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Personal Surveillance Drones are here. (sensefly.com)
142 points by olefoo on Nov 22, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

For those thinking that a homebrew version of this may come in the future, you've got it backwards. This is a professional version of homebrew. Check out http://diydrones.com/ as a good starting point, but this design is quite popular for hobbyists and is relatively simple to build. Definitely less than $10k-worth of time and materials.

How about these, for $300?


Or if you're more adventurous, you can chop 4 30 dollar helicopters from amazon, add in an arduino and IMU with xbees, and come up with your homebrew solution, like my friend who I've been helping:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvZKr47qt-A http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk_uS9clTDY

(These are pre-arduino, pre-IMU. Now it's hung from the ceiling and is controlled through the computer with an xbox controller. It's on a PID control right now, but eventually it'll be swapped out with a kalman filter based system.)

As long as an iPhone is used by Parrot as the controller, you're stuck with the AppStore's diktats; in this case, Apple won't let them record videos.

Also, Parrot's drone is fun to play with. The idea with sensefly is that you don't control it in realtime: you give it an itinerary before launching it, it follows it and comes back on its own. That's not as good for a toy, but more efficient for a professional tool.

ARDrone has an API, so you may be able to write your own Apple-free controller:


That's pretty cool.

Don't try operating this commercially in the US or Canada. Drones aren't exempt from FAA rules just because they resemble RC aircraft. (In fact, the rules are more stringent since drones are still new and have failure modes that traditional aircraft don't) Pretty much the only cases where the regs don't essentially ban UAVs are small-scale hobbyist projects and academic research.




I suspect that there will be a war on unlicensed UAV in the near future.

There might also be a war on licensed onces as well. UAVs currently are used mostly in combat zones, but I think it won't be long before they are zooming above restricted govt. areas, large cities, are used to track and chase fugitives, and even by small town cops to patrol and issue traffic tickets remotely.

As this happens there will be some who will take it as a challenge to destroy, capture, and most of all, to take over these drone. That does not entail injuring or harming an officer or a human so those who would never try to mess with a real helicopter or police cruiser might not have a problem messing with flying remote robots.

I've always envisioned a near-apocalyptic, autonomous flying drone, resembling a large flying mosquito, about the size of a large pit-bull, that randomly targets parked cars, and siphons several gallons of gas from their tanks, in order for it to 'survive'.

I think that was a car commercial actually...

There could be a cat/mouse game going on between law enforcement and criminals running UAVs (eg. to run drugs). Miniature dogfights?

yes and that will be the Last War. the one that Skynet wins. :)

How about making these smaller and smaller until they are just resemble swarms of insects ?

I wonder if there are any projects that are starting the process from the other side : take a mosquito and bio-engineer it somehow to use as a micro surveillance platform. I wouldn't be surprised if DoD already has such projects underway.

As the size gets smaller, FAA radars won't be able to detect these anymore. They might have to scan the control frequencies perhaps and triangulate to the base station.

It would become harder to get caught, but could remain illegal nonetheless; which prevents from building a legit economic activity around them.

As for radar signature, the smaller drones are already barely bigger than a large bird, so I guess they aren't spotted by radars, or at least not recognized as UAVs.

OK... I'm really confused. So an RC Airplane is OK but one of these is not OK? How big are these things? What is the fundamental difference between this and an RC air plane with a camera attached? I see that UAVs aren't allowed except with special licenses but it's not clear to me what separates a UAV from the recreational RC Airplane? It isn't clear from the links provided. Is it a height limitation? Perhaps it's a line of sight limitation?

RC aircraft are distinguished by weight restriction, direct line-of-sight operation, and purpose. The latter is what kills commercial drones. If you offer a commercial service, it isn't hobbyist RC.

It's like ham radio in the sense that you have very limited and specific rights to use a shared medium so long as you don't interfere with the professional users.

So, spying on people from the air can't be my hobby?

The fundamental difference, according to the FAA, is being in control of the aircraft at all times.

You can do drones in the US, but you have to have line of sight to it at all times, and you have to be able to take control of it at any time.

How does the government find/enforce that?

There's a neat subculture of RC who do some amazing DIY work known as "FPV" or first person view.

Basically they hand build RC aircraft to carry a payload of onboard electronics, and also ground stations with aircraft tracking antenna from which they pilot and record their flights.

The legality of this varies from country to country, however as hackers of their discipline, some of these guys are particularly impressive:


There's a bunch more here from trappy.


Looking at their product, I wonder how hard and how much $$ it would cost to make your own home-build type version?

I was trying to work out why there was something that looked like an LCD screen on the upper-side of the wing and then I realized that is just a regular point-and-shoot camera.

An EyeFi card (perhaps with an antenna built into the wing) would make a relatively easy upgrade from their current setup which looks like you have to wait to retrieve the plane before you can view the images.

As the website states local laws may not allow you to run a UAV domestically - anyone know what the laws would be here in US?

In the US you can fly AUVs like this one as long as you keep it in visual range at all times (and stay away from restricted airspace)

Not necessarily true anymore. The FAA has said that using these for commercial purposes is a violation of the FARs.

Can you provide a reference to this info? So you can't buy this for comercial purposes?

Is there an FAA distinction between fully and semi autonomous?

Yea you are correct, I forgot to include 'as a hobby'.

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't a tiny drone above you taking pictures.

I predict a rise in crossbow sales in the near future

I'm guessing it's less than three years until there is a YouTube video of some kid being tazed for flying one of these over the white house or area 51.

About 6 months after that, progressives will start agitating for "common sense UAV control" while conservatives will demand their constitutional rights to arm theirs with hellfire missiles.

Whatever happens, sanity will be the first thing to leave the building.

Man, I love living in the future.

Connect it to an iPhone and you'll be able to sell it to a new breed of 7 year old techno-hipsters.


This is awesome. it has a gps in it it will return and hover where it first powered up at your command. there is a video of it carrying a 2 litre bottle on a string. cost is about $1500 i think.

A commercial application which comes to mind is in farming - monitoring crops and cattle. Also for a small lightweight device it might be an idea to make the wings out of a solar material which can charge the battery and extend the maximum flight time.

Why would it have to fly, though?

Monitoring the state of crops or cattle could be done by ground vehicles, but far less efficiently.

That looks incredibly cool, and must have been so much fun to work on. I could imagine someone making a homebrew version with maybe a few year's tinkering in a garage and with a compiler.

Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson makes these in his spare time, and you can too: http://www.diydrones.com

Ah nice. Could be useful when looking for something or somebody, f.ex. ppl lost in the woods or similar. How long does it fly on one charge?

~30 minutes; ~20 kilometers

$1000 Chinese clones of this in one year. I'd bet on it.

Now I hope someone invents an emi pulse to take this thing out when the neighbor gets nosy.

EMP? A $5 catapult would do the job nicely.

Or a couple of kites!

You keep what you catch?

Now, start a business that lets you rent these per minute. You get to set the way points and receive all the photos/video via your browser or smartphone.

It may not be this exact device, but I predict such a service within 3 years.

Wow, the camera quality is pretty astounding.

MAV's are pretty sweet as well: http://www.draganfly.com/

Time to build an anti-drone SAM

This is really cool, but not legal esp if flying for money. You cannot let anything get out of visual range and within regular air traffic.

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