3D Robotics

Time Magazine cover (with invited piece by me)



The cover story, by Lev Grossman, is here and discusses DIY Drones. The editors of Time also invited me to write a companion piece in the issue, which is below (they wrote the headline, not me!)

Why We Shouldn’t Fear Personal Drones

By Chris Anderson

Drones, like most robots, are designed for jobs that are “dull, dirty or dangerous.” We know what that means in a military context — everything from endless “loitering” over combat zones to remote-controlled warfare with the pilots safely in a trailer in Nevada — but soon civilian drones will be flying commonly overhead here at home. What will they be doing?


The usual assumption is that it will be police surveillance and general snooping. Interestingly, that’s just what people feared when the computer, which had also been introduced as a military technology, started to be used commercially in the 1960s. The worry then was that computers would be used primarily to spy on us, as an arm of Big Brother. Only decades later, once we all had one, did we figure out that they were better at work and entertainment, communicating with each other and generally being welcome additions to our lives. That’s because we could control them and tailor their use to our own needs, which we did amazingly well.


This change is already underway with drones. Personal versions are small, cheap and easy to use. They cost as little as $300 and are GPS-guided fully-autonomous flying robots (my company, 3D Robotics, is one of many making them). They fly themselves, from takeoff to landing, and can even follow the terrain for miles. There are already more in the hands of amateurs than the military, and some of the uses may surprise you. Civilian drones don’t just do the “dull, dirty and dangerous” jobs better; they can also make the expensive ones cheaper. In a world of Google maps, the advantage of aerial views of the world are clear, but satellites and manned aircraft are expensive and the pictures they take are often too far away or too infrequent to be useful. Drones can get better views, more often. And those shots can be of exactly what you want to see — an anytime, anywhere eye in the sky, controlled by you, not The Man.


Take sports videos. If you’re a windsurfer and want a great YouTube video of your exploits, you’re not going to get that from the shore, and hiring a manned helicopter and camera crew to follow you offshore isn’t cheap. But if you’ve got a “FollowMe” box on your belt, you can just press a button and a quadcopter drone with a camera can take off from the shore, position itself 30 feet up and 30 feet away from you and automatically follow you as you skim the waves, camera trained on you the whole way (when its battery gets low, it can return to the shore and land itself). Fast forward a year or so, and that same FollowMe box will become a FollowMe sticker, which you can put on soccer ball. Now that copter can follow the action of your kid’s soccer game, bringing NFL-quality aerial video to PeeWee sports.


One father has already set his personal drone to follow his kid to the school bus stop. Another team configured a drone to be a personal “periscope”; it flies above your head, giving you a video view from ten feet up. Yet another programmed a drone to fly in front of a runner, like a mock rabbit to a greyhound, encouraging them to pick up the pace.


Commercially, the potential is even greater. Farmers are already using drones to monitor their crops; a weekly overhead picture of a field can give them the information they need to use less chemicals and water on the plants, saving money and the environment. Scientists use drones for wildlife conservation, mapping the nests of endangered species without disturbing them. And energy companies use drones to monitor electric pylons and gas pipelines.


What was once military technology can now be used by children and I’m sure a generation growing up with drones — my kids launch them in the park on weekends — will find better uses than I could ever think of. What we, the technologists, know is that they will soon be cheap and easy enough to be commonplace; what we don’t know is what application will emerge as result. Tomorrow you may think nothing of driving by a farm swarming with robot cropdusters. Or see film sets with hovering cameras. Or skiers followed by personal videodroids. Or, more likely, something I can’t imagine at all that’s better than any of those. That’s what happens when you add “personal” to a technology. It evolves into something new, often more powerful in the hands of regular people than it ever was in the hands of the few.





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  • Sorry Bill, but Texas and Oregon just outlawed combining Greek and Latin in a single word.


  • Volarphilos. Flying Friend. 

  • I think it would actually have to be - Philospteron

    That's no good. You can't say it without spitting.

  • Brilliantly written.

    As Wired magazine gave me inspiration hope for our future, my first steps setting up my Arducopter gives me the same hope, albeit very personal. Keep the innovation going!

  • I think that Joshua makes some astute points (especially the reference to Prince).

    There is momentum with some words or phrases. Some are, or become very sticky in the minds of the public. Unsticking may not be a practical option. However "brand experience" can be shaped over time, with significant help from a variety of media sources and channels. That may require relentless distribution of messages about "positive, peaceful" uses/applications, to mitigate the impacts of other kinds of messages.

  • Brand- from old words meaning: burned in to, marked with fire (very appropriate to our discussion).

    Brand identity- How the brand owner hopes to be perceived.

    Brand image- How the public actually feels about the brand.

    Brand experience- This is what actually creates the public's image of the brand.

    Only one of these three is worth putting any effort into, it's the latter of course.

    What brand to build then?

    I use airbot when talking to people about these things; it makes sense intuitively, and it's easily modified to other environments -- land, sea, sewer, etc.

    Drone- Male bee or wasp, which does no work, but can fertilize the queen. (Not very accurate)

    Droid- comes from android which means: In the likeness of man. (Not really accurate either)

    Or we could build our own, this is DIY after all:

    Ben- Good (L)  

    Avi- Bird (L) 

    Capitis- you take on, you understand (L)

    Cipit- Head (L)

    Lev- Light weight (L)

    Pleb- Common people (L)

    Vas- Vessel (L)

    Volare- To fly (L)

    Volans- Flying (L)

    Aerobios- Living in air (G)

    Arkeō- to assist (G)

    Diakonos- Servant, messenger (G)

    Ergon- Work, deed, action (G)

    Polοs- Sky (G)

    Pteron- Wing (G)

    Philos- Friend (G)

    We should carefully consider the lesson of Prince.

    The robot formerly known as Drone -- doesn't really roll off of the tongue.

    Maybe it's time to own up to the fact that we have spent ~$2 billion per day for the the last half-century investing our brilliant minds in a very complicated suicide machine. Why not simply face up to this fact and change it?

    Change the brand experience.

    Although, Philopteron is nice...

  • Personal drone. Mostly harmless, like a personal computer or a personal pan pizza.
  • Yes, and when did military computers ever perform illegal, extra-judicial killings of suspects in foreign countries without an official declaration of war. Not to mention murdering many innocent civilians.

    That's the problem.  Now, I wasn't around when computers were invented.  But I don't think we can reclaim this word.  It's is strongly associated with evil.

  • Chris, I think between Computer (1974) and Computer (2013), there was the transitory "Personal Computer" which made a distinction for the common populous. The nuances are washed away by history now, but The PC was what people connected with. 

  • Moderator

    They are not UAV's they are UA , UAS and RPAS those are the ICAO terms. 

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