3D Robotics

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Description

Dean Takahashi:

"Anderson co-founded a for-profit company, 3D Robotics, (with a 19-year-old Mexican teen) that creates computing hardware for drones. That hardware itself is built on the Arduino open-source computing platform. The DIY software helps hobbyists create a wide variety of drones, like a drone you can fly with a Wii game console controller.

That hardware can be used to build all sorts of drones, such as “quad copter” drones based on the hardware of the Parrot AR Drone. The Parrot drones are controlled by humans, but the 3D Robotics hardware converts them so they can be completely autonomous, fulfilling the definition of a drone.

3D Robotics sells the drone hardware for $199 or so, enabling community members to take their software and run it on a hardware platform and thereby field their own flying drones.

“Anything that is remote-controlled, you just put this in there and suddenly you’ve got a drone,” Anderson said.

There are some legal issues around drones and whether they can be flown in commercial airspace, but Anderson said he has a legal opinion from lawyers that the business is legal, since the DIY drones are so far used for non-commercial purposes.

The drones have gotten quite creative. You can go surfing and have a drone take off from the beach, fly over you, turn on its camera and then film you from above as you surf.

The hardware is priced at about 2.6 times the hardware bill-of-material cost, allowing a 40 percent margin for retailers and a 40-percent margin for the company. But since the software is free, the end product can be quite cost efficient compared to competitors who have to try to keep pace with an all-volunteer software community, Anderson said. That means that Chinese knock-off rivals can copy the hardware but will have a tough time keeping up with 3D Robotics as it launches new software-driven varieties. Right now, the company offers 150 different products, including 75 from the community.

“They can’t clone our community,” he said.

The company has two factories and 50 employees now. In addition, 3D Robotics rewards its community contributors with T-shirts, coffee mugs, free travel, free hardware, and — if they contribute enough — equity in the company. All of the drones are under $1,000. Competitors include other open-source DIY communities where the model is similar: charge for hardware, give away the bits." (http://venturebeat.com/2012/07/27/open-source-model-disrupts-the-commercial-drone-business/)