DIY drones outrunning commercial drones

3d printed aircraft SULSA

SULSA is the world’s first “3D printed” drone (photo credit: University of Southampton)

There’s a lot of talk about disruption with regard to 3D printing and manufacturing and logistics. There’s another very related discussion going on over the impacts of open-source based business models on the commercial giants. Chris Anderson, author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, has much to say about these discussions since he started his business 3D Robotics being quite aware of the force behind both movements (3D printing and open source). His company deals with open-source drones, and based on the response from the DIY drone and 3D printing communities, I think this story is about to take off.

black helicopters

Black helicopters, but not from Big Brother.

What makes a drone a drone is autopilot — being able to tell it to go to a specific location without directly maneuvering it there. As they significantly reduce the number of casualties of war, the military has been using drones extensively for reconnaissance and bombings for the last decade, but because of costs, until recently personal RC aircraft were limited mostly to line-of-sight flight. 3D Robotics sells open-source Arduino-based autopilot systems for less than $200, and they sell quadcopters fully assembled and as kits for less than $500 too. These drones are GPS guided and can be equipped with cameras that track and record, meaning you could tell a drone to follow and record you on your morning jog, or have it patrol your neighborhood. Drones can even work together. So what does this mean for the (super expensive) commercial military drone market? Claims of reverse engineering captured US drones are coming out of Iran, but with how accessible drone technology is becoming, it almost seems an unnecessary endeavor.

Not long ago the University of Virginia students designed an operational 3D printed UAV, but now there are at least three quadcopter frames on Thingiverse. Considering that local police forces have been buying drones, DIY drones may be the answer to the question of “Who watches the watchmen?”

Source: Venture Beat