First Rule Of Homebrew Drone Club Is There Are No Rules For Homebrew Drone Club

on November 17, 2014

Drones are the next revolution, the next insanely great thing, the pirate, the multi-billion dollar business, the integration of the physical and the digital, the device that will fight our wars, provide web access to the poor, deliver our pizzas in way under 30 minutes, ensure the air is safe, expose dictators, and turn us all into Hollywood-style directors, even if just for some grand selfie.

I don’t make, I write. If I made, I would make drones.

If I was that guy in The Graduate, my one word would be: “Drones”.

If I were the next Steve Jobs, I would dream of drones. If I were the next Bill Gates, I would envision software empowering drones built on every kitchen table.

You know what’s going to power the DeLorean back to the future? Drones.

Not since the launch of the iPhone and possibly not since I first used Mosaic have I felt about a technology as I do about drones. The market for drones is expected to reach $91 billion by 2020. I think this radically understates their impact, even considering the current muddled legal environment.

Drones are the next ‘stack’ of the global internet, and will radically re-make our perception of location, privacy and commerce. They are as if the PC and the Internet launched together. In 1988.

Not surprisingly, everyone wants in on the action.

  • Mark Zuckerberg is funding efforts so drones can “beam internet to people from the sky.”  
  • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to re-tool aircraft to serve as a “flying fortress” filled with drones able to carry out all manner of missions in any region of the planet.
  • Amazon is “doubling down” on drones for delivery.
  • Skycatch is already building a sort of Uber for drones, linking drone “pilots” and makers with those who need drone-based services.

Despite all this, it is hobbyists who are advancing drone development even more than government or business.

There is a thriving community of drone builders and enthusiasts at OpenPilot.org,which has created an open source platform for drones. The nonprofit OpenPilot hopes to make drone technology more affordable, more accessible — and optimized for improving humanity’s lot.

DIY Drones claims to be the world’s largest community for drone hobbyists. DIY Drones was also instrumental in the development of the Dronecode Project, which aims to “bring together existing open source drone projects and assets under a nonprofit structure governed by The Linux Foundation”. Drones just had their Tim Berners-Lee moment.

Yes, the rules for drone use in the US are in flux and clearly lagging the technology.

“After years of waiting, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official said the agency was close to releasing a ruling that would give commercial entities greater access to fly small unmanned aerial system in the domestic airspace.”

It’s not just the FAA. The Office of Management and Budget is also involved. Then there’s the FCC and the Government Accountability Office. All are working to enact Congress’ 2012 “FAA Modernization and Reform Act,” which is meant to bring a clearer legal framework for the commercial operation of drones (unmanned vehicles weighing less than 55 pounds). In addition, several states and cities have enacted their own rules. Businesses don’t know what to do, other than do nothing or operate in secret.

For hobbyists, the rules are essentially that drones must remain within line of sight and away from airports and below 400 feet.

Don’t fear, I know a secret: This will all get taken care of — because, just as with PCs and the Internet, the spread of drones cannot be stopped.

It’s a drone world after all….and the best is yet to come.

The FAA expects more than 30,000 drones in commercial use by 2020. These will be used by law enforcement, military, logistics companies, businesses, and tech giants. The potential, however, is limitless. Witness: The nonprofit Drone Adventures sends drones to impoverished areas of the world, assessing air quality, agricultural impact, promoting conservation and archaeological efforts.

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Conservation Drones uses drones to map sections of the planet and assess local environmental challenges. Matternet is using drones to deliver lifesaving medicines where they are needed most.

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How is all this possible? Smartphones.

Smartphone-optimized technologies, including GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, mobile cameras, a litany of sensors, mobile battery power, lenses and more, have all become widely available, shockingly affordable — and are transferable to the drone industry.

Then there’s the rapid drop in price. The new Lumia 535 is available for $137 — inclusive. Only a few years ago, such a price for so much technology was unthinkable. A similar phenomenon is happening in the drone industry. Consider this is what you can get now for the price of an iPhone 6, off-contract: the Phantom can fly 22mph and reach an altitude of 1,000 feet. GoPro optional.

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You were not part of the original Homebrew Computer Club. You’ve just been given a second chance. Nowhere to go but up.