Vice's Motherboard TV on 3DR and the domestic drone movement

Vice did a really well-made 20-minute documentary on the domestic drone boom, including a fun visit to 3DR. Here's there description:

When Chris Barter, program manager for the Datron Scout micro unmanned aerial vehicle, isn’t surfing one of his favorite low-key spots near Oceanside, California, he’s selling his military-grade spy drone to standing militaries and law enforcement agencies across the world.

When Alan Sanchez and Sam Kelly, two young engineers with 3D Robotics, the open-source hobbyist drone company spun off of Chris Anderson’s non-profit community DIYDrones, aren’t tinkering in 3D’s charming drone-punk lab, they can be found at a neighboring field. Blissed out under the late afternoon sun, they pilot a pair of tricked-out RC aircraft—a small quadcopter and a more traditional glider plane, both outfitted with 3D’s custom autopilot—in lazy circles, mindful of small manned airplanes passing through the same airspace. Further off in the distance, a pack of Apache helicopters thumps past.

When Anderson, for his part, isn’t overseeing the entire operation with his business partner, Jordi Muñoz, shuttling back and forth between 3D’s research and development centers in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, he’s busy working his day job as editor of Wired. Wait—scratch that. Anderson just left Wired to focus on drones full time.

“It was one of those follow-your-heart things,” Anderson tells me over email. “The company is booming and we’d just raised a big VC round. I felt that this was my next big thing.”

He’s not alone in that thinking. These are just some of the key figures at the leading edge of American spy and hobby drones, of course. They represent only a thin slice of the southern California drone zone, a booming and buzzing tech sprawl borne of what historically has been a hotbed for aerospace R&D. But they’re a mixed, somewhat unpredictable, and dedicated lot, nonetheless—and as we saw first hand, just as mixed, somewhat unpredictable, and dedicated as the drones they know inside and out.

Without further ado, then, we present Drone On, Motherboard’s nosedive into this domestic drone boom. From military weapons expos in Jordan to idyllic SoCal beaches, we caught up with some of those who are building and selling unmanned aerial vehicles all over the world, and even convinced a few companies to let us take their flying spy robots for a spin.

It’s a story about not just the most overlooked facets of the American Drone Age – small-scale recon drones, not the ominously hulking and Hellfire-missile-toting hunter-killer drones so characteristic of American anti-terror missions abroad—as the Federal Aviation Administration ramps up the authorizing process for those itching to fly drones in US airspace. It’s a story about the fears, the uncertainties, and the hopes arising when tools once solely used in the military eventually seep over to law enforcement, various federal agencies, and everyday civilians, and quick.

Now, look up.

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Comment by Antonius Lourenço Kasbergen on November 30, 2012 at 5:01pm

Very nice Chris! A nice view of 3DRobotics too. 

Comment by Luke Olson on November 30, 2012 at 5:15pm

Around 19 minutes the narrator makes it sound like the hobbyist drones don't have GPS. Other than that it was a very nice piece. I'm hoping more mainstream media addresses the peaceful and practical uses of drones like this documentary has.

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on December 1, 2012 at 6:02am

Luke, yes, I was surprised to see that 3DR didn't demonstrate Mission Planner, a waypoint mission, or guided mode.  Otherwise, the whole thing was really good.  One of the best journalism pieces I've seen yet.  Not much BS.

Which quad frame were they using?  It looked pretty nice.  Never seen it before.

Comment by Jason Short on December 1, 2012 at 3:29pm

That's Sam's 3D printed frame I think. And boy does it need some tuning! I saw lots of fast wobbles.

That and the Arducopter is certainly comparable to the scout.

Comment by Sam Kelly on December 1, 2012 at 4:08pm

That's one of Alan's 3D printed frames. Unfortunately we didn't demo any auto modes that day, I forget why. Our demos for the media are a lot better these days though, we do auto take offs and waypoints, fly-to-here, and record some GoPro footage for them to use. Up next, video RX/TX and incorporating mavelous/iPad guided flight into the demo :)

3D Robotics
Comment by Alan Sanchez on December 1, 2012 at 7:14pm
It was because we didn't know they were coming. All my quads were in pieces only had the un-tuned prototype. I think we did do some ch7 waypoints for them but they caught us a bit unprepared. I was just talking to Brian about this last week, we could have given them a much better demo if they had come now. Check out the piece on the Engadget show that came out couple of weeks ago, that hexa was better tuned.

3D Robotics
Comment by Alan Sanchez on December 1, 2012 at 7:15pm
Days not weeks :s my bad
Comment by Jake Bayless on December 2, 2012 at 12:56am

This frame was 3D printed?  Any other pics or hints on what 3DR might have cooking?  (smile):

Comment by Rob_Lefebvre on December 2, 2012 at 5:53am

Jason, I noticed the wobbles too.  Didn't want to say anything. ;)

Yeah, the Scout has got nothing on us.


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