DIY Drones at 80,000 members! Reflections on the evolution of DIY robotics and the next big things

It's customary and traditional that we celebrate the addition of every 1,000 new members here and share the traffic stats. This time it's a 80,000! 

There has been a huge amount of change in the drone market since this started as a hobby scratchpad for me back in 2007. We helped created a whole new industry, but it also moved from DIY to plug-and-play at light speed. The technologies, such as advanced IMUs, optical flow and cameras with computer vision, that we were first hacking together with parts from Sparkfun and Adafruit a few years ago are now standard on consumer drones that you can buy at Wal-Mart.

As drones become more sophisticated and autonomous (always the intention of this site), the hobbyists who just wanted to fly cool things shifted to FPV racing (called "drone racing" although by a strict definition they're not drones since their manually piloted).  The actual "drone" part of DIY drones is now more focused on software and sensing, rather than simply getting an aircraft to fly by itself (mission accomplished on that last part -- we've come a long way!). This software side is incredibly exciting, but it's also getting pretty complex for most hobbyists and naturally lives in the world of GitHub commits and dev lists.  That's what Dronecode, which is the professional side of this community, is for.

So what's next for the DIY side of drones? Here are some of the things I'm excited about:

  1. DIY autonomous cars. Autonomous rovers are already a big part of DIY Drones, and those rovers are now starting to use many of the same technologies, such as computer vision and LIDAR, of full-size autonomous cars. Races like the Sparkfun AVC have been going for years, but now there are ones for full-size cars such as Self Racing Cars that I'm a part of. This could be the next big industry for the DIY'er to transform!
  2. Applications of drones. I love posts like this one on the use of Pixhawk-powered drones to help with the European refugee crisis. Let's be as creative in finding innovative positive uses for drones as we were in creating them in the first place. 
  3. Data. Drones are just sensors in the sky. Now that we've made it easy to gather huge amounts of data, what are we going to do with it? Change detection, automatic classification and other forms of AI and deep learning are the next frontier of Big Data, and we're at the forefront of that.  This is something we share with the new cubesat world and even driverless cars. Bits are the new atoms!

Thanks as always to all the community members who make this growth possible, and especially to the administrators and moderators who approve new members, blog posts and otherwise respond to questions and keep the website running smoothly.

Views: 747


Developer
Comment by John Arne Birkeland on August 24, 2016 at 10:25am

DIY doesn't have to be just about the next big thing.

Traditionally "Do It Yourself" is about doing something (whatever) just for fun and to learn and feel that you accomplish something in the process. It does not matter if it has been done before, and there already is a cheap finished solution available for sale. It's the process of it that matters, and being able to make something exactly the way you want it (or fail miserably while trying to do so).

Comment by Gary McCray on August 24, 2016 at 4:05pm

Hi Chris and John,

Right on, it may be that we call ourselves DIYDrones, but the reality is that we are not DIY wood shop furniture makers or even DIY home builders, simply doing something ourselves that is common place everywhere.

This isn't really a home for "Crafts"men, or even for that matter scale model RC plane builders who want to build an RC perfect scale B17 Stratofortress.

No, You and we are here because we really love to be at the front (and seriously bleeding) edge - where the interesting stuff happens.

I was primarily interested in robotics when I got into this, I'm still primarily interested in robotics and frankly it never made much difference to me whether it was in the air or not.

It just turned out that initially at least the air was easier to get started in than the ground thanks to GPS and a noticeable lack of things to run in to.

But the high ground was always really back on the ground with an ability to deal with all the stuff that's strewn around on the ground.

Basically absolute navigation versus environment relative navigation.

Absolute was easy, this other one is not, but it is a whole lot more interesting and you can do a lot more with it.

I am really looking forward to the new breed of sensors that will let us deal with our 3D environment.

The new Intel Real Sense Robot and Flight control kits have some great potential.

And the Kinect V2 TOF system while not being actively pursued by Microsoft at the moment is still a very serious and inexpensive option.

And of course, all kinds of laser scanner possibilities.

My Traxxis Xmaxx looks like a great test platform.

Now that consumer drones are solidifying, definitely time to be moving on.

Best,

Gary

Comment by Marc Dornan on August 24, 2016 at 5:05pm

Gary what does 'moving on' mean.

I love this website but am I the only one that finds an odd tension between 3DR that is not doing DIY (for now) anymore and the name. I think fixed wings and rovers are at the forefront of DIY efforts now. I was looking at a Typhoon H the other day and it is so far removed from anything you could make, although absent an SDK it is not really very autonomous. 

With the new FC from 3DR maybe they might put a toe back in the DIY world....

Comment by Gary McCray on August 24, 2016 at 5:43pm

Hi Marc,

I understand and sympathize with the frustration re DIYDrones and 3DR.

3DR provided massive support for DIYDrones for a long time, both building the hardware "our" open developers designed and assisting (or possibly meddling sometimes perhaps) with our direction and growth.

In reality it was a mutual appreciation society, but reality now is that 3DR has moved on.

Although this web site is owned by Chris who is a substantial shareholder in 3DR, it really doesn't have much to do with 3DR any more than any other company now.

And Chris and the moderators and developers are maintaining it as a very separate entity virtually divorced from 3DR.

And for me at least that is just fine, it was unsettling when 3DR first started to cut ties and left some of the developers kind of high and dry, but open source, open community have a tenuous relationship with corporations at best and for 3DR this was probably the only reasonable course of action.

Given that consumer drones have taken off literally and been embraced by the big Companies we need to move on from that primary focus.

Our solutions to a lot of the major issues have been embraced by all of them.

Probably a good thing, we can see the essence of the concepts designed and developed here everywhere now.

There is still going to be plenty of feature and capability development in fixed, multi and heli UAS at every level, but it is going to get more exciting at the commercial and prosumer levels as far as actually doing things.

Surely we are going to be participating and innovating heavily in that as well as coming up with more interesting 3D vision type sensor and navigation stuff that will work at every level.

Basically, don't count on squat from 3DR anymore, they have moved on, but so have we.

And it's nice to have Chris still helping us by maintaining this site and giving us a forum to move on with.

Best Regards,

Gary

Comment by Marc Dornan on August 24, 2016 at 6:29pm

@Gary. Absolutely agree. 3DR needs to plot its own course and Ardupilot likewise. Given the capability of RTF vehicles I am not sure that it will seem very cutting edge to DIY multi-copters much longer unless there is a very specific professional application--which will not stop me. I am actually puzzled as to why 3DR is releasing an FC though, much as it is welcome. I have not fully got a Pixhawk S900 with Nex 7 and ICI Radiometric IR camera operational and it has been rendered almost obsolete by a DJI radiometric FLIR system that is more capable (and which will be ordered shortly).


Moderator
Comment by Roberto Navoni on August 25, 2016 at 6:52am

How many active user have at the moment because the 80K user are from begin ? Do you have that information ? Congratulation for your 80K 

Best

Roberto 


Developer
Comment by John Arne Birkeland on August 26, 2016 at 4:35am

I don't know the timescale for the 'Returning Visitor' graph, but close to 54% seems very good to me for a niche web page like this.

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