The Mexican immigrant who set up a global drone firm


Less than ten years ago Jordi Munoz left Mexico for the US and is today boss of the one of world's biggest commercial drone maker

Mexican immigrant Jordi Munoz says that waiting for his green card after he first moved to the United States made The immigrant who became a drone firm boss him feel as if he was living "in a big jail".

At the time he was 20 years old, and he and his girlfriend had set up home near Los Angeles.

Yet he could not legally work, or even enrol at a college, until he got the identity card that proved his right to live and seek employment in the country.

But instead of just sitting around during his frustrating seven-month wait back in 2007, Mr Munoz, a keen model plane enthusiast and computer programmer, started to build his own drone in his garage.

A drone, technically an unmanned aerial vehicle, is essentially a very high tech and stable version of a remote-controlled plane with a camera attached to take aerial photographs or record videos.

Using what parts he had to hand, Mr Munoz made the drone's autopilot system by taking the motion sensors from a games console remote control.

To attach the microchips to circuit boards he heated them up in a domestic oven.

Fast forward to today, and Mr Munoz, now 28, is the co-founder of the largest US-owned manufacturer of commercial drones.

The business, 3D Robotics, is expected to enjoy sales of $50m (£33m) this year.

Key investment

Back when Mr Munoz was working on his first prototype, he started to put up posts about his progress on a website for other DIY drone enthusiasts.

In addition to the advice and encouragement he got from fellow hobbyists, one man was so impressed that he sent Mr Munoz $500 (£325) to help carry on his work.

A handful of members still here can say they were there for this story, my how things have changed. Fair play Jordi, fair play.

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  • Welcome to America. . . Sincerely, my hat is off to Jordi.

  • I think his buddy is still his buddy he was Hispanic also. I think Chris flew Jordi to meet Bill though. Sparkfun had a LOT to do with the success of the Ardupilot.

  • Moderator

    "That was before Chris I think.."  

    Oh, I was about be a smart-ass and suggest that that buddy helping him might have had something to do with some magazine, but you closed the door on my poor attempt at humour.

    I remember Jordi paying to have a dozen or so arduino boards printed up by a third party to save us all a few bucks, but he said he couldn't afford to keep doing that for the group... I bet that's not a problem these days!

  • Jordi had a buddy that was helping him I can't remember his name but I remember the youtubes of them playing ping pong with a quadcopter over a pool using their hands for paddles. (the quad used sonar for avoidance at the time) Jordi made a visit to Bill Premillain (sorry Bill I know I spelt it wrong) for a little help with the code (I think it was 2 days he visited) there was a little bit of code borrowed from the Paparazzi that went into the radio mux but the rest was all them. Chris saw the potential of what Jordi was doing and helped him out a little. I don't think Chris was the fella that gave Jordi the $500 That was before Chris I think.

  • Timing is critical in any trend and Jordi Munoz was at a right place at a right time with the right collection of silicon and code.

    Of course luck favors the prepared and he was prepared.

    The media loves a underdog-success story and tends to romanticize the events but, my question is who is writing the screenplay and what young Latino actor will portray Jordi?

    (wanna bet lunch it has already been discussed in some circles?)


  •  I was there I saw the whole thing and I still don't believe it! But it is certainly true! I watched the original ardupilot 328 go and it worked very well with the thermopiles. But when Jordi got the quadcopters going it was really on from there. The APM was the revolution that really started the drone movement. The Paparazzi was there but the hardware was so hard to get. The Ottopilot and the Aeroquad but no one could produce the hardware in enough quantity or quality until Sparkfun took up the Ardupilot and it's been all down hill from there. Then 3D Robotics was born and slowly took over the production from Sparkfun and became the first drone company that was successful.

    DJI was not even around for the beginning of the drone revolution.   

  • That's a tremendous success story, but why mention that he resented the green card process. My whole life I've been reminded that nobody owes me anything. Did he really resent the process or was that some gagootz writer trying to politicize a success story?
  • Truly amazing seeing how far things have come in person!

  • "A handful of members still here can say they were there for this story"

    This is true... but anyone who wishes to feel like they were there to see it unfold need only take the time to go back over this blog from the start and work their way forward.

    The whole story is documented in vivid detail from the creation of Chris Anderson's first lego powered drone and successful flight with his infant kids, to the launch of diydrones through which he hoped to reach other like-minded tinkerers, to Jordi's early contributions, initial small batch hardware runs, larger productions runs through sparkfun, then the formation of 3DR and the many development milestones that followed.

    It is a fascinating story indeed.

  • Great share Gary. I had no idea of 3DR's history. 
    This 2011 article on Jordi really put this Iris sitting on my
    workbench into context. Being a first generation immigrant myself
    this story def goes deep. 

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