Marvelous Mavelous
December 8, 2012 10:10 PM   Subscribe

Mavelous is an open-source web/HTML-based ground control station for amateur UAVs/DIY drones. It is the first open-source ground control station that lets you control your drone from your tablet or even your phone. (Related: 1 2 3) [via mefi projects]

Have you ever wanted to fly a drone aircraft with an iPad? Your wait is over, thanks to Mefi's Own™ jwiseman:

Drones are changing the world, and the world of amateur drones is roughly in the Homebrew Computer Club-stage of enthusiasm and innovation.

I began the mavelous project when I decided I wanted to be able to tap a map location on my iPad/iPhone and make my drone fly there. There was no existing ground control station that could do that, so I created one with the goal of being extremely portable, able to run on anything with a modern web browser.

Mavelous is still in the early stages of development, but tap-the-map flying is a reality; This YouTube video shows my collaborator Pat Hickey flying his drone with an iPad and with an Android phone:

Mavelous has a front-end that is written in javascript, and a back-end written in Python.

We have a mailing list, and we welcome additional contributors:!forum/mavelous

Video of Pat giving a little general background info on Arducopter and ground control stations:

My ideal outcome would be for mavelous to grow to become the ground control station of choice for applications like drone journalism, surgical flavor strikes, and anti-surveillance protest tools.
posted by double block and bleed (23 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know whether to be more frightened by this or the CIA controlling a drone.

Nosedived into a baby buggy? Put a report in Mantis.
Disarming the warhead? That will be in the next release.
posted by alloneword at 11:20 PM on December 8, 2012

The DYI Drones looks like a great site...going to keep an eye on this.
Dear Santa, Please bring me an ArduCopter.
posted by quazichimp at 1:27 AM on December 9, 2012

I am going to start mine today. In case any brown people in my neighborhood start mouthing off, or try to have a wedding or something.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:55 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I predict this is the future of pizza delivery -
posted by newdaddy at 3:38 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know whether to be more frightened by this or the CIA controlling a drone.

With me, it's the CIA. This is not an organization that, historically, has always used its distressingly broad powers with our best interests at heart.
posted by JHarris at 4:38 AM on December 9, 2012

protip to future fpp posters: if you want to post something cool like this, use the phrase "rc aircraft" — "drones" brings out legions of jackasses hooting about missiles and weddings and the CIA no matter the actual content of the post.
posted by indubitable at 4:44 AM on December 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Who watches the watchers? Ccrowd sourced drones funded via KickStarter.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:30 AM on December 9, 2012

ARgh. I was very close to buying a quadcopter uav from kickstarter, but I held strong and didn't get it because i don't need one.

Now I want one again.
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:14 AM on December 9, 2012

Just wait til the paparazzi get a hold of one of these.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:34 AM on December 9, 2012

Just wait til the paparazzi get a hold of one of these.

Wait until a far right or far left group gets a hold of one of these.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:05 AM on December 9, 2012

I think this has to be highly regulated. There are a lot of applications for these things and when one gets sucked into the engine of a jetliner, you could have real problems. We have crowded skies.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:36 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree there is potential for abuse. But I don't know, one of the few areas where I can sort of see what those right wing anti-regulation zealots are talking about are when extremely fun and useful things are taken out of private citizen hands because of the potential for abuse. Those kinds of rights, once restricted, tend to be hard to win back. Take that to its logical conclusion and we end up with a society where more things are proscribed than allowed.

I am perfectly willing to be shown to be wrong on this, though.
posted by JHarris at 7:56 AM on December 9, 2012

The issue of regulating professional, federal UAVs in US airspace is already being discussed considerately by the FAA, which is a surprise itself. I don't see how semi-professional aircraft would be any different; pilots would only need to show they understand basic concepts of aviation and air traffic, in my opinion. Still, I agree we're in kind of a gray area regarding how to identify and prosecute violations. But if you want to get technical, the technology was abused (read: weaponized or used inhumanely) long before falling into the hands of ordinary citizens.

I'm all for "taking back the skies" and doing something actually useful, like surveying the environment for ecological damage from weather patterns, forest fires, or other natural disasters. At the same time, it's hard to trust or predict human nature. After perfecting the surveillance drone, we immediately decided to arm it with missiles rather than food or care packages or rescue equipment or some kind of anti-global warming technology. Here's hoping some asshole doesn't ruin it for everyone at the more local level.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't the general aviation regulations already control the airspace below a certain height? It seems like just restricting rc craft from the immediate vicinity of airports and keeping them under a hundred metres or so would mitigate the danger to larger aircraft.
posted by Mitheral at 10:22 AM on December 9, 2012

Since I posted about mavelous to projects, 3D Robotics (the company behind has announced their support of the project, with plans to develop products to make it easier to run mavelous in the field.

Since then we've also created a simple offline (not connected to a drone or even a high-fidelity simulation) demo: Try it in your phone/tablet/etc.

Lord Pall, there have been a lot of relatively bogus kickstarter drone projects (see, for example, You're almost certainly better off getting a quadcopter that has a community and history behind it:

The Parrot AR.Drone is a slick commercial product that is super stable, can be flown indoors (not so much outdoors if its windy) and is hackable (you can even program it in javascript).

Arducopter is $450-600, depending on whether you want to assemble and wire up the kit yourself or buy it ready-to-fly, and can fly robustly outdoors. It's completely open source software and hardware, and the community at is mostly focused on it. It's a little like Linux 10 years ago: you can choose to run a stable version of the software, or you can stay on the cutting edge; You can fly the well-tested configurations or swap in your own components (except the risks of buggy software are somewhat more dramatic: crashes, or even worse, fly-aways).

If you're less interested in hacking, you have choices like the QR Ladybird, a cute micro-rotor that costs about $90, or the DJI Flame Wheel, a durable frame with a controller known for stability.
posted by jjwiseman at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Years ago I used to say that ubiquitous flying robots were going to change our society in a big way. In 2012, I see that they already have, and it's still just the beginning. I'm not sure people generally understand the magnitude of the change that's happening, or that it has already begun (with little chance of stopping it).

I feel like being informed on the topic makes me both more scared than the average person who worries about "drones", and more aware of the incredible benefits. A future where government drones peek into my windows or watch entire cities of people all the time, archiving the video for tracking people of interest at any later time is completely plausible--people are already making those things happen. But people are also working on personal flying assistants that I can talk to like Suri (I'll post to projects when that demo is working) and a network of drones that transport medical supplies in regions without reliable roads.
posted by jjwiseman at 10:42 AM on December 9, 2012

I also have this feeling that amateur drones help equalize the citizens' and governments' powers. (a 2nd amendment of drones?)

One small example, because I've decided I'm definitely not going to do it: You know how Trevor Paglen documents classified military installations by basically using astrophotographic equipment and making extremely long-range telephoto pictures of Area 51 etc.? I believe that it would be possible for an amateur to build a drone that could actually enter classified installations and take photos and videos.

The main challenges include

1. Avoid detection/interdiction. I wouldn't be surprised if sensitive areas have radar that is able to detect items with the radar cross section of an Arducopter, but a foam plane with a fistful of electronics might be a different story. And I bet you could stay low and stay undetected. And even if they did detect you intermittently, I'm not sure they have the means to bring you down--I'm not aware of a surface-to-air-missile that would be able to hit such a small, non-radiating target at such low altitude. Non-radiating means the drone must fly a completely autonomous mission (well within the realm of amateur control software today) and not broadcast any telemetry/video/imagery.

2. Getting the data out. The only way I can think of this working is to get in, collect imagery, get out and transmit the data in a way that is not suspicious and not traceable (in case someone gets suspicious). Wait until you're some distance away, then squirt the data using a burner GSM connection to a github gist or whatever other anonymous data repository you can find. Doing this in a way that makes it as hard as possible to trace to you is probably more difficult than getting into their airspace.

I'm not sure how useful this would be beyond a high-risk, radical art project, but I'm pretty sure that right now a talented amateur could breach security of some of the most sensitive U.S. military installations.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:08 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

indubitable: "protip to future fpp posters: if you want to post something cool like this, use the phrase "rc aircraft" — "drones" brings out legions of jackasses hooting about missiles and weddings and the CIA no matter the actual content of the post."

I took the tags and text of the Projects post almost verbatim. Although I took your advice and changed the tags, I think that some discussion about the cons of people having and using these aircraft is appropriate as long as it doesn't turn into a complete derail. I am well aware that there are many people, including myself, who are not happy about our government using drones to attack people on the other side of the world who seem to be just as likely to be innocent bystanders as they are to be our enemies. I tried to be careful not editorialize the post to try to mold the conversation to suit my personal beliefs.

There is a potential for abuse and there will doubtless be abuse. That being said, amateur drones are a reality now, so those of us who would like to use them without violating the rights of others should be glad that good open source software like this is becoming available to control them. Even in cases of abuse, I feel a lot better about the idea of tested software controlling these things than some fool crashing a wedding in a more literal sense because they don't know how to fly them.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2012

#droneculture news special 09/12/12
posted by homunculus at 6:34 PM on December 9, 2012

if you want to post something cool like this, use the phrase "rc aircraft"

That would be imprecise. It's now fairly easy to design a model aircraft capable of autonomous flight without radio control.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:38 PM on December 9, 2012

Very cool. We've seen activists using drones for good causes more often lately, like those Russian journalists who's drone photographs the police during protests, sorry I cannot find the link now.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:13 AM on December 16, 2012

Fast Company just published a short article about mavelous:

However, when the author writes "Mavelous' creators have also created an ‘armed’ mode for the sake of discussions," he has misunderstood. For safety, unless the drone is in the air or is about to take off, you DISARM the motors to help prevent accidents involving sharp spinning propeller blades. You ARM the motors before takeoff. It has nothing to do with weapons, which seems to be what he was implying.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:32 PM on December 17, 2012

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