Chris Anderson shares his personal journey into the world of UAVs and discusses the future of personal drones with a packed Serendipity audience.


Serendipity is a monthly event hosted by Message Bus and Smile by Webshots that brings noteworthy individuals to speak on a topic of their choosing. It's a celebration of tiny interactions and experiences that transform everyday lives.

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  • Drone.. the s800 video is great.. lol.  The DJI people finally acknowledged the issue, locked four of the S800's in a room flying with cables for 72 hours straight... and determined the issue, fixed it and sent me and many other people a new GPS module since the firmware on the gps module can't be user flashed.

    DJI isn't all that and a bag of chips.. but based on my experience it just works out of the box.. while the APM requires quite a bit of tweaking... all in a very raw experience which clearly is a DIY type audience one.

    But the APM is out pacing the others in features so hard to ignore.

  • Kevin, that's why I think blinking lights are pointless.  You can't be expected to break out your super decoder ring while flying so you can figure out what they mean. It's not realistic.  These things NEED a GCS.  Period.

  • Sweet.. must have struck a cord to have my post decomposed and commented on... that's cool. 

    I have to disagree with you on the safety.. granted you compared drones to toys and how you can make safe toys... not gopro carrying drones but a 4 lbs object falling out of the sky regardless of a drone or a rock is not safe... throw on some motors that are spinning at 3k+ RPMs each with sharp blades and the safety level goes down more.

    So no.. they are not safe.. and really can't be made safe.  You can put some shrouds over the props but that will never solve the falling out of the sky on someone's head situation.

    Seems like when you talk about safety you are thinking little toys not APM sized devices.

  • First, I would never describe the system as "uncrashable".  I don't believe in that.  However, now that I'm reading what's going on here, I have to correct a few things.

     like why the heck does the APM (and other boards) not come locked down to a max of 120m/400ft elevation from launch??

    It is not like this feature limits any sort of flight.. 400 ft height is the max in the USA you are allowed to fly.

    That is completely not true.  Please read the discussion in the blog post about drone at JFK airport.  This is a common misconception, but there is no law.

    The video the other day of the APM the flew up and up and up to above cloud cover pisses me off... first off that was in line with the SeaTac international airport in Seattle.. which is a busy airport.. also why the heck would any flight controller allow for this crazy altitude.

    I agree this was bad, and I wish the blog post hadn't been taken down.  It doesn't do us any good to hide it.  However, my understanding is that this was 50/50 system and user error.  The system did not "decide" to fly away, my understanding is that it got confused about what the altitude actually was due to a bad vibration causing an INAV error.  I believe this is being worked on.  In this case, this was definitely not a case that anything was rushed to market.  The Dev's TRIED to make quadcopters shake like hell to find this problem, and we cannot.  I'm flying a bent 3DR quad with scratched and chipped props with bent shafts.  It's fine.  Then, IIRC, this was partially the fault of the user for having an incorrect setting in his radio or failsafe.

    Chris's comments about parents with drones following a soccer bar is just HIGHLY problematic..  nothing says 'fun' like a 4 lbs object with four 3k+ RPM blades falling out of the sky on some kids.  Quad copters are NOT SAFE.. a 4lbs quad falling out of the sky could kill someone.. a 4 lbs quad copter going through a airplane engine could take the plane down,... etc.    I hate how everyone thinks that these things are safe.. and we should just have them flying around like birds.

    I generally agree.  However, these things *can* be safe if built and designed in a certain way.  I've seen video of the DJI Phantom, where somebody reaches out and touches the props with their hand.  Did not cut him.  I think small, like machines, with a soft plastic outer shell and very dull, soft plastic blades can be safe.  Not *perfectly* safe mind you, but in line with the risk of... a soccer player being struck by lightning.  Or bonking heads together. Etc.

    I just don't understand why there are not pre-defined flight limits.  That is just asking for trouble.. and after all, we have all this processing power and yet we don't do common sense flight limits and other safe guards???

    Ok, first, we don't have "all this processing power".  There's not much left.  However, we are working on it Limits.

    But, are there any other systems that have a geofence working?  What are we comparing to, exactly?  Are any systems "flyaway-proof"?

    What would happen if I set up an Rx to failsafe on "hold last known good value", and took any other controller, pushed the stick forward, or the throttle up, and then lost radio link or turned off the Tx?  It'll fly away.

    The user DOES have some responsibility to set the system up properly.

    And again as I have stated, back in the days before APM, it was entirely possible to have any aircraft fly away simply by losing the link.  This is nothing new.

    Yes actually.. the developer should design for 100%... and the occasional fly off is a real possibility.  As a software architect and developer myself I design for the 100%..  I check my inputs and I don't assume that what I am getting is always perfect..  even though this logic should never execute you still put it in there.  You also don't want until later since later will never happen.

    That's great.  Unfortunately, I have NEVER had a piece of software without bugs.

     like that video from a week ago.. a 15k+ foot climb

    It did not climb to 15,000 feet AGL.  That's impossible.  It climbed to maybe 1500.

     A bug which we reproduced on video, a bug which subsequently was buried and covered up, a bug that caused KF to get banned simply for bringing it up, etc, etc.

    Kevin did not get banned for bringing up that bug.  He got banned for Tweeting a private message.

    The land and rtl/land work great and it lands within a meter of where it took off from.

    Yeah, and my APM landed within 3 INCHES of where it took off from, after flying for 24 minutes with the Tx turned completely off.  Is it easy to accomplish this? No.  But it is possible.

    No system is uncrashable.  But saying "APM sucks!  It flies away!  Buy a DJI because it's super awesome and never flies away!" is just as bad as saying that the APM is uncrashable.

    Here's a high altitude DJI Phantom flyaway:

    YouTube is littered with this stuff:

    Everybody remember this user error?

    Here's a great FOD:

  • John.. yeah I have the Naza and Wookong and both have been extremely solid.  My problem is I can't do waypoints without forking out a crap ton more money... so the APM is all I have found that can do it.. granted I have only flown once with my APM and during that flight there was a weird glitch that two of the motors just stopped for about a half second and then recovered... it was very glitch as well.. but I haven't worked hard on minimizing the vibrations yet... which could have been the cause... naza never did that though on the same frame.

    If the waypoint system for the wookong wasn't so expensive I would just use that.. but a little out of my price range currently since I am not getting paid for my services.   As much investment that is in my quads especially the optical system.. I really do not like the idea of flying on the APM based on my own experience and many other stories.

  • John, I completely agree.  But Loiter, RTL, RTL/Land and Failsafe are pretty much perfected now. ;)  Waypoints and missions are pretty close, there are only a few minor niggles.  You can look at my T3 competition entry for reference.  24 minutes of flying 20+ waypoints, with my Tx turned off.

  • Hey LanMark, none of the things you're talking about (distance or altitude limits) would have any affect should the hardware itself lock-up. As was the case with my 3DR gear. A bug which we reproduced on video, a bug which subsequently was buried and covered up, a bug that caused KF to get banned simply for bringing it up, etc, etc.

    The issue here really isn't so much the safety, I mean it is, but the bigger issue is the marketing that these things are in any way even remotely *safe* or "uncrashable" if you take it that far, which Chris has many times. Many people mention the purchase of more commercial products which are closed source - closed or open source has nothing to do with usability or safety and I don't EVER recall any company except 3DR that dared speak about how safe or "uncrashable" their products were.

    The issue here is that 3DR is marketing their products, their DIY closed source hardware and open source "free" software, to the civilian community, to the teachers, the law enforcement, the news, the kids, my neighbors, and anyone else that will listen to Chris blabber on about his gear and how *safe* it is. With his marketing prowess in full swing he says things like "It's called a GeoFence… then you give the controller to the kid and say 'Go for it!'" and that his gear is "uncrashable" lures people into a false sense of security when purchasing their gear. All the while it couldn't be further from the truth.

    There are a lot of great uses for drones, true, but flooding the market with a false sense of safety and a hardware/software combination that has been proven time and time again that it's NOT safe, NOT uncrashable, and NOT for anyone other than a hardcore techie (DIY) is simply irresponsible. Chris and 3DR exist to make money plain and simple. The company is manned by unqualified family members (re: cheap labor), the QA department is ran by a "structural engineer" right out of college, and there have been so many blatant lies, backpedals and coverups it would give the CIA a run for their money.

    As DS put it, trolling is the ONLY way to bring this shit to the surface - a fact we learned long ago - and until people TALK about the issues in the open things will never change. Born from the ashes of a 3DR product is - I'm not particularly surprised to say that >90% of the reports so far point straight back to 3DR products. Who'da thunk.

    I'm glad that through our efforts people are finally starting to talk about things, openly (ish), and there seems to be at least some movement towards fixing all the broken shit people have been complaining about, however, the marketing lies still don't even come close to matching what's being sold. You know what is happening though? Chris is making a mint, always has been. I believe he said recently, "we've been profitable since day one." Funny, I remember him also saying they weren't making any money... #morelies #uncrashable  lol

  • Mark and Markus.. things got done because we moved the bar... I am not saying to design for the 1%.. I am saying to design for the 100%... and in my mind some sort of flight limit that is easily removable (for those that need to) is like having seat belts in the car... you should never need them but when you do you were glad they were there... I am not talking about some extremely limiting safety feature that prevents people from doing what they always have... just some way to prevent the quads from flying above the cloud cover on the approach lanes for a major airport.  Since if that quad had hit a plane our hobby would be over... PERIOD.  So I think doing what we can to prevent bugs in the code or user error from going way out of whack should be our duty, otherwise our hobby could find a very quick conclusion.

    In general moving to Mark's comment.. it is exciting.  I have invested a heck of a lot of my free time into developing processing software and techniques for doing vegetation stress analysis using UAVs with help from some amazing university researchers at KSU.  There is so many things in agriculture (as Chris points out) that it makes my head hurt thinking about it... so yes, very exciting times.

  • Yes, I understand the problem of safety. I was pointing out that mostly when doing any design, first priority is to get it working. It takes time. Especially for large project like this in what very few programmers are paid. 

    And sawmill has its accidents. As my family business is concentrated around lumber , I see how the precautions are taken, what and where the safe machines are, and still, people lose fingers. No fuss about it (tho there are pretty serious governmental checks etc to minimize it, it did take a lot of time to get to this point). And that is exactly the mill example. Things will get better. Also, my text here does not mean that one should not stress the need for safety. Just that there is this other view. 

    LanMark, Thanks for polite conversation :)

    And Mark, It is AWESOME to be involved !! 

  • It's great to see an open spirited conversation...kind of like open source software and hardware. 

    If one were to take the "limits" portion of the conversation to it's logical conclusion there would be limits placed on this conversation.  After all it is dangerous to place ideas in untrained minds, or so the naysayers would cry about this topic.

    Just think if artificial limits were placed on physical memory in the first PCs due to the fact they were disruptive to most commercial ventures at the time.  Let's say limits were placed on the ability to compile code (somehow...) because folks might "hack" existing commercial ventures.  Well, they did and look at the advances which come from that activity...yes lots of problems from those bent on destruction, but all in all we have figured it out and have progressed far faster because of it.

    Marcus got it right, if we design for the 1% we lose.  The community (the larger world one) will figure it out over time how to minimize the danger from the destructive 1%.

    Chris' conversation about drones and robotics is just one part of the vision he is communicating, listen or read what he says about the Maker movement, the internet of things, and small manufacturing capabilities.  The open flow of ideas, designs, and world wide marketing/sales over the internet are the beginning of a huge shift in our world cultures.  It is no less revolutionary than the first printing press, electricity, and digital computing.

    All in all it's pretty exciting to be involved...what do you think?!

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