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3D Robotics News

3D Robotics Partners with Intel, Develops New Drone Power

On Tuesday, 3D Robotics announced that we’ve partnered with Intel in the development of Edison, a new microcomputer that basically gives you PC power in postage stamp size, at an almost universally accessible price. We’ve worked closely and for a long time with Intel on this project because the combination of Edison’s incredible power and  affordability will lead to truly revolutionary advancements for our company, and for the Internet of Things in general.

The Edison board has the kind of processing that at one time you could only find in a personal computer. This means that when we integrate Edison into our next-generation autopilot, we’ll be able to make incredible leaps forward in on-board image processing, sense and avoid, new classes of sensors, and artificial intelligence, with many more eggs yet to be discovered and cracked open. The technology is now here. The challenge now is to start doing important and interesting things with it.

For instance, for the big announcement on Tuesday we ran a demo of IRIS+ using an “optical” version of our 3PV™ Follow Me technology, with Edison as a companion computer to our Pixhawk autopilot. That sounds way too technical. But what that really means is that with the extra computing power from Edison, 3PV™ can now track people and objects with vision instead of relying on a GPS signal, so you won’t need to carry another device on you anymore—you can just go and the drone will visually recognize where you are and keep the camera on you.

it_photo_214981_52 3DR CEO Chris Anderson called the partnership, “A rich collaboration between Intel’s engineers and ours to integrate the Edison into our platform and add image processing power.” For Chris, Edison unlocks what you might call “the long tail of drones.” In other words, drones won’t come in a handful of sizes and models with a handful of universal capabilities, as they do today. Instead, drones will be customized and adapted, changed and invented and reinvented to meet an untold number of needs and solve an untold number of problems, most of which we aren’t even aware of today. That’s the long tail. With additional computing power from Edison, 3DR will build drones that can do more things for more people in more industries, and eventually drones that can be infinitely tailored to meet the many unique needs of the real world that are out there now, waiting for their applications to come along.

WikiDrones: What “Open Source” Means to 3DR Customers


At 3D Robotics, all of our software is open source. And we’re not alone: a huge percentage of major companies develop or run on open source software and systems, including Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, WordPress, Twitter, Netflix, Mozilla, even MasterCard and Bank of America. Most of the internet is hosted on open source Apache servers, and the bestselling smart phones in the world, Android devices, are also open source.

What does open source mean? In short, it means anyone has the freedom to run your program, to change the program, to redistribute exact copies, and to distribute modified versions. Companies see many advantages in this open source model: technological advancement, cost, efficiency, security, ethical cred, etc. At 3DR, we’re deeply proud of our open source roots, and proud to support open efforts like ardupilot: these people and projects are to thank for all that 3DR is today, and they matter deeply to us in both principle and practice.

But: We’re also aware that, to almost everyone on the planet, this stuff doesn’t matter at all. Most people, and rightly so, just care if the thing they use works well or not. However, if you’re looking to buy a drone, our open source model really does matter to you, and in very practical ways. Here’s why.



First, and obviously, open source means we can keep prices down in favor of fostering more development. For instance, this means that we can sell you a Pixhawk, one of the most sophisticated and capable autopilots on the planet, for less than $300. Comparable autopilots sell at four or five times that amount. So if you don’t think you see the benefits of open source from day to day, you can see the open source spirit in our encouraging prices. But you’ll find you get even more from those prices…



Many products have built-in obsolescence, meaning they fall apart and age prematurely, so that you need to repair them or buy new versions regularly. Obviously, this is a lucrative business model, particularly at the speed that the high-tech world changes. How many iPods have you gone through?

But because 3DR drones are open source, they have built-in evolution. As we continue to develop cool new software functions and improve on already existing ones, you can keep pace with us and download the latest for free. So if you buy an IRIS or an X8, its software won’t go obsolete, it will only improve. As that old saying goes, “Wine and drones from 3D Robotics get better with time.”


Advanced technology, fast

Not only will your software keep pace with the company, we’ll both do so at an incredible rate. 3DR are the stewards of the DIY Drones community–today there are over 55,000 of us–home to an enormous and almost disturbingly intelligent and dedicated global developer base. With this number of experts working in concert around the world, we come up with new and better features and functionality and implement them in our products and software much faster than a closed-source company ever could. Imagine Wikipedia, but for drones. And they do it all for free, for you.


Because we have so many top-shelf minds at work here, we’re able to respond what our customers need. Instead of only offering products to our customers–telling them what they want–we have the capacity to listen to what they want, and more importantly, to incorporate their ideas quickly into our products. This goes from high-end specialized enterprise applications to cool consumer features: It’s how we developed and refined our advanced 3PV Follow Me mode, for instance. So if you have an operation you need a drone to perform, or a great idea for an app, chances are we can make it happen.

Plus, if you’ve got a mind to do it, you can always just edit and add to the code yourself. That’s what free and open can do. For proof of how useful and beneficial this is, just ask the multitude of drone companies built on our platform.

In the end

Open source projects embrace open exchange, collaboration, and community contribution. And this means as much to you and your daily decisions as it does to us geeks on the other side of the screen. Thanks to open source projects, where Wikipedia was once a punchline, it is now a given. And where drone was once a dirty word, now they can be anything we, and you, want them to be.

Life from Above: Global Drone Network Empowers Humanitarian Efforts

Image: Flood in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Flooding in the Balkans, early 2014

A few months back an employee here at 3D Robotics told me, “The day one of our drones saves a life, just one life, everything we’ve ever done here will have been worth it—everything, everything.”

No one understands this better than Patrick Meier, founder of UAViators.org (pronounced “Wave-iators”), a global humanitarian network of professional, civilian, and responsible hobbyist drone pilots.

“The question today isn’t if drones will one day assist in humanitarian efforts,” Patrick says. “They already do. The question now is how to facilitate that in the most effective, safe, and responsible way.”

That is, when it comes to the usefulness of drones, we’re not talking about “possibility” or “the future” anymore. We’re talking about the present, about having right here and now a new way to solve old problems.

One persistent problem with disaster relief efforts has been that all of our traditional delivery, survey, and assessment mechanisms are in some way constrained by infrastructure—roads, airports, waterways, railways, power and communication lines, etc.—which in crisis zones are obviously often destroyed or unusable. Drones are unique in that they can achieve these same goals while operating outside of infrastructure, offering “frictionless” access to treacherous parts of the world where and when help is needed. And because drones carry less risk and expense than manned flight, and are also more mobile and flexible, more people can use them to gather more information more quickly, and often in greater detail, with much less risk to life.

The Belize Fisheries Department launches a conservation drone to monitor illegal fishing.

The Belize Fisheries Department launches a conservation drone to monitor illegal fishing.

And these aren’t petty capabilities, “local drone does good” window dressing to attract a buying public to a new technology. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, drones were sent in to map radiation levels where no person could safely go. And after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Philippines last year, drones conducted aerial damage assessments of otherwise inaccessible areas. In Kenya it’s been reported that drones could reduce poaching by up to 96%, and in the poaching war currently underway in South Africa’s Kruger National Park—every four days a park ranger is killed in firefights with poachers—the technology promises similar and very welcome returns.

Meier realized that if you could safely and reliably crowdsource this power to qualified and certified volunteer pilots around the world, you’d have a global response network with nearly zero lag time. And to take that even further, you could combine that scope of information with the analytical power of Big Data. Meier believes that this combination—user-generated aerial imagery paired with widespread mobile access—will greatly increase a community’s ability to self-organize. And so he organized his own community, UAViators.org.

Though they’ve only been active for six months or so, they’ve come quite a long way. Check out their successes below.

The Crisis Map


Provides situational awareness in the form of an interactive map of aerial videos from crisis zones around the world. Pilots upload their video, and anyone with an internet connection will have free and immediate access to valuable and actionable information. This month, the map will also enable the sharing of static pictures.

A “TripAdvisor” for Drones

UAViators has also opened a Wiki travel guide, a resource for information on drone laws and regulations around the world, and a place for pilots to share their travel experiences. It’s open for contributions.

The UAV Review

Meier’s team is in the second stage of reviewing over 170 UAV platforms, including several 3DR models (we’re looking pretty darn good), along a wide range of criteria from flight time to payload capacity to cameras and software for image analysis. The results from the first stage are posted in an open google spreadsheet, and Patrick has invited anyone to contribute.


The United Nations

Echoing our own sentiments at 3DR, Meier says, “We really need enlightened leadership and policy making in the humanitarian UAV space.” This is a big reason he organized an Experts Meeting at the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The meeting will be held this November, and will feature representatives and volunteers from across the industry.

UAViators.org invites people around the world to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the humanitarian space: pilots, imagery analysts, policy folks, hardware/software experts, researchers, and anyone else in a position to help. Because in this case it’s quite literal: we need all the help we can get.

Learn more about UAViators.org.

3DR Platform Update: The Five Coolest Pixhawk-based Kickstarters


The Pixhawk is 3DR’s world famous flight control technology. It’s a flying neurosystem that automatically manages and controls UAV position, direction, orientation and speed, and can autonomously pilot your drone wherever you tell it to go along paths of virtually unlimited waypoints. Its 32-bit processor can manage all of these complex inputs, including controlling camera angle, while automatically adjusting for constant and unpredictable environmental variations in real time. While keeping a robot in the air. We secretly like to call it Skybrain.

The Pixhawk’s processor is so capable that it offers cathedral-like headroom for adding other sensors, inputs and commands, and the APM flight code that it runs is, thanks to years of selfless dedication from the world’s largest community of UAV developers, totally free and open source.

And it all fits in your palm, and costs less than $300.

For these reasons, the Pixhawk is the platform for all of 3DR’s drones. It’s also the platform of choice for some of the most successful UAV projects and companies around the world. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorites that have popped up on Kickstarter just this year.


1. AirDog, by Helico Aerospace

Follow Me technology particularly well-suited to action sports and athletic training. 3DR has recently announced a formal collaboration with the AirDog team to develop the next generation of Follow Me technology. From 3DR’s CEO Chris Anderson:

“The talented team behind AirDog have a clear technology and business vision. We’re delighted to welcome them as a premier adopter of the 3DR platform and look forward to working with them to combine our technologies for an unprecedented flight and video experience.”

AirDog raised $1,368,177, and had an initial goal of $200,000.

3DR Drones in Action: Moss Monster Attacks Texas Drought

Here in central Texas, drought has become the norm. Currently the lakes around Austin, the state capital, are at 38% capacity. These lakes provide drinking water for more than a million people, as well as water to industries, businesses and the environment. When the lakes drop below 30% capacity, projected to happen as early as January 2015, the state will officially declare a “Drought Worse than the Drought of Record,” which will compel industries and other consumers to reduce water use by 20 percent. Compounding the problem is the present danger of nonnative aquatic vegetation—such as the invasive species hydrilla—which when left untended can choke out an entire lake. Moss Monster, a local contracting company owned and operated by Clifton Chowning, harvests aquatic vegetation and dredges the lakes and canals of central Texas, thereby combating threats of invasive vegetation and erosion.

For Clifton, the 3D Robotics Y6 is like having a superpower. The ability to automatically fly a camera over the water makes aerial data acquisition automatic, reliable, affordable and, most importantly for Clifton, repeatable. He can fly identical patterns week after week, capturing crisp and accurate aerial images that allow him to target specific problem areas and over time prove out changes and threats, which ultimately makes Moss Monster’s operations more efficient and effective. Clifton passes this on to customers in the form of savings, and to the city in the form of a cool glass of water.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 3.22.01 PM

The 3DR platform makes this possible. All of our drones are capable of autonomous flight: they’re robots that can fly themselves and carry a hi-res camera or other sensors along customized routes with virtually unlimited waypoints. You can save routes and fly them precisely at any time. This combination—crisp aerial images, automation and repeatability—can be particularly useful for enterprise applications: by flying lower and slower than satellites or manned aircraft, our drones make data acquisition more efficient, accurate and affordable than it’s ever been. But what’s most exciting is what people will discover they can do with this kind of access, and that too is virtually unlimited.

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