Drone makers, including the Department of Defense, are making use of open-source developers to save on research costs.
The Federal Aviation Administration isn’t expected to approve unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use until at least 2015. Even so, manufacturers are already preparing to jump into the market—relying on the open-source movement for free research and development. Amateur designers and manufacturers are building prototypes at home, then e-mailing or posting the results, often with how-tos that can be completed using part-making 3D printers.
That’s giving far more people, including startups, an opening in the $1.6 billion market for drone design, which will almost double in a decade, according to the aerospace and defense consulting firm Teal Group. Online support is “quite a game-changer,” says Jeff Moe, chief executive officer of open-source 3D printer company Aleph Objects. “You have collaborative worldwide development of hardware and electronics.”
The teamwork extends from pilotless aerial vehicles that spray crops or map coral reefs to those that detect radiation. DIY Drones, an online community founded by former Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson, has more than 35,000 members and provides free access to thousands of schematics. Its pages receive more than 2 million views per month, says Anderson, whose own company, 3D Robotics, is making use of the crowd-sourced R&D. “We’ve been able to bring this huge amount of energy, ideas, and talent to bear for free that otherwise would have taken millions of dollars,” he says, citing his drone autopilot software, radios, video components, and camera controls among the designs he developed with help from DIY.