E400: Drones galore with Chris Anderson and Charles Forman – TWiST News Roundtable



about this episode

Drones, quadcopters and UAVs are some of the hottest products nerds can get their hands on. Why? Flying robots! We break down the space with Chris Anderson of 3D Robotics, and OMGPOP founder and quadcopter enthusiast Charles Forman. Not sure which ones are autonomous, which are goofy consumer gadgets, and which are military or research-grade? Come check it out. From applications in aerial photography, to research, to police work. Plus, massive valuations for Snapchat and Spotify. Will the easy money stick around?

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3:10 – Snapchat raising huge valuation. Advertising and virtual goods. No one knows user numbers. Interesting: 70% of users are women

3:55 – JC what do you think, CA? Is this out of line?

4:05 – CA: I’ve stopped guessing at valuations. I’d heard of Snapchat before, but just barely, and because I have kids.

4:35 – JC These things get very big, very quick today.

4:49 – CF: they should take the money and run!

5:30 – When you sold OMGPop, did you feel it was the biggest you could get?

5:48 – CF: We were #1, and where do you go from there? You just go down….maybe that large investment from teens, is taking value out of Facebook

6:44 – JC: Chris, having been the editor of Wired for a long time, do you have inner tells on things like that?

7:05 – I was an early user of Twitter, but I was wrong about that. I don’t think anyone can tell if it’s sustainable, or if teenage fickleness is going to move on?

7:33 – JC: Spotify is reporting $600M in revenue (vs Pandora’s).  What do you think?

7:53 – CA – the licensing deals, it’s got apps on all platforms, it’s a sophisticated cloud service.

8:22 – CF: I use it; I love it. Engineer friends are going to use those subs to explore other opportunities for revenue.  Video, etc. Extreme brand loyalty to the people who use it.

11:00 – 12:05 – JC: Chris, why did you leave Wired?

12:30 – CA: It boils down to Follow your heart. But I started messing around with Lego Mindstorm with my kids. They weren’t impressed with walking or rolling robots. What if they could fly? They lost interest, but I started a community called DIY Drones.  The 2007 period is when sensors became super cheap. The community grew; people shared design files. The open source model could build a drone. I was having my kids pack kits into pizza companies.

14:25 – JC: can you describe these? When you think “Drone,’ you think military drone.

14:45 – CA we’ve had radio controlled aircraft for decades. Shows quadcopter & octocopter.  They have autopilot, which means they fly themselves. Difference between radio control and UAM and fully autonomous drones. Only been possible over the past few years – smartphone technology.

15:42 – JC: Charles?
15:50 – CF – I saw the first video and thought “that’s the coolest fucking thing in the world.” you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do with this thing, but the nerd boner is huge. The first time you fly one, it’s like you’re flying. I have 4 of them. I’m working on my own. I’m having fun with the engineering.

18:05 – JC Can they crash?

18:18 – CA – you can always make a piloting error. Electronics, software, motors can fail. They crash all the time.

18:37  – CA with 4, it goes down. the 8-bladed version adds redundancy.  Once you get to 8 or 6, you can lose a prop and stay in the air.

19:08 – CF, when you start flying them, you start babying them. Then the more experience you have, the fewer crashes you have.  Every piece is replaceable ($30 for plastic props). Everything is replaceable. Every time you crash it, it’s an opportunity to upgrade it. From the perspective of a tech person, every build can be as unique as you put your ideas into i.t

20:15 – Bing Launch of the Week

20:37 – using drones to map the Amazon forest

21:18 – CA about ⅓ of the developers are trying to get a job done. This is scientific. People are doing crop surveys, security, looking for poachers, etc. Amazon is big. these drones are small. This one lasts 20 minutes. That’s typical.  A couple of miles. People are experimenting with what we would learn.

22:22 – Phantom Quadcopter.

24:20 – CA if you just want to fly a quad, you can get one for $30. Do you just want to have fun and play in the backyard or get low-res or high-res video? The $1200 will probably come down.

The 3DR Iris is aimed at the same market.  Out of the box. Stabilized gimbal. GoPro stabilized.  Real drone. Controllable by phone or tablet (less than $1k).  Moving away radio controlled and to mobile first.

26:40 – 27:25 – intro to Flying Donkey Project what do you think, Charles?
28:15 – CF. The jury’s out on what the applications will be. But in terms of application, this is pretty awesome. These aren’t quads, these are fixed-wing aircraft that are autonomous. IF you have 2 airports where you can secure cargo, it’s completely feasible and of course! why wouldn’t this exist? People are valuable and if a cargo plane crashes or is captured, it’s a pretty big deal. This is the most talked about potential application of drones in non-military use. With better battery tech, this is the future.

29:50 – JC How far are we from pizza delivery by quadcopter?

30:08 – CA it’s a bit of gimmick. All you hear about w/ delivery drones is consumer goods in urban spaces. This is illegal; battery issues; flying lawnmowers. These things don’t know how to avoid birds, etc. In Africa, where you don’t have good infrastructure, it makes sense.

31:22 – JC In Manhattan, someone took it over the city, and they had no idea how to fly it. It comes crashing down, is this ever going to be realistic?

31:47 – CF From the perspective of someone that has one: the barrier to entry is low. It was a Phantom for $700. He flew probably from his balcony.  It’s sort of a real thing: people are doing it, and there are going to be minor issues. There are weak guidelines from the FAA. People have liberal views on how to interpret. My policy is to be aggressive, but when I fly, I’m the most careful person. The other guy might not be. Nothing to stop someone from crashing this and hurting someone on the ground. These things aren’t fully autonomous yet. I’m really interested in that technology. That’s the most amount of innovation can happen right now. I don’t think you’re going to see this in a municipality doing its business.

34:25 – JC – How close are we to that technology? Is that realistic?

34:44 – CA How long does it take to do it? How long to convince the public it’s safe? We can do it in the lab right now.  In a controlled situation, you can do sense and avoid. In the real world, it becomes more difficult. We’ll solve it but when does the FAA become convinced? May happen outside the US first

36:03  – JC we saw in Russia a drone with a machine gun on it. [this was fake!]

36:33 – CF the recoil, etc.

36:59 – CA physically possible. the weight isn’t a problem. Use bigger props. Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez. I’m sure it’s being done already, but there’s nothing physically standing in our way. It comes out a lot in paintball games. Game of Drones – paintball guns

38:30 – CF I was flying this in the park, and someone stopped me. This one can lift a pound. Someone asked me what’s stopping someone from putting a bomb on this?

39:28 – Surveillance and Security.  Do you see a time that you’ll order ADT for your house and they’ll send a drone?

41:00 – JC how far are we from that?

41:25 – A company using our platform, called Skycatch. it’s already in place. I think less than a year before it’s a product.

45:28 – real estate quad shots

45:45 – CF that is illegal. Shooting commercial video with quads is illegal.

46:19 – CA, that said, that’s only if you’re charging. If you want to fly over your own house, that’s probably okay. You point to the house in Google Maps, you can make two passes and make a 3D model of it.

46:55 – JC what’s the tipping point of quadcopters? What will the breakout moment be?

47:15 – CF for me, I’m interested in the quads themselves. I love to fly them. We couldn’t have foreseen that this was going to be the apex. For me personally, i’m more excited about the young people who will get into engineering. Kids who see these things are going to want to build them as adults.  For me, it has a bigger impact on kids. Is this a problem like a desktop computer where they didn’t’ know they need it, or is it like a 3D printer with a smaller niche?

48:40 – JC bigger market? 3D printers or quads?

48:43 – CF shortterm – 3D printers, longterm quad

48:50 – JC Chris?

49:13 – CA I like the GoPro example. When they came out, they thought who needs that? Now it’s sold in airports and everywhere else. I think GoPros with wings. Allowing to follow you from the air. That creativity with robotics and aerial robotics

50:32 – JC, Charles, the project.  You’re doing a film about the impact of quads

50:48 – CF it’ sa Sci-fi narrative that revolves around the engineers doing these things. What are the unintended consequences of technology. They’re great on a commercial level, but what are negative impacts?

52:04 – JC any companies hovering around this space?

52:28 – AC the big aerospace companies are looking in. Google & Amazon are investing in the space, via venture companies. Parrot. Also Monsanto and Trimble. Big Ag.

53:24 – what’s your favorite project?

53:45 – Charles – #2, the Phantom. Anything that can be more accessible to regular people to wrap their head around how to use it. #3 while ambitious is totally awesome.

56:44 – CA. I like the Amazon rain forest one. Because I love non-military uses. The more positive examples to drown out the negatives, the more people will become excited

57:14 – JC Flying Donkey project

57:25 – Turkish police shot down an RC drone

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