potential for this technology to improve people’s lives. We know that some projects may take more than a month to complete, so get your projects started in September and we look forward to reporting out on what we have accomplished over the coming few months. Of course, stay safe and legal as you do this so we can make sure we are telling positive stories and not responding to reports of anyone getting hurt or arrested. The Drone User Group Network is excited to report out on the projects that we have already started, and look forward to reading about the projects that others initiate.




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The Washington Post had a nice front page article and accompanying video on Sunday about the potential benefits of personally owned drones.

A drone of your very own: These aren’t your average remote-controlled aircraft
By Michael S. Rosenwald,

Kevin Good thought there was an 80 percent chance he could successfully deliver his brother’s wedding rings with a tiny drone.

“The other 20 percent is that it could go crashing into the bride’s mother’s face,” the Bethesda ­cinematographer somewhat jokingly told his brother.

His brother was okay with those odds, so he signed off.

A few weeks ago, sitting in the back row at the ceremony near San Francisco, Good steered the drone to the altar, delivering the payload in front of 100 or so astonished guests. His brother grabbed the rings, then watched as Good buzzed the drone off into the blue sky.

“At the end of the wedding, that was what everyone was talking about,” Good said. “It was pretty awesome.”

This is the gee-whiz side of drones, a technology typically associated with surprise air assaults on terrorists. Drones designed to do the bidding of ordinary people can be bought online for $300 or less. They are often no larger than hubcaps, with tiny propellers that buzz the devices hundreds of feet into the air. But these flying machines are much more sophisticated than your average remote-
controlled airplane: They can fly autonomously, find locations via GPS, return home with the push of button, and carry high-definition cameras to record flight.

Besides wedding stunts, personal drones have been used for all kinds of high-minded purposes — helping farmers map their crops, monitoring wildfires in remote areas, locating poachers in Africa. One local drone user is recording his son’s athletic prowess from a bird’s-eye view, potentially for recruiting videos.

But not every flier is virtuous. There are videos on YouTube of people arming drones with paintball guns. In one video — apparently a well-done hoax to promote a new video game — a man appears to fire a machine gun attached to a small drone and steer the device into an abandoned car to blow it up.

Privacy and civil rights activists worry about neighbors spying on each other and law enforcement agencies’ use of drones for surveillance or, potentially, to pepper-spray protesters.

“Drones make it possible to invade privacy without even trespassing,” said Amie Stepanovich, a surveillance expert at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “This is a real concern.”

The Washington region is a hotbed of personal-drone deployment, possibly because of the area’s tech-wonkiness and wealth. Nearly 500 people belong to the D.C. Area Drone User Group, making it the largest such organization in the country. They have been assembling for almost a year, working on flying safety, spreading a more benevolent message about drones and incubating ideas for companies.

“What this is really about is a grand experiment in taking a technology and making it empowering instead of disempowering,” said Timothy Reuter, the group’s leader, whose day job is at the U.S. Agency for International Development. “I believe we can take this technology and start with ordinary people to create small businesses, to do art, to monitor the natural resources of the community.”

But already, several law enforcement agencies across the country, including the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, have purchased the devices. Meanwhile, as many as 40 states, including Maryland, have considered legislation to limit police drone use or ban the devices. A small Colorado town is weighing an ordinance to allow hunters to shoot down drones.

In supporting a Maryland bill to limit law enforcement use of drones, an American Civil Liberties Union official testified, “In short, all the pieces appear to be lining up for the eventual introduction of routine aerial surveillance in American life, a development that would profoundly change the character of public life in the United States.”

Drone defenders, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, say those fears are overblown and threaten the potential economic benefits of commercial drones. The group predicts 70,000 new U.S. jobs and a nearly $14 billion economic boost.

“These concerns have had an impact on us,” said Ben Gielow, the general counsel for the unmanned-vehicle group. “There is a widespread belief that these are just military systems for persistent domestic surveillance. That’s just not the case.”

Right now, drones operate under the same rules as radio-
controlled planes. Commercial use is not legal, meaning Good could not, for instance, start a drone wedding-ring delivery service. Congress has mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration come up with rules by 2015 to integrate drones into the nation’s airspace. Hobbyists are supposed to fly the devices below 400 feet.

That has not stopped scores of devices from entering the market. There are generally three types of personal drones available.

There is the toy market, which features devices such as the Parrot AR.Drone. It sells for $300 and can be bought online, at the mall or even through the online Apple store. The drone is controlled with an iPhone and operates over WiFi, recording what happens below.

Many newbies start off with the Parrot and eventually graduate to more sophisticated devices, such as the fully autonomous drones sold for upwards of $600 by 3D Robotics, a California company run by Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired magazine, who gave up words for drones.

Anderson said the company, founded in 2009, was generating $5 million a year in sales early on and is now growing 100 percent year over year. His drones can fly for 15 or 20 minutes, with HD cameras attached. If a big gust of wind comes along, the drone knows how to stabilize itself.

And then there are the $20,000-and-above drones, such as the Falcon UAV that police departments are purchasing. They can fly for hours at a time and coordinate with surveillance systems on the ground.

Last month, at Davis Airport in Laytonsville, more than three dozen members of the D.C. drone group gathered for a fly-in. The group included men with their grandsons progressing from remote-
controlled planes, photographers and filmmakers hoping to integrate drones into their work, and military contractors such as Ken Druce, who was zooming his drone through the air when another drone came spiraling down to the earth not far from his feet.

“You’re fine, you’re fine,” Druce told the other pilot.

“No, I wasn’t fine,” he replied.

They laughed. Another pilot offered the following observation: “Everyone crashes.” Especially amateurs. But Druce has a loftier goal — starting a company that helps farmers map their fields for fertilization.

The group of fliers is mostly male, ranging from elementary-schoolers to retirees, and the diversity of backgrounds is best exemplified by Scott Avey, the group’s self-proclaimed “drone evangelist.” The title is not entirely in jest. Avey is a pastor at a Frederick church, or, as he put it, “a guitar-playing pastor who flies drones.” He has used his drone to get aerial footage of his church’s parking lot to figure out more-efficient parking strategies.

Not long ago, he met with members of Congress to discuss the potential for commercial drone uses. Like other drone fliers, he is worried that privacy and safety issues will overshadow the commercial benefits of drones, a concern shared by a variety of groups. The National Football League and Motion Picture Association of America have reportedly both pushed the FAA to integrate commercial use into U.S. airspaces.

“We are at the same place with drones in the technology curve as computers were in 1986,” Avey said. “People would have never thought of the uses that we use computers for now.”

The D.C. group is sensitive to concerns about drones, and it has been pushing positive uses. There are hopes to partner with a local first-responder organization to help with search-and-rescue missions for missing children or Alzheimer’s patients who have wandered off. The group wants to work with disabled veterans to help them find commercial uses for the technology. This month, it hosted a guest speaker, University of Maryland professor Tom Snitch, who is helping park rangers in Africa spot poachers, with drones larger than the ones the group typically flies.

Good, the wedding-ring deliveryman, wants to use drones to make commercials and movies, but he knows the nascent personal-drone community has more work to do to make people comfortable with the technology.

“There are people outside the White House probably right now protesting drones,” he said. “But we’re trying to do really positive stuff with these things, developing uses that are cool and new and exciting. I want to live in the future that is more like ‘The Jetsons’ and less like ‘The Terminator.’ ”

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Using Drones to Stop Poachers in Africa

Professor Tom Snitch recently spoke with the the DC Area Drone User Group about his trip to South Africa where he ran a pilot project using drones and predictive mapping techniques to help local rangers in their fight against poachers who are targeting elephants and rhinos. The talk has been posted in a series of YouTube videos with the first one embedded above. Some key points included:

  • 30,000 elephants were killed by poachers in Africa in 2012. 668 rhinos were killed just in South Africa in 2012. The current system of protection for these animals is not working.
  • The parks are too large for any UAV to cover the whole area. By using predictive mapping techniques based on models of poacher behavior, the team was able to determine where to deploy the UAVs to maximize the chance they will catch poachers.
  • Although some other anti-poaching projects involving drones have focused on using systems with long ranges, Dr. Snitch felt there was little point in having UAVs that could fly farther than the distance rangers can go out and respond to what they find.
  • The South African government gave Dr. Snitch's team permission to operate because the system was small enough to be considered a model aircraft under South African regulation.
  • US regulations forced Dr.Snitch to downgrade the autopilot system on his UAVs so they could be exported to Africa. He considered bringing a system from another country where the regulations are not as onerous, but the Falcon UAV team stepped forward to assist him with their system.

You can see the slides from Dr. Snitch's talk by clicking here.

The DC Area Drone User Group is part of the Drone User Group Network, an association of community organizations that seek to promote the use of civilian drone technology for the benefit of humanity. If you are interested in starting a drone user group in your area or affiliating your existing group with our network, please email us at info@dcdrone.org .




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I recently had a piece posted on Slate comparing society's reaction to 3D printing and drones. It is excerpted below.

When 3-D printers first hit the mainstream news, the press and blogosphere regaled us with tales of how anyone would be able to make just about anything in the comforts of their own home. Jay Leno discussed 3-D printing spare parts for his rare-car collection. A 2010 article from the New York Times describing a company promising to print prosthetic limbs would later evolve into the recent reality of 3-D printed organs.

When people realized that printing “anything” might include 3-D printed guns, both the government and the public had a mini panic: TheState Department rushed to restrict the publication of open-source design files for the gun, and 3-D printer manufacturer Stratsys hired a team to take back the equipment it had leased to the people designing the weapons. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced a bill banning 3-D printed gun magazines and firearms that could evade metal detectors. More recently, a Danish company has created software that could be embedded in 3-D printers to prevent them from printing gun components, although this may be more about reducing printer companies’ liability than effectively stopping a determined weapons maker.

But no one called for banning 3-D printers—they just wanted to create a framework for dealing with one particularly troubling application. Even after the 3-D printed gun first caused widespread alarm in late 2012, President Obama praised the technology in his 2013 State of the Union speech, saying, “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”

This stands in stark contrast to the surge of efforts to restrict the use of unmanned aerial systems, commonly referred to as drones. Most people’s first exposure to drones has come from stories of targeted strikes in Pakistan and surveillance of insurgents in Iraq. In the public eye, they have become a symbol of the war on terror and a threat to privacy. And because of this association, there has been an increase in calls for restrictions not just on particular applications for drones, but any use of the technology. The most extreme example of this was Oregon’s Senate Bill 71, which would have made it illegal to even own a device capable of capturing aerial imagery.

These restrictions on the civilian use of drones keep us from taking full advantage of their many socially beneficial applications. Community organizations, artists, and entrepreneurs are testing out new uses for drones completely different from how they have historically been applied on the battlefield. (I founded a drone user group in Washington, D.C., for exactly this reason.) The most recent issue of Successful Farming magazine features an article on its covertitled “Drones: Look overhead for the latest tool in precision agriculture”—but using UAVs for this or any other commercial application will remain illegal for at least two more years under FAA regulation. With more restrictive legislation passed or being proposed in many states and cities, the wait may be even longer. Of course, other countries are not standing still in this regard. In Japan more than 90 percent of aerial crop spraying is already done with unmanned aerial systems. In America, meanwhile, it’s illegal for Americans to even test these drones, which are lower cost and more environmentally friendly than traditional manned systems.

The first uses of a technology often do not end up being the most common. The people who originally developed GPS to guide military equipment around a battlefield could never have guessed that their children would be using that same technology on their smartphones to find restaurants in a new city or to find a date. By focusing our debates about privacy on restricting a particular technology, we may end up with a system that looks as antiquated as attempts in the 1800s to prevent aerial bombing by signing a convention focused on the potential dangers posed by balloons. Once we understand and accept our inability to predict all the ways a new technology might be used, we can focus on creating laws, regulations, and social norms that effectively manage what we think is safe and acceptable in a technology neutral manner while still embracing the full potential of human creativity.

You can read the original version at http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/06/28/drones_3_d_printing_and_our_distorted_views_of_new_technologies.html

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Dr. Darryl Jenkins, author of the recent AUVSI report on the Economic Impact of Drones, spoke last week with the DC Area Drone User Group about business opportunities using drone technology. The report notes that drones will help create more than 70,000 new American jobs and stimulate $13.6 billion in economic activity during the first three years following their integration into U.S. skies. However, during his talk Dr. Jenkins stated that, according to new models he is developing, these numbers significantly underestimated the economic impact of drones for the U.S. economy.

Dr. Jenkins also suggested that it was insurance companies, and not government regulation, which would have the biggest impact on what businesses would develop around UAVs. Without insurance it is impossible to get VC funding or bank loans, and without financing it is very difficult to grow a business, so access to insurance is foundational in creating a strong business ecosystem for growing UAV enterprises. 

Dr. Jenkins also noted that insurance company policies may be able to encourage respect for privacy by simply stating that anyone using their drones to invade someone’s privacy would lose their insurance coverage. Therefore if a tabloid outlet or private investigator was found trying to illegally film celebrities sunbathing at home they would lost their insurance and thus their access to capital. This would create strong disincentives to misuse these platforms.

To view the slides Dr Jenkins presentation please click on this link. The DC Area Drone User Group is a member of the Drone User Group Network, an association of community groups that seek to promote the use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes. If you are interested in starting a Drone User Group in your area, please contact us at info@dcdrone.org .


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Calling For Drone Community Leaders


We at the Drone User Group Network are looking for people interested in starting a Drone User Group in their local area or affiliating their existing group with our network. The Drone User Group Network is an association of community organizations that seek to promote the use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes. Our hope is that by creating a national (and eventually international) organization we can bring more people into this activity, promote innovation, and help demonstrate the positive potential of this technology for humanity. Individual drone user groups are the in-person counterpart to virtual communities like DIY Drones where people can help each other learn how to build drones, hold fly-ins and educational events, organize community service projects, and share their passion for this technology and its applications.

If you are interested in the possibility of starting a new group or affiliating your existing group with the network, please email us at info@dcdrone.org for more information. We will help you start your group on Meetup and build your community. You don’t need to be highly technical to lead a group; you just need to have a passion for helping people engage with this technology. Current Drone User Group Network members include the DC Area Drone User Group, The Los Angeles and OC Drone User Group, the North Texas Drone User Group, and the San Francisco Drone User Group. We hope you will join us in creating this dynamic new community. 

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3689527869?profile=originalCalling all drone lovers in the Los Angeles and Orange County area! We are excited to announce the formation of the Los Angeles and Orange County Drone User Group (LA-OC DUG). LA-OC DUG welcomes both total newbies and experienced users, hobbyists and professionals, and anyone who is curious or enthusiastic about this exciting technology. We will be getting together up as a community to share our ideas and experiences, fly our drones, collaborate on community service projects and technology demonstrations, and hold drone building workshops. 

Our first event will be a drone show and tell on June 12. If you are in the Los Angeles/OC area, please visit our Meetup page and consider joining our group. LA-OC DUG is led by Mike Rivard

LA-OC DUG is part of the Drone User Group Network, an association of community organizations that seek to promote the responsible use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes. Current Drone User Group Network members include The DC Area Drone User Group, Baltimore Drones, and LA-OC DUG. If you are interested in starting a Drone User Group in your area or having your current organization be part of our network, please send an email to info@dcdrone.org .

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As fellow believers in the transformational power of technology, we at the DC Area Drone User Group were surprised and saddened to read of your recent comments in multiple fora urging increased restriction on the use of small drones. These positions are particularly surprising coming from the Chairman of Google in light of your organization’s admirable support of the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to combat poaching using drones and Matternet’s research into developing drones to deliver medicine in Africa.Ironically, right now due to FAA restrictions it is personally owned drones that are better positioned than government or corporate owned ones to be used for social good in the U.S. The DC Area Drone User Group is currently conducting a community service project with a park in our local area creating aerial trail videos and overhead maps to help the park manager track changes over time in plant and animal species inhabiting the area. It is illegal for the park to operate a drone themselves without going through a process with the FAA that is in practice too complicated and expensive for a small, local government entity to manage. It is also illegal for them to hire someone to operate a drone on their behalf since current regulations prohibit the commercial use of unmanned aerial systems. However, it is entirely legal for us to use our drones on a volunteer basis to help them better understand their own resources, an activity we are happy to help them with in an era where our public institutions are being asked to do more with less.You suggest that terrorists might use drones for nefarious purposes. However, similar technologies have already been available for years. RC aircraft, ground vehicles and watercraft have been around for decades with people mounting cameras and other payloads on them. And just because terrorists have used Gmail to communicate in the current era, in much the same way they used telephones in the past, does not mean that the world would be better off if we had restricted use of email and telecommunication technologies to government and big business. Are you suggesting that any new technology should be suppressed because it might be used for anti-social purposes? The answer to these challenges is to ban terrorism, murder, theft, and invasion of privacy, as we have already done. Restricting access to specific technologies is always a losing game as bad actors will simply find new tools to cause harm to our society.What your comments exemplify is a trend, unfortunately common in our society, where some people are afraid to see individuals gain access to tools that in the past have been the exclusive domain of governments and big corporations. As drone technology has become cheaper, smaller, and easier to use, we are seeing ordinary citizens and community groups become self-sufficient in areas where they previously had to rely on others. Farmers can check on the health of their own crops from the sky without having to pay for expensive manned aviation. Communities can map their own natural resources without having to buy costly satellite imagery.Personally owned flying robots today have the power to change the balance of power between individuals and large bureaucracies in much the same way the Internet did in the past. And just as the military researchers who developed GPS for guiding munitions could never have imagined their technology would be used in the future to help people conduct health surveys in the world’s poorest countries or help people find dates in the world’s richest, there is a whole world of socially positive and banal applications for drones that are yet to be discovered. We should embrace this chance that technology provides instead of strangling these opportunities in their infancy. Our hope is that you and the rest of Google’s leadership will embrace this pro-technology agenda in the future rather than seeking to stifle it. We would welcome the opportunity to speak further with you about this topic.Timothy ReuterPresident and FounderDC Area Drone User Grouphttp://www.dcdrone.orgThe DC Area Drone User Group is a community organization that seeks to promote the use of flying robots for community service, artistic, entrepreneurial, and recreational purposes.
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Two days ago the DC Area Drone User Group met with senate and congressional staff members as part of AUVSI Hill Day to let them know about the concerns of the small drone operator community. Watch the video above for an on-the-spot report of our experiences, as well as suggestions for how you can help ensure that new laws and regulations don't stifle our activities.

We encourage you to reach out to your members of congress about these issues. Urge them to push the FAA to meet the congressionally mandated deadline of 2015 for integrating drones into the U.S. airspace and ensure that the new regulations are friendly to small operators and small businesses. Click here for the talking points we used, which may be helpful for your conversations. AUVSI also has resources on its advocacy page here that contain additional information for tracking what is going on with the laws surrounding drone use.

Let's make sure our voices are heard! Big businesses are heavily engaged in the rule making process. Let's work together to ensure that the concerns of the small operator are also taken into account at this critical time.

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The New Yorker has a piece in its latest issue about a build your own drone event organized last month by the DC Area Drone User Group. You can read the article at http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2013/04/08/130408ta_talk_stillman. Unfortunately, the New Yorker does have a paywall, so you need to be a subscriber to see the full article. The beginning reads:  

"One recent Saturday morning, in a suburb of Washington, D.C., an eight-year-old boy named Ethan Manners and his father, José (“as in table manners,” the father said), arrived at a party whose invitation read “Do you want to build your own drone?” The Manners contingent was undecided. “We’re in watch-and-learn mode,” José said, explaining that he and Ethan were drawn by the mission of the party’s hosts—the D.C. Area Drone User Group—to promote “the use of flying robots for recreational, humanitarian, and artistic purposes.” Before they invested in their own drone kit, made in China (and available online for around three hundred and twenty-six dollars), they wanted to observe. “Moving from building Legos to drones—it’s like making the switch from the N.C.A.A. to the N.B.A.,” José said. . . "

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The DC Area Drone User Group’s is putting together an exhibit sharing artwork created with the assistance of our flying robot friends, and we need your help! We want to show art lovers, politicians, and the general public in our nation’s capital the creative potential of this technology through beautiful images captured by drones. We are planning to focus on aerial photography with a modest amount of aerial videography.  However, we are open to all sorts of submissions, so if you think you have a particularly amazing photograph of a drone, or you think your artfully designed drone (please no taxidermied cats) qualifies, bring it on.


Step One: We need a 'critical mass' of work worth showing.  Please get in touch with DC DUG’s Director of Flying Robot Arts Kevin Good at kgood@dcdrone.org and share what you're working on.  Once enough submissions come in we'll head to...


Step Two: The curating/selections.  This will not be an open forum to showcase everyone's work.  It will be a curated selection designed to show-off top-notch work.  We’re in the process of recruiting our other curators.  They will be heavy-hitters in photography & cinematography.  Our goal will be to choose the best work, and a variety of creative approaches.  Once that's settled, we'll be on to...


Step Three:  Putting the show itself together.  It would of course be wonderful to have everyone come out and join us for the soiree.  We'll also need some volunteers to help with printing & hanging & prepping the gallery, etc.  So if you're fascinated by the idea of working on some flying robot art and live in the Washington, DC area but you're not quite there yet with your aerial photography skills, come help put the show together.  This leads us to...


Step Four: Revel in the beautiful creations and keep spreading the word.  One of the main goals of DC DUG is to share with the world how awesome/fun/useful/creative/exciting/positive the technology can be. Take some beautiful pictures from the skies and send them our way so that we can make that happen.

Thank you, and we look forward to showcasing some awesome art from members of this community. Please email Kevin Good at kgood@dcdrone.org if you have any questions.

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Dr Vijay Kumar spoke to approximately 50 members of the DC Area Drone User Group and DC Robotics Group on March 12 at iStrategy Labs. Dr. Kumar's talk focused on the evolution of technology surrounding flying robots. Some points from the talk include:

  • As people who work with and embrace technology, we as a community need to be vocal advocates of the potential for UAVs and other robots to have a positive impact in people's lives. This is especially important because there are many in our society that are apprehensive about the role robots will play in our future.
  • In the past, people focused on how robots would replace human labor. Now the focus is on how robots can work with humans.
  • As we see dramatic population growth over the coming decades, indoor farming with robots can be a crucial part of the puzzle for how we will produce enough food to feed billions of new people.
  • Dr. Kumar is a strong believer in open source as a driver of innovation and uses open source tools like Open CV in his research. However, he finds that open source projects are often operating at a different tier of cost and precision than much academic research so there is still a role for traditional academic approaches to driving science and innovation.

DC DUG and the DC Robotics Group would like to thank Dr. Kumar for generously taking the time to speak with us and answer so many of our questions. We are excited to continue following his research and other work as he continues to shape the future of robotics and technology.


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The DC Area Drone User Group participated in the STEM is everywhere event at Howard University on March 9 to encourage the next generation of middle and high school makers to get excited about science, engineering, and drones.



DC DUG Director of Online Operations Gustavo Ruiz Zastrow noted that showing off flying robots to students helped give them concrete examples of how math and physics could be applied to something exciting in the real world rather than just being abstract concepts on a page.

3689508671?profile=original Students were excited by what they saw and we received requests to teach about drones in schools. 

3689508613?profile=originalWe displayed this custom lego frame to show that much of the drone can be built from materials that students are already familiar with.

3689508696?profile=originalJournalist Malcolm Brown interviewed DC DUG Director of Education Christopher Vo and filmed him flying. Malcom is producing a short piece about the commercial market for small drones that will appear on the PBS website in April or May. This video will also include an interview with DC DUG President Timothy Reuter.


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