Support Marketplace

Your own personal drone


  • Photo 1 of 16

    Two drones in the 3DRobotics office in San Diego, Calif.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 2 of 16

    3DRobotics co-founder and CEO Chris Anderson putting in (off-the-shelf) batteries in a computer-controlled camera gimbal on a test jig.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 3 of 16

    The drones 3DRobotics work on have GPS capabilities, which help them to navigate, and cameras.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 4 of 16

    A drone model at 3DRobotics.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 5 of 16

    Kai Ryssdal (center) and Anderson get ready to fly a drone.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 6 of 16

    The Mission Planner is wirelessly connected to the drones. It displays the artificial horizon and a Google Maps satellite view of the parking lot space where the drones will be flown.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 7 of 16

    The drone hovering over the ground.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 8 of 16

    The drone lifted off.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 9 of 16

    The drone high up in the sky.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 10 of 16

    Kai using the Mission Planner on a tablet to fly a drone.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 11 of 16

    Anderson showing Kai a model of how small drones can be.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 12 of 16

    3DRobotics' main factory is in Tijuana, Mexico, but the San Diego does have a small production area (seen here) for testing new products.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 13 of 16

    In the electronics manufacturing pod, Anderson shows off a stencil of a circuit board.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 14 of 16

    A 3D printer at 3DRobotics, which is used for prototyping.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 15 of 16

    More batteries for drones.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

  • Photo 16 of 16

    A drone glider on the wall in the 3DRobotics office.

    - Chau Tu / Marketplace

If you go back and the read the congressional record for yesterday’s session of the U.S. Senate, you’ll see the word "drone" mentioned 489 times. Sen. Rand Paul held the floor for almost 13 hours yesterday, filibustering President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to run the CIA.

Brennan was confirmed, but Sen. Paul was questioning how the administration uses drones, specifically against Americans. It was a debate about the military use of drone technology but there is a small and growing civilian market in drones.

No jet engines. No hellfire missiles.

So far, just cameras mounted on a thing that looks like an Erector Set with small rotors on top. About the size of the top of a small coffee table. You can get an idea of what these civilian drones look like by clicking through the slide show above.

“Ten years ago, this was unobtainable. You know, this stuff was military industrial stuff, tens of millions for each sensor and today it’s pennies and it’s in your pocket," said Chris Anderson, the CEO of the drone-making firm 3D Robotics, who was until fairly recently the editor of Wired magazine.

Anderson said his business model is simple -- “the beauty of hardware is that the business model could not be more head-slappingly obvious. You charge more than it costs. That’s it.”

The company posts their designs online and charge around $500 to $700 to purchase a pre-built drone from them. For Anderson, the future of drones is about looking beyond military use and the stigma attached to them.

“Remember the Internet used to be a military technology. Computers were invented to calculate artillery trajectory. We forget that. GPS was designed for those cruise missiles," said Anderson. He points to a tradition civilians repurposing military technologies for personal uses. “And so if we do our job right, someday, people won’t associate drone use with military because the vast majority of drones that they see will be civilian.”

And when it comes to privacy concerns, he’s not worried. “How do you feel about camera phones? These are just camera phones with wings.”

So what will fill the R&D space of 3D Robotics in 10 years? Anderson hopes that first and foremost, we’ll forget that drones used to be military. Instead, drones will be commonplace -- he likens them to a personal computer.

“We’re at the level right now where it’s clear that you can have such a thing as a personal drone, that drones can be cheap and easy," he said.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...