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3DR Announces DroneKit, An Open Platform for Creating Your Own Drone Apps

We’re thrilled to announce the release of DroneKit, an open platform for drone app development. DroneKit packages years of 3DR’s flight control R&D into a single robust and extensible platform which developers can use to create web-based drone apps, or even apps onboard the drones themselves. DroneKit works with any vehicle powered by the APM flight code.

Why now

We want to empower makers anywhere to create apps that fit their purposes. Imagine an agriculture app that surveys your land; a search & rescue app; a football practice app. Before DroneKit, if you wanted to create any of these single-purpose apps for a drone you’d have to reinvent the wheel, building all the flight control software from the ground up. DroneKit abstracts away the hard parts of writing flight control software, leaving you a clean, modern interface to code on.

A good analogy is the smartphone: In order to make a smartphone app, you don’t need to design and create a phone first. The hard part (the platform, in other words) is already done. With DroneKit, we’ve made the phone, so to speak. Now everyone has the creative freedom to build apps and new functions.

“Unlike other APIs for drones, there are no levels of access to DroneKit; it’s completely flexible and open,” noted Brandon Basso, 3DR’s VP of Software Engineering. “The platform works on laptops as well as mobile devices. Best of all, once an app is created, the app automatically works on any computing platform—the interface is always the same.”

Our role is to maintain DroneKit: we created the API; we’ll fix any issues with it; we assure it works with all APM vehicles; we add experimental features from our labs and from those contributed by the global community, and we make all updates available to anyone for free. And should you develop an app, just put it up on 3DR Services, “the app store for drones,” where you can price it how you want, and we won’t take anything off the top. DroneKit is a community garden for technology; we want anyone to be able to use it to cultivate and take their product to market.

What you can do with DroneKit:

With DroneKit, you can develop apps for three platforms: mobile apps (DroneKit Android); web-based apps (DroneKit Cloud); and onboard computer apps (DroneKit Python) [i.e., for a companion computer on the actual drone].

DroneKit allows you to:

Fly paths with waypoints Fly in spline path with fine grain control over vehicle velocity and position Have the drone follow a GPS target Control the camera and gimbal with regions of interest points Access full telemetry from the drone over 3DR Radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or over the internet View playbacks and log analysis of any mission

Advantages of DroneKit:

Truly open; no “levels” of access that you get from other proprietary programs Computer agnostic: Create an app for controlling drones on whatever computing platform you want, and the interface is always the same Works on planes, copters and rovers Works on laptop computers as well as mobile devices Provides web-based access to vehicle data

DroneKit powers the most successful flight control programs in the world:

Tower (formerly Droidplanner), hands-down the best flight planning mobile app out there, was built on DroneKit for Android Droneshare, the global social network for drone pilots, is built on DroneKit web services Project Tango Indoor Navigation is built on Pixhawk, APM and Tower IMSI/Design TurboSite aerial reporting app for construction

Get Your Geek On: Four Incredible Star Wars Drones

If you drop by any of our offices on any given day you’ll probably hear a Star Wars reference within, oh, under 12 parsecs. We’re not entirely sure why this is. Engineers don’t typically live in the past. But look around, our code names for pet projects and even truly viable 3DRx prototypes take on references: Boba and Jabba; Lando; C3PO. They bubble up unbidden and gleefully from our DNA.

We’re huge geeks. We play with flying robots for a living. But sometimes drone innovation doesn’t feel like engineering the future at all, but taking a trip back to a long time ago and bringing all those Lucasian images from our childhood bedsheets, those pictures that osmoted into our minds while we dreamed of a life after gravity, into the practical measures of today’s high-tech robotics world.

The good news is, we’re not insane. We know this because we’re not alone: This past year has seen a invasion of incredibly inventive and ingenious Star Wars drones. And many have been powered by our Pixhawk autopilot, the closest we’ve been able to get to The Force on Earth. Here are four of our favorites.


Imperial Speed Bike Quadcopter (Powered by Pixhawk)

Designed by Google employee Adam Woodworth, who got into FPV drone flying just recently. The fast, low-level flying reminded Adam of the Endor chase scene from Return of the Jedi (should you need a refresher, click here), so he set out to duplicate it as faithfully as he could. He designed and built his own quadcopter from the ground up specifically to carry a 12-inch Hasbro “Power of The Force” Imperial Speeder Bike model. He put a Pixhawk in for flight control, swapped the Trooper’s heavier plastic limbs out for pipe cleaners and even sneaked an FPV camera into the helmet.


From left to right: full-size quad prototype; 1/3-scal quadcopter (pictured in flight); full-size original dual rotor prototype

Malloy Aeronautics Hoverbike (Powered by Pixhawk)

Inspired by the very same scene, this drone is now a reality. Thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign last year, Malloy will soon begin mass producing and selling these Pixhawk-powered quadcopter hoverbikes. Like Woodworth’s project, these 1/3-scale quadcopters will also transport a toy Trooper, but the end goal is even cooler: The proceeds from quadcopter sales will go to funding the development of a full-size model that will carry a person and have autonomous capabilities. Obvious safety and engineering questions arise, but Malloy is committed to seeing the project through.

Drone Download 11: Amazon and Google’s ups and downs; leaked legislation; Game of Thrones takes battleaxes to drones

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Drone Download #10: Facebook’s big bet; SXSW; 3DR gets FAA exemption; the chicken cannon arms race

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It’s that time of year again here in Austin: SXSW meets St. Patrick’s Day meets March Madness. (Please forgive typos.) Drones again are high on the media agenda, and we’ve got a solid keg full of mind bending stories and videos that came over the web wires last week. Cheers.

The bleeding edge

An Israeli startup called Percepto is raising funds on Indiegogo to manufacture an open source drone camera that can interact with apps on your mobile phone. The company already has a few apps of their own, including a follow app, but Percepto wants to invite others to build on their machine vision platform. We applaud this thinking—after all, moving fast means moving together. (Wired)

Worried about dronestrike? To get an idea of how a jet engine would handle a drone, IEEE takes a look at how companies test an airplane’s capacity to withstand birdstrike. Two awesome words: chicken cannon.

While SXSW may have banned drones this year (due to bandwidth concerns), they sure can’t ground the ideas. At one panel, a company called Frog Design presented 16 wearable drones they imagine might become everyday devices in the future. The thought? Wearable drones could not only perform the tasks of a smartphone, they could go above and beyond what we expect from our handsets today. “The drone that may replace your smartphone is already evolving from it.” (Wareable)

Also at SXSW, drone policy maven Lisa Ellman gave a talk on “privacy in the age of drone fever.” I was there. It was great. However, for basically the same experience, plus a drone football handoff, you can check out her TED Talk here.

These drones can weave three-dimensional architectural structures in minutes. “We can fly drones through and around existing objects, which a person or crane can’t do.” (Dezeen)

Drones for good: Helping lifeguards save people on busy beaches in Chile. (ABC)


We were thrilled to announce last week that the FAA granted two companies exemptions to use 3DR drones for commercial purposes, in railroad inspection and construction. (3DR)

Following the now infamous White House drone crash, the Secret Service is currently training to knock drones out of the sky. Chicken cannon? (The Verge)

Aerospace company Excelis announced that their air traffic control system for drones—called Symphony—is now ready for testing at FAA sites. Excelis already feeds data on manned aircraft to the FAA, so the idea is that this new system would simply have to integrate drone data into their existing framework. They’ve been developing Symphony in partnership with NASA over the past six months. (Gizmag)

FAA update

The FAA also granted the Michigan State Police an exemption for drone use. The MSP is the first law enforcement agency to receive an FAA exemption. (Freep)

Motherboard looks deeper into the FAA’s crackdown of seemingly disproportionate force on a YouTube user for posting his drone videos. The reason? His videos are technically monetized on YouTube; however, he’s never received a payment, and the revenue he’s “earned” from Google’s ads is less than a dollar.

But should FAA inspectors really be spending their time watching drone videos on YouTube? (Forbes)

This is an interesting and forward-thinking analysis of the long-term impact of Facebook’s play to deliver the internet via drones. (Wired)

Great read for anyone who wants an objective look at the FAA’s footdragging: Why is Canada winning the drone race? (But who’s winning the chicken cannon arms race? America, that’s who.) (Popular Science) 


Gorgeous drone footage of the largest cave on (in?) Earth—Han Son Doong in Vietnam. (Digg)

Drones defy gravity—but does gravity even exist? The answer: Maybe. Crazy article here—and it comes with a very cool drone tour of Lousiana’s massive gravitational wave detector. (Motherboard)

Paranoid Androids

The rock band Muse will release a new record in June called “Drones.” Out of all of the articles this week, this quote from the band rules the day: “The world is run by Drones utilizing Drones to turn us all into Drones.” (Rolling Stone)

The post Drone Download #10: Facebook’s big bet; SXSW; 3DR gets FAA exemption; the chicken cannon arms race appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

FAA Grants Exemptions for 3DR Drones, Opens Door for Industry Collaboration

On Friday the FAA granted Section 333 authorization for commercial use of 3DR drones to two companies, BNSF Railway and Build Imagery. The exemptions will not only allow these companies to use 3DR drones for business purposes, but will also enable all parties to continue to test and refine drone technology for industrial applications. This is big news not just for the companies involved but for the industry as a whole—a model for a successful collaborative triad of government regulators, drone companies and commercial interests.

3DR modified and optimized its drones over the course of a months-long collaboration with the companies so the vehicles would meet specific demands both for heavy-duty industrial applications and for FAA compliance. As a result, Build Imagery will now operate the 3DR IRIS+ on architectural, engineering and construction industry sites, as well as in motion picture and television filming, and BNSF Railway will operate the new 3DR Spektre Industrial Multirotor Aerial Vehicle for inspection on railroad infrastructure and operations. The FAA reports that 640 petitions for commercial use have been docketed, with only 45 exemptions granted; however, dozens of approvals are apparently still in the pipeline.

The big deal

These commercial exemptions impact the drone industry in a few fairly important ways. First, the companies who get FAA approval now have full access to drone technology, and their businesses will directly benefit in terms of safety and efficiency. An approved partnership with 3DR means a company gets access to the 3DR Open Platform, consisting of three major elements: vehicle, mobile and cloud technology, all supported by hardware, software and services solutions. This is important because our open platform model will enable industry partners everywhere to collaborate with us on development and even create and contribute their own applications.

For the drone industry at large there’s an indirect (but huge) benefit to getting these exemptions: We get to show the world—and regulators—what drones can do, and how well and reliably they work in the real world of business and industry. Drones, by doing the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks, have the potential to save many lives a year in addition to automating and streamlining business processes, primarily inspection-oriented. As flying cameras and sensors, drones can also bring the physical world (like a construction site) back into the digital, where projects can be monitored and manipulated and even uploaded to the cloud for real-time collaboration. With a commercial exemption, we can showcase how these benefits affect the real-world market.

Additionally, the drone industry (and 3DR) benefits directly by learning from specific scenarios that we simply couldn’t replicate or predict in our labs. 3DR can use our partnerships with BNSF and and Build Imagery as a kind of real-world R&D department: We can build and tailor our drones to meet specific industrial requirements, execute specific tasks and do it all more efficiently. Our customers will make us a better company, and more exemptions like this will overall make this a better industry.

The post FAA Grants Exemptions for 3DR Drones, Opens Door for Industry Collaboration appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

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