Drone hater or exhaust spewer?


Venkatesh Rao, a Forbes.com columnist, mentioned DIY Drones in a post, saying that drones interest him.  His portrayal of DIYers however, would lead a novice UAV builder to believe he is both ignorant of, and resentful toward the people who are leading innovation on a grassroots level.

Mr. Rao is years behind in his understanding of the capabilities of the average person, and of the UAVs he speaks of.  To dismiss the DIY Drone community as a bunch of yahoo wackjobs is paramount to the mistake Cornwallis made when assesing the resolve of America's rag-tag Revolutionary War Militias.  (No offense to our British brothers and sisters.  This makes for interesting dinner conversations around my American/British family)  Mr. Rao, there is certifiable worldwide talent behind this "movement", and frankly I am surprised that such a poorly researched article would be accepted to grace a page within the Tech section of such a recognized magazine.

The thought that we as a community would reside in any one corner of the political spectrum is laughable, and a passing role in the development of an early quadrocopter does not give the right to claim newer advancements are equally lacking in capabilities.


According to our esteemed commentator the following is a list of the top ten things to do with a UAV:


The Top 10 Applications List

  1. Spy on cute girl next door. This will only work if there is enough ambient noise to drown out the quadcopter noise.
  2. Paparazzi 2.0. Commercial use of drone photography is currently prohibited, but where there are celebrity pictures worth money, the paparazzi will find a way.
  3. Start a revolution. If drones are the new guns, and the burgeoning political movement to ensure a “right to bear drones” succeeds, you and a few hundred of your friends can secretly build a drone swarm. The USAF can shoot down one or two very easily, but if (say) a new bill in Congress annoys you enough, and you and your friends send your 100-drone swarm to rain dog-poo on the political rally of the Congressperson in question, that might be worth something.
  4. Attach guns to drones. There is absolutely nothing stopping drone hackers from doing this technically, and there is almost no conceivable scenario where this will ever be legal, but if you’re on the wrong side of the law already, for murder say, what’s one more charge for “attaching gun to drone”? The mayhem possible with a bunch of armed drones would make Columbine look like a kid’s tea party.
  5. Disaster relief. On the good side, you could imagine a future Katrina where Washington is bickering over FEMA’s incompetence, and a bunch of drone-flying amateurs are busy dropping food packets to people stranded on rooftops. The Far Right will probably drop food+gun packets onto the roofs of stores, to help owners fight back looters.
  6. Monster Drone Rallies and Drone Racing. Frankly, this seems like the most likely outcome to me. Drone culture becoming a harmless subculture, where amateur drones face off against each other in competition arenas, trying to kick each other out of the sky.
  7. Post-apocalyptic survivalism. When the whole thing comes crashing down, and you are out of toilet paper and canned food in your cabin in the woods, what do you do? Pilot your drone over to your neighbor’s cabin and assassinate him from the air of course.
  8. Drone Art. Formation flight is what makes cheap little drones a potent force. But much of the potential will be illegal to explore, so expect to see Drone Flash Mobs suddenly putting on a show in some public space.
  9. Citizen search and rescue. This is one area where serious potential exists. If somebody gets lost in the backwoods, a swarm of drones, even with just ten minute endurance levels, can probably be coordinated to do better than a police helicopter, at 1/10 of the cost.
  10. Home/office cranes. For your basic couch potato, a little home drone with serious lift capability will be able to pick up the TV remote from across the room and bring it to you. Or a cold beer (in coordination with a smart fridge). It will be much easier to move light objects around without moving. Within controlled environments (like the Googleplex say), you might even have drone messengers venturing farther afield to pick up stuff for you from the coffee shop. We will all get fatter, quicker.

Maybe in the future, Mr. Rao will have more success without smearing the respectable work we are doing.  In fact, our may be the most coordial international venture in history.



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  • Developer

    He is jumping on DIYDrones "BandWagon" and getting paid for it. He helps our hobby get more into the mainstream, its not bad publicity as others have posted. More and more folks are buying & building home made drones. 3DR had a 1000 unit back log for APM2 .

    I have 4 different Autopilots from separate manufactures, 8 complete APs. I can install these AP systems on several platforms some with cameras and other payloads.

    We may need a Constitutional amendment,  Freedom to own and use Drones for private citizens.

  • ...except it was Forbes, not WSJ.  Still, no matter.  No need to get facts straight eh?

  • He is such a disgrace. He should be writing Hollywood gossips on TNA, may be  pen a Bollywood/Kollywood story back in India.

    Journalism is going so all time low in the recent times. Shame in WSJ.

  • On point 2. Interestingly there is an autopilot project called Paparazzi

  • T3

    The trouble is that anything less than knowledgeable informed information and debate just adds to the public disquiet about civilian sUAS use. I had a contractor come through the house a day or two ago and noticed my quad sitting on the dining room table. He had seen the ABC bit about drone use and the first thing he asked me was if I could spy on the neighbors. Half an hour later and an animated conversation about the potentials of sUAS for environmental monitoring I now have a pro sUAS advocate.  We need as a community to get the positive productive stories out to change peoples perceptions of sUAS and UAV. They are simply technology it is the users who make their impact positive or negative.

  • I think he says it best- "So either I am not smart enough/visionary enough to see the substance beneath what’s going on...."

  • PS: IMO, the list of ten things was cheap journalism and padding which added nothing to the credibility of his article.  Maybe Rao will learn from this mistake and avoid the trap next time! :)

  • If you read his article with any defensive predisposition, you're likely to be getting upset, but I think he wrote that article slighlty tongue-in-cheek.  He does raise an interesting question, which is what are we doing all this for?

    I think he makes the point in his article, but misses elaborating on and exploring it.  He says...

    Drone stuff today is primarily a programmer’s playground.

    ...which I would expand a little.  When the transistor was released upon the masses in the 50's I bet a whole load of bedroom hackers loved the idea, but the general population began to wonder how many radios the world needed.  Few people saw exactly what the transistor was capable of in terms of transforming our world.

    I think the same is true today of many emerging technologies and UAS in particular.  Noone knows exactly how they will impact the world in the future,  Chances are, DIY drones may be the only drones humanity will be able to afford come the economic apocalypse, but really it's anyone's guess. 

    Like the whole electronics industry has shown us, it's better to just watch it and see where it leads, rather than to attempt to regulate and constrain it to our prejudices and inherently short-sighted world view. 

    If only that could happen to other parts of our lives as well...


  • Post-apocalyptic survivalism. When the whole thing comes crashing down, and you are out of toilet paper and canned food in your cabin in the woods, what do you do? Pilot your drone over to your neighbor’s cabin and assassinate him from the air of course.

    I hope Hobbyking is still around when the world ends, so I can get spare parts. 

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