3D Robotics

3DR's Rise and Fall


Tough Market

“We exited hardware and we exited consumer partly because it was a tough market,” he said. “DJI is an amazing company and lots of people got pounded.

“It was just brutal.”

"We’re a Silicon Valley company and we’re supposed to be doing software and there are Chinese companies that are supposed to be doing hardware.”

Can't say I agree with some of these statements, but alas, this has all played out already. Other interesting tidbits relating to a previously proposed acquisition by DJI are also in the article.

Describes one of the last chapters of the 3DR history book fairly accurately though.

Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2016/10/05/3d-robotics-solo-crash-chris-anderson

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  • So sad to learn of this news. Chris Anderson is a key contributor to the growth of the whole drone market with his insights and vision. He is one of the best industry spokespersons. It's a shame the company made a couple of strategic errors.. I wish them all well

  • DJI is trying to patent everything related to drones (including their GEO system and force it on everyone via legislation), suing Yuneec, suing Autel,

    Personally I want nothing to do with DJI.

  • I feel bad for the "before VC" 3DR staff and the DIY community they served and that served them.  3DR had a good thing going and were doing quite well.  They were doing what they had the core competency to do.

  • @Guy. Yep that about sums it up. Well put. CA really created his own credibility problem in the wider world and specifically in this community and continues to do so. Incidentally how long has a new PX4 FC been promised? And why so much secrecy anyway on this. Can we not even see the basic specs?
  • I agree with John Birkeland.

    The DIY market would eventually plateau, but to abandon the roots of an entire, albeit small, market seemed shortsighted (and now prophetic).

    VC$ = RISK ---> crash & burn.

    Perhaps the nearly invisible Jordi Munoz could get back in the game...unless his buy-out clauses prohibits it (pure speculation on my part)?

    A downsizing of DIY would have been normal. Gutting it was not. The Makerbot analogy was excellent.


  • I have no idea of who were paid and who were not. In fact all the 3DR Sponsorship was quite opaque in a sense that nobody knows exactly what was the boundary of 3DR money.

    Anyway what I was only stating is an anti-3DR feeling in the DiYDrones in the late time that I do not consider fair. That's all.

    About the business model.

    Money means faster evolution.

    If devs gets a salary from the project, the project goes faster. More safety, more features and better autopilot in the end. That can only be done is there is at least a core team of paid developers.

    If every code contribution comes from volunteers, things may go slow because people have to work on another place to get a salary to pay their bills and thus the time dedicated to Ardupilot is diminished.

    So if we agree that a certain amount of money is needed, how can you get it?

    I don't think it will come from paypal donations. I feel the same about merchandising and others.

    So for me the best place to get that money would be to have a great new generation autopilot HW like Pixhawk2 that would be closed hardware. No Chinese copies therefore.

    But again, this is just my opinion that can be very wrong!

  • @Jesus While I see what you're saying, and certainly agree that it was 3DR's right to do whatever it wanted, my feedback here is motivated by a desire to have seen them succeed, and frustration at some of the decisions made which in my opinion lead to their downfall.

    According to crunchbase, 3DR raised $126m USD on the back of the ArduPilot project.  Chris Anderson commented on another post that around ~$2m of this was paid in salaries to the devs.  I'm not sure 1.6% of funding being distributed to devs counts as a huge effort, but I certainly agree that it should be commended, even if it was a largely symbiotic relationship.

    I disagree that a 100% open hardware and software business is not profitable, though I will agree that they're not profitable if run using traditional strategies (particularly when VC is involved), and might not have worked out for 3DR in the long run.  Here are some notable examples:

    • Aleph Objects, Prusa Research, and Ultimaker manufacture some of the best available 3D printers, and are all fully open source hardware and software
    • Arduino revolutionised embedded electronics, and is open source hardware and software
    • Adafruit and Sparkfun use open source hardware and software for a reasonable proportion of their catalogues
    • Red Hat, probably the most referenced example, are an open source software company with a $14B USD market cap

    The criticism I have towards 3DR is mostly related to how they dealt with the community.  

    A large part of 3DR's success was because DIY Drones was started at the right time, received early publicity, and were first to make prototype drone hardware readily available through their partnership with Sparkfun.  It was the community of mostly unpaid developers and testers they attracted, particularly in the early days, who turned them into a major player.  

    Chris and Jordi definitely deserve a decent chunk of the credit, but I think it's important to note that if OpenPilot, Gluon Pilot, Paparazzi etc. managed to draw the growing number of people interested in drones towards their projects, 3DR would not have been anywhere near as successful.  For example, where would 3DR be if William Premerlani hadn't shared his DCM theory?  If Andrew Tridgell hadn't implemented a scheduling system for APM?  If Paul Riseborough hadn't developed an EKF for Pixhawk?  There's far too many people who have played a significant role in this project to list here, so I've tried to narrow it down to just 3 major events in the projects history to illustrate the point.  Additionally, those not directly involved in the development contributed through tens, if not hundreds of hours of flight testing, and rewarding 3DR with ~$10m in revenue at it's peak, which is no trivial figure.  

    It's difficult to nail down my personal issues with 3DR's management, but I think it's been the accumulation of a lot of little things.  For example, promising a standalone Pixhawk 2 would be released 'within months' after Solo, and then stringing people along for literally years whenever an update was requested.  Just last week, Chris was suggesting new hardware was 'days' away, when this very clearly wasn't the case.

    It's been public talks about how 3DR proudly use GPL licensing, and that they'll always be open source, followed by closing 'core value propositions', and purging the Ardupilot code base, without putting enough effort into explaining these contradictions, so that the community has an opportunity to understand the decisions from 3DRs perspective.

    Of course, 3DR have no obligations to pander to this community, and they deserve a lot of credit for continuing to pay for server time and Ning licensing fees.  But if they'd just been a bit more transparent and honest in their communications, if they'd consulted us (their core customer base) about what we wanted to see in Solo instead of keeping it as a secret project, if they'd done just a bit more to resolve amateur customer service issues, they might be a company with $20m or $30m a year in revenue now.  

    What it looked like from my perspective was as soon as they received sufficient VC funding, they largely abandoned this community, without so much as the courtesy to call it for what it was (e.g. "Hey, thanks for helping us grow! We're not going to operate in the DIY hardware space anymore, and we'll stop supporting the Ardupilot project because of XYZ, we hope you understand").  At least then, we would have known where we stand.

  • Companies do have their right to evolve as they desire.

    There seem to be many people judging and criticizing how 3DR spent their money (specially because they, 3DR, stop spending it on diy projects).

    3DR made a huge effort to financially support the development of this community and the APM software that we have today. They have done things great and not so great. But at the end of the day, it is their right to decide when and where spend their money as we all do.

    Chinese clones and people (how many of us all?) buying them may have contributed to 3DR change of mind by a percent.

    Talking about Ardupilot future in general:

    A full openhardware and opensoftware business is not profitable. We have already seen pixracer clones while the original is still out of stock.

    There will always be cheaper Chinese clones and people buying them.

    In my opinion a mixed closed hardware with opensource software business model could eventually work. It allows companies and individuals to adapt the software to their needs but they all have to pay for that piece of hardware that runs the code.

    It would allow to create a continuous and legit income from hardware sales that would pay the bills of servers, hw production, developers etc. 

  • Correction to my statement above,

    I didn't write and rewrite the ArduPilot wiki.

    I wrote and rewrote almost all of the Arducopter wiki and a good part of the ArduRover wiki as well.

    A good number of the pages are still there as I wrote them, others have been substantively edited or completely replaced by Randy and others currently involved in the wikis.

    Best regards,


  • To add to that sentiment: It wasn't just the hobby market, it also included customers like NASA, Universities, researchers, small businesses, and startups.  If DJI couldn't do what you needed, 3DR and Ardupilot was the obvious choice.  We were prepared to pay extra to buy through 3DR over suppliers from China, because we liked that they hosted the community and supported the devs.

    It looks like the new hub for this market is going to be ProfiCNC with the Pixhawk2.1, so all is not lost, it's just disappointing given that the Solo project could have achieved so much more if 3DR had continued to innovate for this segment of the market, and released the components individually to allow flexible integration. 

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