A DRONE OF
Build the world’s cheapest,
easiest to hack, and funnest
BY CHRIS ANDERSON
Robots are cool. Airplanes are cool. Putting them together? Twice as cool. That, in a nutshell, is the inspiration for ArduPilot, our project to create
the world’s cheapest, easiest to hack and, dare we say, funnest autopilot. Add
it to a standard hobby radio control plane, toss in a wireless video camera and
transmitter, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty decent unmanned aerial
When you hear UAV, you probably think military:
the Predators or Global Hawks used in Iraq and
Afghanistan, or the Navy ScanEagle used to look
for pirates off the coast of Somalia. But UAVs are
increasingly used by civilians for science (from
atmospheric sampling to multispectral ground
imaging), search and rescue, and simple aerial
photography. Indeed, some of the imagery in
Google Earth was taken that way.
The main thing keeping UAVs from being used as
much for peaceful purposes as they are for defense
Photography by Noah Webb
is that the FAA has strict rules for their use in U.S.
airspace that make it difficult to get permission
for commercial use. But if you’re flying them as a
hobbyist and follow the same guidelines that the
FAA has set for R/C aircraft (stay below 400 feet,
stay within unaided line of sight, and always have a
pilot able to take control), you can fly UAVs under
a “recreational” exemption.
Even if you can’t do much remote sensing while
staying within line of sight, a UAV is still a really fun
way to explore three-dimensional robotics.
46 Make: Volume 19