DIY Drones, or rather, Autonomous Aerial Vehicles
January 25, 2013 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Pretty stunning cockpit perspective footage of unmanned aerial vehicles interacting in close quarters, flying with a range of flyers (Echelon FPV).

Drones. These unmanned flying robots–some as large as jumbo jets, others as small as birds–do things straight out of science fiction. Much of what it takes to get these robotic airplanes to fly, sense, and kill has remained secret.[PBS, NOVA] But now, with rare access to drone engineers and those who fly them for the U.S. military, NOVA reveals the amazing technologies that make drones so powerful as we see how a remotely-piloted drone strike looks and feels from inside the command center.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Missy Cummings Extended Interview (Canada)

Related (some geo-locked) Links: Watch a "Rise of the Drones" preview | Watch her TED talk | Watch her Wired interview | Visit her MIT page | Watch her on The Colbert Report

What happens now that everyone has a drone?
  • This is the home for everything about amateur Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Use the tabs and drop-down menus above to navigate the site.
  • A newbie's guide to UAVs
  • ArduCopter 2.9 released (DIY Drones featured previously several times)
  • posted by infinite intimation (17 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

    Why is that so preposterous?
    posted by TheRedArmy at 4:08 PM on January 25, 2013

    There have been drones with very long wingspans -- googling, the Helios one was at 240+ feet, more than a 747 -- but no reasonable person would look at the two next to each other and say they were around the same size.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:13 PM on January 25, 2013

    Is there really a UAV the size of a jumbo jet? I'm going to call hyperbole on that claim.

    One of the points that Missy Cummings made in her interview with Jon Stewart was that most modern passenger planes essentially are drones--that is, they would need the most minimal conversion to be flown remotely.

    Missy Cummings is one hell of an impressive interview subject, I have to say.
    posted by yoink at 4:24 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

    "Jumbo jet" seems to be distinguished by the "double aisled fuselage" (or "Wide-body aircraft"), with no people to put in, the fuselage of a UAV may be extruded or compacted like an insect body. Aside from an autonomous "passenger" plane (and as yoink notes, even current airliners are flown by wire, it is probably the "not in my plane" passengers that currently prevent airlines from publicly pushing towards cutting out the expenses [strikes in Canada, avoided barely, by government intervention] that come with human pilots), it isn't much of a stretch that aircraft manufacturers are experimenting with such progressions; I would guess that PBS/NOVA are talking "wingspan", "height", and "length"... for which the Global Hawk, and IAI Eitan come quite close if not precisely matched to a platonic "jumbo jet" ("The Eitan is 79 feet long, has a wingspan of 86 feet — about the size of a Boeing 737 airliner") both of which have a much bigger fuselage than the NASA Helios/Pathfinder .
    posted by infinite intimation at 4:45 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

    The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - Missy Cummings Extended Interview (Canada)

    It's amazing what modern technology is capable of these days... people in Canada can actually watch Jon Stewart on the internets. Amazing!

    (thanks ii).
    posted by ovvl at 6:11 PM on January 25, 2013

    Missy Cummings, former F-18 driver and head of the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT, is one of my heroes. This is what I've been up to lately with my drone: "Voice control of an AR.Drone".
    posted by jjwiseman at 6:20 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

    For those wondering, the red and black flying wing in the first linked video is the Skywalker X8 which has a 2.1 meter wingspan and vaguely resembles the RQ-170 "Beast of Kandahar".
    posted by thewalrus at 7:42 PM on January 25, 2013

    Is there really a UAV the size of a jumbo jet? I'm going to call hyperbole on that claim.
    It's not quite as big as a jumbo jet but the Global Hawk's wingspan is greater than many small passenger jet airliners.
    posted by thewalrus at 7:42 PM on January 25, 2013

    This is what I've been up to lately with my drone

    "Too much angle emergency" (said in my drone voice)
    posted by Devonian at 10:07 PM on January 25, 2013

    Where does putting weapons on DIY UAV's and dogfighting them for cold hard cash currently stand legally?
    posted by passerby at 10:14 PM on January 25, 2013

    Sorry, that link above is pretty borked. is not a DIY drone, but I am using custom software to give it commands.

    Here's video from my DIY (actually 3D Robotics) drone chasing my girlfriend:
    posted by jjwiseman at 11:02 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Stand-off weaponry is as old as the spear, as radical as the H-bomb, as mind-numbing as the machine-gun. Some of the creations were thought to be tools that would make war so affective that they would never be used (or, more usually, never be used again), and their advent would end wars, because the potential carnage would Well, never mind that. The guy on the ground appreciates them, at least when they are used by his side.

    Recon by fire is a valid infantry tactic. I saw it used effectively with the usual tools of the day: 105mm recoiless rifles, or gunjeeps, sometimes a battery or two of 105mm howitzers, or even prosaic M-16s and M-79s fired by a bunch of adrenalin-charged boonies rats performing what we affectionately called "the online sweep". (This is where you stand side by side with your brothers, and shoot from the hip at a treeline as you walk forward, trying to concentrate on the muzzle-flashes, and ignoring the lines of green tracers coming at you from the bushes. It's a wonderful, exhilarating experience, and I highly reccommend it to any of you for whom bungie diving is losing its thrill. It's right up there with sitting in the door of a Huey that's taking you into a hot CA, only without the cool air from the rotor wash. Um...) Under certain circumstances the lowely hand grenade also works just fine. This tactic makes life quite a bit easier for the boonie rat, when he walks into the impact area or kill zone later on.

    UAVs seem to be able to transcend both the recon and attack elements of this tactic. The increased dwell time allows the operators to perform much better assessment of the targets, both before and after the strikes. BDA missions for us were always problematic. For B-52 strikes it was a field of craters a klick wide and maybe three or four klicks long. This took a team on foot all day, and was very boring, depressing, and dangerous. The craters were often maybe ten feet deep, or more, and up to twenty feet wide. If the strike was in a triple canopy, shredded trees made travel difficult. If the strike was in open paddies, staying concealed was often impossible. Thing is, it's hard to assess the damage, on account of how things are either scattered or buried. Mostly it's monkeys sitting in nearby trees with their fingers in their ears. So, the UAV can do a much better job, because, as you see from the films, the IR cameras can record the warm hamburger as it scatters, and watch the returning survivors as they go through the rubble and dance around flapping their arms in grief when they find identifiable detritous. Nothing wrong with killing enemies, and if you are at war you--for sure--don't think of it as meeting them in the street at high noon to see who has the quicker draw.

    Something that I can't seem get around, though. When you send aircraft to a country to release bombs and kill combatants (please, let's for a moment excuse the OOPS Factor and collateral damage), well, isn't that an act of war? If our congress, which authorizes warfare, authorizes this, weren't we supposed to have been informed? I understand some things about asymetrical warfare, although the dynamics I'm familiar with are sort of dated (they used to call it guerrilla or insurgent warfare, and we were counterinsurgents, and so on.). How is that working nowadays? I'm going out on a limb here, and guess that nobody got a Pakistani judge to sign off on any kind of a warrant for this stuff.
    posted by mule98J at 9:49 AM on January 26, 2013

    This is something I've thought about for some time, specifically the role of DIY drones in organized crime. If you're a gang leader, it would be a great advantage to always have a couple of guys ready to launch a small fleet of micro-drones nearby. Even without the personnel to control such a fleet, just being able to send a text message and have a bomb drop where you are after 30 seconds would offer some protection. Let's see what happens with that.
    posted by springload at 12:43 PM on January 26, 2013

    springload, see this video of a guy dropping explosives from his drone: (quick link past the blathering to the booming:
    posted by jjwiseman at 12:49 PM on January 26, 2013

    If our congress, which authorizes warfare, authorizes this, weren't we supposed to have been informed?

    There's a similar conversation going on in the UW student protest thread, with somebody pointing out the Constitution is completely silent as to what constitutes a war and what Congress is supposed to do in order to "declare" one.

    So, declaration by Twitter anyone?

    Using the API, you could wrap every dronestream tweet of historical US drone strikes with another set of tweets:

    We are at war
    We are NOT at war

    A little Twitter meta-commentary on the issue.
    posted by formless at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2013

    Pfffft. I've flown UHB's* to above 5km for decades. It often brought tears to my eyes in the early years.

    (*unmanned helium balloons. soon to be extinct.)
    posted by Twang at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2013

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