Jun 07 2012

The Drone Djinn Is Out Of The Bottle


It is the year 2014.

An unknown organization or group in the US assembles a fairly sophisticated drone from toy and radio shack parts. It’s basicly a smart “semi-controlled” RC helicopter with robot parts latched on. Nobody ever claims responsibility for this first act of weaponizing a private drone and even in 2020 nobody knows who started this ANON-ization of private drone vigilantism.

The first such device has a battery life of several hours and might easily mount a single high calibre rifle, a tampering proof directional communications beam, a smart programming (that gives it simple self-preservation ‘behaviour’ in case contact with base station is lost) and a HD camera.

This device takes to the air at an altitude that is largely inconspicuous to law enforcement and official authorities. The total construct is available online and costs less than 5000$, and is relatively easy with a mix of mail ordered and 3D printed parts.

Early models of this devices in 2014 are used to monitor and record law enforcement activities. Of course authorities are in a state of severe alarm about this sousveillance! Very soon after most law enforcement, security and intelligence officials in the US become indexed on non-US (and completely unaccountable) web sites outside the US. US law enforcement and intelligence communities (as well as organized crime, corporate security, mercenary forces who become likewise exposed and scrutinized) are in a state of disarray as their faces and biometric data because subject to constant public scrutiny.

The US state tries to crackdown against these “acts of domestic terrorism”, to no avail. Attempts are made to extradite those responsible for the non-US publications, to no avail. Those in charge can’t even find out who the hell is doing this documentation. As early of 2015 hundreds of thousands of police officers, IAD officers, FBI, NSA, CIA, immigration, narcotics, government, shills, politicians, military, seals, secret service, army intelligence, ATF etc etc agents are charted. The lest then expands to foreigners, chinese, russian, mossad, and so forth. In mere months the listing expands exponentially.

In 2015 the first confirmed vigilante kill occurs – a NY police officer found violently raping a teenage girl is shot through the head by one of these devices during the act. The device itself or those responsible is never retrieved, despite a national and international man hunt that burns through tens of millions of US dollars.

The act itself is recorded in HD format and publicized real time, causing massive riots and protest throughout the western world. The video of the rape and summary execution is called “collareral vigilantism” and watched by billions world-wide. Police officers ( are held to close scrutiny by common people and met with outright hostility for months as a result, and vigilante killings of ‘feral cops’ become commonplace. In 2016 a full 300 “feral cops” are shot or wounded, many while committing these crimes and in the years following this incident a virtual ecology of garage drones take to the skies, or crawl on top of buildings.

By 2018 the number of private (rogue, vigilante, occupy, anon, terrorist, protest, copwatch, private blogger, journalist, etc) drones outnumber official drones about 20 to 1. By 2018 these drones become as small as a matchbox, can crawl in to homes with miniature appendages, are smart, camera equipped and many are deadly. These devices are then used to steal, burglarize, assassinate, spy, record video, hack home computers, read credit cards, blackmail, poison, spread diseases, troll, stalk, sexually predate on and far far worse.

By 2018 the authorities wish they never started this horrendous drone arms race. But nobody gives a flying hoot about what they think any more.

Dec 13 2011

Quadrotors Will Do Everything (Well, Almost)


About a year ago I wrote an article for H+ magazine on the use of quadrotors for a variety of purposes, ranging from VR telepresence units to sensor platforms for dangerous environments to construction.

So, you can imagine my reaction on reading this article on Singularity Hub.  In short, it’s about a demonstration of robotic assembly, done by quadrotors under computer control, building a 20 foot tall tower out of lightweight foam blocks. Foam might not sound impressive, but it’s a public demonstration, so I’m sure foam was chosen not only because it’s light enough to not place a major strain on the copters, but because it’s soft enough to not cause injuries if the tower falls over. The materials are meaningless however, because it’s the control systems that are the real story. Fifty quadrotors will fly under complete computer control, having to navigate not just the static environment, but the variable obstacle course of all the other quadrotors, the changing environment of the tower being built and maybe even having to dodge the occasional overly curious onlooker. As you can probably imagine, I had to grin. Not even a full year later, and already we’re seeing stories about quadrotors being used as I described.

But I’m not the only one who’s seen how useful quadrotor could be. In a recent blog post, K. Eric Drexler asked “Where are the Parrots?” He looks at the robots used to explore the Fukushima reactor, a pair of Monirobo’s, a track based one armed robot that have a top speed of 2.4 kph, and weigh 600kg, and has to wonder why such clumsy robots were being used when the Parrot AR drone makes a far superior platform for the job. He points out that  many “Very Serious People” are dismissive of “toys”

So I decided to do a review and take a look at what sort of developments have been happening with quadrotors over the last year. First up, I have a video from January of 2011, just a few months after my original article.

As you can see, this features construction with modular materials… in this case, magnetically connectable girders. It provides an illustration of the most basic concept of the quadrotor construction battalion.

However, to really appreciate the potential here I have another video for you

That’s a video of China’s Broad Group building a modular hotel in less than one week. Now replace every human worker in the video with a quadrotor and you can probably guess what the upcoming demo is going to look like.

Precision swarming has also made advances since that first video, as this one from September of 2011 illustrates.

These videos are from the ETH labs in Zurich, and are part of a great series of quadrotor developments they have made, but autonomous flight is not the only kind of developments they are working on.

I found a very interesting video in which they are demonstrating a “control interface” that is entirely virtual, powered by a Kinect.

While I think full “mind control” of quadrotors via an emotive epoch style headset is what will eventually become the primary control interface of an RTU drone, the Kinect demo shows how intuitive we can make the control systems for everyday use of quadroters. This ease of use is one of the primary advantages of using quadrotors as camera and sensor platforms for dangerous environment navigation, like the Fukushima reactors.

There’s lots more interesting videos out there covering the many capabilities of quadrotors, from DIY projects to various university reports, and they all continue to say the same thing I first thought a year ago. Quadrotors are neither a toy, nor a curiosity. They are the first primitive stages of a variety of useful tools that will reshape how we do many things. I’m looking forward to seeing videos of the construction demo, because I love seeing the future be developed right in front of me.

And of course, getting to say “told you so!” : )