3D Robotics


John Villasenor, senior fellow at the Center for Technology Innovation, Brookings Institution, was on NPR's Talk of the nation today talking about civilian drones. 3D Robotics gets a mention. 

As usual, there is some confusion over terms and definitions:

VILLASENOR: Well, first of all, I think it's very important to emphasize that model aircrafts are not drones. Model aircraft are flown within the line of sight of, and under the control of a pilot at all times. And so whatever definition someone might adopt of drones, that definition should not include model aircraft.

I think the other thing that's important to emphasize is that many of our military pilots, unmanned aircraft pilots, they justifiably aren't particularly thrilled with the term drone because it implies - it can imply sort of a hands-off approach, where in fact these folks are extremely skilled aviators who are no less skilled just because they happen not to be in the cockpit. And so they often prefer designations such as UAV, which is unmanned aerial vehicle, or RPA, which is remotely piloted aircraft.

CONAN: But for good or ill, the word drone has become associated with these, and that's the word that's in common usage. So we're going to continue with it.

You can listen to it or read a transcript here

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  • Hi Rory - thanks for your comment. One of the things that occurred to me, as I was listening to Jeremy, was that his statements appeared to suggest that it costs $500,000 to several million dollars to buy a UAV (if you read his comments, you will see what I mean). When I was next given the opportunity to speak, it was in response to the host's question about growing use (by police departments) of UAVs, who of course will often need to buy them in order to use them. Given the combination of Jeremy's comments and the host's question, I attempted to explain that there is a wide range of cost options for people (e.g. in police departments and otherwise) who might want to purchase UAVs. I don't think that was an unreasonable point to make. The host then moved on to other things.

    While it might be nice to have the time to engage in a point by point confirmation or rebuttal of everything a caller says on a program like that, shorter answers are generally preferred by hosts. So, I tried to pick what I thought was a reasonable point in the limited time I had, and make it. Someone else may have chosen, for example, to ignore the cost issue, and focus instead on discussing FPV. That wouldn't have been an incorrect way to handle things, simply a different way.

  • T3

    The caller (Jeremy) was mistaken. It is NOT illegal to fly FPV for recreation, it is not illegal to fly sUAS for recreation what is currently "prohibited" is commercial use and even this prohibition is loose and open to interpretation and manipulation. So John why did you not correct the caller?

  • To provide some more context regarding the comment from Andreas, if you go to the NPR transcript at 


    and look for the place where the host takes a call from a caller named Jeremy, that's where this portion of the discussion occurs.

  • According to the police call-in, FPV is officially illegal?

  • Chris Anderson and I were on a radio interview together last week. One of the other guests was from the Mesa County (CO) Sheriff's office. If I remember correctly, he stated that they had calculated the per hour operating costs of their UAV at somewhere under $4/hour, as contrasted with roughly $600/hr for a manned helicopter. Again, I'm not sure I'm recalling those figures correctly, but they were in those ballparks.

  • T3

    I like the way he has started to change the terms he uses. Did the AMA send him a cease and desist...now models are not drones...

  • Moderator

    I thought this comment from a Police SWAT team who have started using an AR.drone was interesting.

    JEREMY: Right. That's correct. And, you know, right now we've basically been experimenting with using the small, low-level, low-altitude, you know, up to maybe 50, 60 feet - that Parrot AR.Drone is almost like a sentry. So we can actually place it on, you know, on the corner of a building and just allow it to be, you know, an extra set of eyes for the commander or for whoever wants to keep track of that camera. And we can do so and take photos and stuff from an iPad which can essentially be beamed back to whoever wants to take a picture of them.

    So I mean, the implementation or the - everything is there for law enforcement right now. The problem is, is that, you know, a lot of people don't understand that there are actually federal FAR guidelines for the use of drones. And those people that are actually flying like the one-person type (unintelligible) email about the FTV system for their own personal RC airplane...

    CONAN: Right.

    JEREMY: ...actually, that stuff is actually - I mean, to be (unintelligible) that's actually illegal through the FAA's guidelines right now.

    CONAN: Well, it may be, unless he has a special dispensation, which we don't know that he might...

    JEREMY: That is correct. That is correct. I mean, unless they've got the special, you know, special license and they're operating outside of any possible controlled airspace, they can actually be fined for such.

    CONAN: Jeremy, those are all interesting questions. So, John Villasenor, clearly police departments are beginning to experiment with this and as we've mentioned in the introduction, beginning to use it in some specified circumstances as well.

    That thread made me wonder what the real budget in the Police area is. All the majors are falling over backwards to sell to the Police and close the funding gap left by pull backs is the money actually there?

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