Jordi is one of MIT Tech Review's top ten innovators under 35 in Mexico! From the award annoucement:
A 21-year old Mexican immigrant faces another day of tedious confinement in his apartment in Riverside, California, waiting to get his green card that would allow him to study, seek work or take out a driver’s license in the US.
Flashback to March 2007 and Jordi Muñoz, a passionate computer man dreaming of becoming a pilot, has just moved with his wife across the border while leaving his engineering studies hanging at the Center for Higher Technical Education of Baja California. “I was mega-bored at home so I started playing with chips and controllers, spent hours experimenting with Arduino (an open source electronic platform) code, browsing and reading on the computer,” said Muñoz.
Thus Muñoz discovered DIY Drones, a forum where thousands of hobbyists who build their own unmanned aerial vehicles share their experiences, code libraries that they develop and adapted to and plans for electronic components with other like-minded individuals.
Immersed in this sea of knowledge, Muñoz not only improved as a developer but he also inherited the open and collaborative philosophy upon which he has based his career as an entrepreneur and made important contacts. His home experiments attracted the attention of Chris Anderson, Wiredmagazine’s editor, who saw Muñoz’s video of an autonomous helicopter flying using Arduino and a repurposed Wii controller.
Impressed, Anderson gave Muñoz a small amount of funding to manually produce 40 control boards. “They sold the same day and then we realized that here was a business,” explained Muñoz. Lo and behold, 3D Robotics, a company that employs 20 people and according to his estimates, was born. The company expects to generate $4.8 million profit by the end of the year [Editor's note: the translator confused revenue with profit. 3D Robotics is managed to generate no profit, and reinvests all earning into R&D].
This company, of which Muñoz is executive director, sells electronic accessories to hobbyists who build drones in their garage and university professors who want their students to learn engineering via robot design. The most popular product is ArduPilot system, a low-cost and easy to use autopilot. “For less than $200, builders are offered a high-tech system that would cost thousands,” says Muñoz. “Also, as its open source, they can ‘play’ with it and see real-time changes to their modifications.”
Along with teaching applications, these drones (or parts thereof) have proven useful for many other purposes. Using a small drone instead of chartering a helicopter saves a lot of money during surveillance missions, the monitoring of migratory animals or the inspection of archaeological sites.
In 2011, Munoz asked his friend William Romero to found a sister company to 3D Robotics based in Tijuana called Udrones. It is meant to serve the international market and has sent orders to customers requesting fully-assembled and ready-to-fly aircraft to places such as Germany and Australia. Although the manufacturing is done in Mexico with US technological development, the goal is to generate a technical training incubator for Mexican professionals whose skills Muñoz believes will soon be comparable to American engineers. “If the nature of my business was not open-source, I would just open an assembly line in Mexico and the workers would simply put together parts; there would not be a transfer of knowledge,” he explained.
For John Janas, president of the company Janas International Enterprises and TR35 Mexico awards judge, Muñoz’s key value lies precisely “in promoting the ideology of open source and Creative Commons researchers, students and others” who a share the details of their hardware and software. “This sharing of knowledge accelerates the development of innovative technology applications for aerial robots.”