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Open-source drones for fun and profit

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Friday is Fly Day at 3D Robotics, a maker of small robotic aircraft. So here we are, on a windswept, grassy landfill with a spectacular view of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, looking up at a six-prop copter with a gleaming metal frame. It's like a spiffy toy from the future. Buzzing like a swarm of bees, it lifts off smartly, hovers, then pinwheels. "Jason's making the hex twirl," says CEO Chris Anderson, a trim man in jeans and an untucked oxford shirt. "That's just for show-a human pilot couldn't do that." That's because Jason, the flight tester, did nothing more than figuratively push a button. The hexarotor-technically, the 3DR Y-6-is on autopilot, which it demonstrates by zooming off on a preprogrammed route. The Y-6 sells for US $619. That's a lot for a toy, but it's chicken feed for a capital investment. These mini unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. UAVs, a.k.a. drones-are changing from toys into tools, as businesses worldwide awaken to their importance.

Published in:

Spectrum, IEEE  (Volume:51 ,  Issue: 3 )