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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  • @ Night Runner!!!  You should write suspense/thriller/science fiction books /movies!  I almost tried to buy your post off of Ebay until I noticed I have it here for free...Do me a favor.  Finish the book please!  Or maybe you should be a Forbes contributer!

  • I have been doing blogs on the build of my Hex for the last while. During this time I have received a lot of feedback on both the videos and the content. Although most of the feedback has been from other people who are building or are interested in building a copter of some sort, some of the feedback I have received have ranged from paranoid schizophrenia to out and out threats against my life for building a “drone”.

    I have been advised that “people like you should be caught, castrated and killed” for your “perverse nature of wanting to spy on people” and that if they “could find where you live, I would burn down your house” to stop the building of the drone.

    My intentions for building a “drone” are not evil; they are simply to give me the ability to get video again after an injury I sustained that makes me unable to walk to get the footage that I want. I plan on following the letter of the law (no matter how asinine I may believe it to be on a political level) and to ensure that I am as safe and responsible as I can be with the use of not only the “drone” but my ethical use of a camera.

    I do think it is up to us, the hobbyist at the grass roots level to take up the gauntlet of education at every opportunity and assist in informing the general public about what it is we are building and doing. I think people would be impressed with the level of knowledge garnered and that is shared, the personal growth one can attain and the sense of accomplishment of our projects. I also think it would put minds at ease to find out that there are many of us building for peaceful and nonintrusive purposes.

    I have no idea on how to sway the minds of people who are uninformed and have decided what building a “drone” is about, especially when their opinions seem to fanatically set. Like the writer of the article, I doubt that any level of reason or common sense is going to resolve the fear of the ignorant who are unwilling to learn.

  • Oh, and sorry if I stomped on the topic regs of posting here. I just really think this needed to be said because it seems like no one is afraid of that possibility - too much focus is on the "out of control" hobbyist.

    Rick NR417

  • Lol I got cut off... wrote too much... Should I start screaming "Coverup!!!"? I really have to pay more attention to message length limits here in future. X-D


  • This is the same old issue that always comes up and always completely ignores the bigger picture. Here we have a rare thing - us hobbyists are swarming over a technology that is still relatively unknown by the public, and we're doing it really well. Thus, the focus is all about what the hobbyists *might* do with it that would be in any way destructive. Next up, we have the terrorism potential, homegrown or otherwise. And somewhere down the line, being largely ignored by the masses, we have the greatest threat of all - use and abuse by powerful organizations. We have this reporter whatever guy meandering right into the very nightmare worst case scenario and right back out of it by saying "what if the PUBLIC makes a swarm of these things". Jesus wept... What if a powerful organization made a swarm of these things?! An organization with tons of money, the world's best minds, and nothing but time, power, and brilliance to make them absolutely beyond anything we can imagine - THEY are the real threat we should all be thinking about. The technology for coordinated swarms of drones is already here:


    These are very small, and so they wouldn't be the best in rough weather, but a bigger quad IS and is just as easy to construct for tactical single or swarming missions. Really... if a grouping of six of these are coming at you, are you going to feel more threatened by knowing that a geek is at the controls, or knowing that a hardened, professional military type pilot is staring you down with them remotely? Imagine these things roving on patrols, armed with a pair of nerve toxin gas-fired darts, with a single, very high power pulsed laser with a slightly defocused beam right in between the dart launchers. You hear it before you see it, and you run... but you can't outrun the tactical drones unless you're friggin Superman. It has looped around in front of you before you can think to duck for cover, and fierce blue flashes brighter than a hundred suns leave brilliant reddish purple glare spots all over your vision, that later on will fade to black, permanent blind spots. Disoriented and terrified, you stumble over obstacles in your path, and you hear a loud "POPF! *tick!* as a dart is fired, zings over your shoulder, and smacks off a brick wall in front of you. You were VERY lucky - the targeting on these things is computer assisted like an FPS game guidebot and they seldom miss.

    You turn quickly and sprint, half blinded, and trip over something semi-yielding, and you go sprawling forward, rashing your hands and knees on the rough asphalt. POPF! The sting in your lower back is immediate and incredibly intense. You shriek in the worst agony of your life as the tiny speck of toxin in the needle tip does its job. You roll and look back toward the drone, which has easily caught up to you and is now flanked by another, just in case the first one didn't succeed. Of course it did, they almost always do. As you lose muscular control, your body ripped with painful spasms, your eyes lower to the asphalt, and you see what you tripped over... Of course - it's her... the one you were fighting so hard to protect. "Fool," you think with your last thoughts before a merciful unconsciousness takes you, "no amount of love and desperation could have beat these things..." As the world goes dark, the last thing you see is her blank, staring eyes, frozen in mindless fear and pain.

    Michael Crichton would have written it better, and he would have agreed - this kind of tech is just out of sight, and having it in the hands of a hobbyist is hardly the worst case scenario. Frankly, the only thing I find comforting is that us hobbyists, us ordinary people, at least have some small semblance of this technology compared to the tactical ground, water, and air drones our military is already all over. What do you think is going to happen when other militaries all over the world start maki

  • Simple thought, I don't want them to take my toys away. :-)  Best way to accomplish that in my opinion is open discussion and separation from the community and individuals that might limit our future abilities with their stupidity!

  • @Dave, I appreciate your comments, and I believe they are well founded.  For me it is important to bring these topics to the surface so that those who would endevour (for fun and games) to limit our legal abilities to use drones both in a commercial and private sense show themselves, in hopes of learning a better way, or spotlight themselves as misfits, and not members of a law abiding community.

  • And sorry if i seem to have jumped in all guns blazing here, I suppose being in the fortunate position that the CAA have very well defined rules for all this, there is less to speculate about i suppose and so the situation those in the US find themselves in seems all the more incredulous to me. It's good they are sorting it out finally.

    And maybe you are right, maybe it should be talked about, I'm just going to have to bite my lip. 

  • @Brian, my comments were not directly pointed at you, I'm just slapping my forehead at the knee-jerk reaction to a new technology, as demonstrated in this thoughtless article. You can conceal a weapon in a handbag, but this is hardly news-worthy. I fail to see how the fact that you 'could' attach a weapon to a UAV is any different to saying you could attach large blades to the wheels of your car. Surely what would be best is not to speculate the worst - an isolated incident where some crazed individual decides to cause public mischief with his quad copter - but to concentrate on developing the technology and putting it to good use. The benefits of which must surely out weigh the small chance that an idiot abuses the technology, And if say, someone was shot by a gun mounted on a UAV, how would that be any different to just shooting someone, the UAV is not the problem here. 

  • @Dave, that is not my intention at all.  Discussion of such topics does not need to be limited to "how-to."  In my post I simply meant that it is a real threat, that a previous poster seemed to miss.  Taking FAA reg's seriously (which will soon open up more for the commercial products I am working on in a few years) is a high priority too me in my future en-devours.  A community such as this and many like it, can help or hurt our cause with their actions.  Hence I don't believe we can afford to ignore a topic that is probably in the top three issues holding back the use of public UAV's.

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