"drones" entries

Four short links: 30 January 2015

Four short links: 30 January 2015

FAA Rules, Sports UAVs, Woodcut Data, and Concurrent Programming

  1. FAA to Regulate UAVs? (Forbes) — and the Executive Order will segment the privacy issues related to drones into two categories — public and private. For public drones (that is, drones purchased with federal dollars), the President’s order will establish a series of privacy and transparency guidelines. See also How ESPN is Shooting the X Games with Drones (Popular Mechanics)—it’s all fun and games until someone puts out their eye with a quadrocopter. The tough part will be keeping within the tight restrictions the FAA gave them. Because drones can’t be flown above a crowd, Calcinari says, “We basically had to build a 500-foot radius around them, where the public can’t go.” The drones will fly over sections of the course that are away from the crowds, where only ESPN production employees will be. That rule is part of why we haven’t seen drones at college football games.
  2. Milestones for SaaS Companies“Getting from $0-1m is impossible. Getting from $1-10m is unlikely. And getting from $10-100m is inevitable.” —Jason Lemkin, ex-CEO of Echosign. The article proposes some significant milestones, and they ring true. Making money is generally hard. The nature of the hard changes with the amount of money you have and the amount you’re trying to make, but if it were easy, then we’d structure our society on something else.
  3. Woodcut Data VisualisationRecently, I learned how to operate a laser cutter. It’s been a whole lot of fun, and I wanted to share my experiences creating woodcut data visualizations using just D3. I love it when data visualisations break out of the glass rectangle.
  4. Why is Concurrent Programming Hard?on the one hand there is not a single concurrency abstraction that fits all problems, and on the other hand the various different abstractions are rarely designed to be used in combination with each other. We are due for a revolution in programming, something to help us make sense of the modern systems made of more moving parts than our feeble grey matter can model and intuit about.
Four short links: 29 December 2014

Four short links: 29 December 2014

Open Source Submersible, Web Language, Cheap Robot Arm, and Visualisation Trends

  1. OpenROV — open source submersible, funded in 1 day on Kickstarter, now available for purchase.
  2. Ur/Web — web application language that’s functional, pure, statically typed, and strict. (via IT World)
  3. MeArm (Thingiverse) — a low cost robot arm. The meArm is designed to be light weight and inexpensive – to be the perfect introduction to robotics. Design on Thingiverse, kickstarting the controller.
  4. Eric Rodenbeck on Running a Studio (Flowing Data) — Stamen’s founder on the challenges of staying current. I hadn’t realised quite how quickly the visualisation field is changing.

One more word on drones: Warehouses

Drones might never find meaningful retail delivery work, but they might find practical employment in warehouses.

After writing my short post about the use of drones to deliver packages, it occurred to me that there’s one more realistic use case. Unfortunately (or not), this is a use case that you’ll never see if you’re not an Amazon employee. But I think it’s very realistic. And obviously, I just can’t get drones out of my head.

As I argued, I don’t think you’ll see drones for retail delivery, except perhaps as a high-cost, very conspicuous consumption frill. What could get more conspicuous? Drone pilots are expensive, and I don’t think we’ll see regulations that allow autonomous drones flying in public airspace any time soon. Drones also aren’t terribly fast, and even if you assume that the warehouses are relatively close to the customers, the number of trips a drone can make per hour are limited. There’s also liability, weather conditions, neighbors shooting the drones down, and plenty of other drawbacks.

These problems all disappear if you limit your use of drones to the warehouse itself. Don’t send the drone to the customer: that’s a significant risk for an expensive piece of equipment. Instead, use the drones within the warehouse to deliver items to the packers. Weather isn’t an issue. Regulation isn’t an issue; the FAA doesn’t care what you do inside your building. Autonomous flight isn’t just a realistic option, it’s preferable: one massive computing system can coordinate and optimize the flight paths of all the drones. Amazon probably has some of that system built already for its Kiva robots, and Amazon is rather good at building large computing architectures. Distance isn’t an issue. Warehouses are big, but they’re not that big, and something (or someone) has to bring the product to the packing station, whether it’s a human runner or a Kiva robot. Read more…

Comments: 2

Drone delivery: Real or fantasy?

For the time being, we won't see drone delivery outside of a few very specialized use cases.

prime-air_high-resolution02I read with some interest an article on the Robotenomics blog about the feasibility of drone delivery. It’s an interesting idea, and the article makes a better case than anything I’ve seen before. But I’m still skeptical.

The article quotes direct operating costs (essentially fuel) that are roughly $0.10 for a 2-kilogram payload, delivered 10 kilometers. (For US-residents, that’s 4.4 pounds and about six miles). That’s reasonable enough.

The problem comes when he compares it to Amazon’s current shipping costs, of $2 to $8. But it sounds roughly like what Amazon pays to UPS or FedEx. And that’s not for delivering four pounds within a six-mile range. And it’s not just the fuel cost: it’s the entire cost, including maintenance, administrative overhead, executive bonuses, and (oh, yes) the driver’s salary. Read more…

Comments: 4
Four short links: 15 October 2014

Four short links: 15 October 2014

Recognising Uncertainty, Responsive Screenshots, Rapid Prototyping, and SD Drones

  1. Guidance Note on Uncertainty (PDF) –expert advice to IPCC scientists on identifying, quantifying, and communicating uncertainty. Everyone deals with uncertainty, but none are quite so ruthless in their pursuit of honesty about it as scientists. (via Peter Gluckman)
  2. pageresResponsive website screenshots. (via infovore)
  3. SparkFun Rapid Prototyping Lab — with links to some other expert advice on creative spaces. Some very obvious software parallels, too. E.g., this from Adam Savage’s advice: The right tool for the job – Despite his oft-cited declaration that ‘every tool is a hammer,’ Adam can usually be relied on to geek-out about purpose-built tools. If you’re having trouble learning a new skill, check that you’re using the right tools. The right tool is the one that does the hard work for you. There’s no point in dropping big bucks on tools you’re almost certainly not going to use, but don’t be afraid to buy the cheap version of the snap-setter, or leather punch, or tamper bit before trying to jerry-rig something that will end up making your life harder.
  4. Dudes with Drones (The Atlantic) — ghastly title (“Bros with Bots”, “Bangers with Clangers”, and “Fratboys with Phat Toys” were presumably already taken), interesting article. San Diego is the Palo Alto of drones. Interesting to compare software startups with the hardware crews’ stance on the FAA. “We want them to regulate us,” Maloney says. “We want nothing more than a framework to allow us to continue to operate safely and legally.”
Four short links: 14 October 2014

Four short links: 14 October 2014

Science Startups, UAV Platform, Distributed vs Scalable, and Multiplayer Spreadsheet

  1. VCs Return to Backing Science Startups (NY Times) — industry and energy investment doubled this year, biotech up 26% in first half, but a lot of the investments are comically small and the risk remains acutely high.
  2. dronecode — Linux Foundation common, shared open source platform for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The platform has been adopted by many of the organizations on the forefront of drone technology, including 3DRobotics, DroneDeploy, HobbyKing, Horizon Ag, PrecisionHawk, Agribotics, and Walkera, among other.
  3. Distributed is Not Necessarily Moe Scalable (Murat Demiras) — well-reasoned and summed up in this tweet by @jamesiry: Some people when faced with a problem think, I know, I’ll use distributed computing. Now they have N^2 problems..
  4. ethersheet — open source collaborative/multiplayer spreadsheet.

Inside Solid: what won’t drones do?

How Moore's Law applies to drones — a backchannel meditation on drone limitations.

prime-air_high-resolution02Extrapolation is great fun — especially over technology, where Moore’s Law has conditioned us to expect exponentially falling costs and fast adoption. Applied to drones, extrapolation might lead us to conclude that they’ll fill the skies soon, delivering anything we want on demand. They are, after all, rapidly getting cheaper and smarter, and drone-related announcements get tons of press.

So, where will the drones stop? A few of us meditated on the limitations of drones last week on news that Facebook plans to use them to provide Internet connections to those who don’t have them, and on DHL’s announcement that it would begin making deliveries by drone to the island of Juist, in the North Sea. An edited excerpt of our exchange follows. Read more…

Comments: 3
Four short links: 29 August 2014

Four short links: 29 August 2014

Delivery Drones, Database Readings, Digital Govt, and GitHub Reviews

  1. Inside Google’s Secret Drone Delivery Program (The Atlantic) — passed proof-of-concept in Western Australia, two years into development.
  2. Readings in DatabasesA list of papers essential to understanding databases and building new data systems. (via Hacker News)
  3. Todd Park Recruiting for Govt Digital Corps (Wired) — “America needs you!” he said to the crowd. “Not a year from now! But Right. The. Fuck. Now!”
  4. Review Ninjaa lightweight code review tool that works with GitHub, providing a more structured way to use pull requests for code review. ReviewNinja dispenses with elaborate voting systems, and supports hassle-free committing and merging for acceptable changes.
Comments: 2
Four short links: 8 July 2014

Four short links: 8 July 2014

Virtual Economies, Resource UAVs, Smarter Smaller Crowds, and Scaling Business

  1. Virtual Economies — new book from MIT Press on economics in games. The book will enable developers and designers to create and maintain successful virtual economies, introduce social scientists and policy makers to the power of virtual economies, and provide a useful guide to economic fundamentals for students in other disciplines.
  2. Resource Industry UAV Conference Presentations — collection of presentations from a recent resources industry conference. Includes UaaS: UAVs as a Service. (via DIY Drones)
  3. The Wisdom of Smaller, Smarter Crowdsin domains in which some crowd members have demonstrably more skill than others, smart sub-crowds could possibly outperform the whole. The central question this work addresses is whether such smart subsets of a crowd can be identified a priori in a large-scale prediction contest that has substantial skill and luck components. (via David Pennock)
  4. Larry and Sergey with Vinod (YouTube) — see transcription. I really liked Page’s point about scaling the number of things that companies do, and the constraints on such scaling.
Four short links: 5 June 2014

Four short links: 5 June 2014

Open Autopilot, Record Robot Sales, NSA Myths Busted, and Informative Errors

  1. beaglepilot (Github) — open source open hardware autopilot for Beagleboard. (via DIY Drones)
  2. IFR Robot Sales Charts (PDF) — 2013: all-time high of 179,000 industrial robots sold and growth continues in 2014. (via Robohub)
  3. The Top 5 Claims That Defenders of the NSA Have to Stop Making to Remain Credible (EFF) — great Mythbusting.
  4. Netflix’s New Error Message — instead of “buffering”, they point the finger at the carrier between them and the customer who is to blame for slow performance. Genius!