April 21, 2013

Guns are done but Personal Drones Airforces are Interesting

The gun situation in the world and in the US is not going to radically shift over the next 20 years.

11 million guns made and sold in the USA each year. There are about 270 million guns in the US.

There are about one billion guns in the world.

3D Printing a gun now is like using a slow ink jet printer to put out a 500 page book.
It can be done but who cares relative to the total number of guns.
The US government has shown that the gun lobby will prevent any change in gun policy and as indicated there
are already lots of guns. The US is not rounding up illegal immigrants and they are not rounding up guns.


Now drones are more interesting. Let us review the status and trends around personal drones.
Check out DIY drones or my article about it and 3D Robotics. Drone software is getting very easy.

Now you can start having a useful personal robotic airforce for $500-1000.

The price is going down and the capabilities are going up.

DARPA made a chip that integrates the accelerometer and bunch of other nav electonics.
The autonav package will fall from $150-200 down to $1-10.

Parallel 10 megapixel smartphone cameras can be hooked together for gigapixel snapshots instead of piecing together a bunch of 10 megapixels shots to form a higher resolution image.

The radio controlled toy market is over $1 billion (it was $600 million in the US back in 2002).
The adjacent and related toy segments are building sets (like Lego, Vehicles, and electronics) which in total are ove $3 billion




The premium end is adding in the autopiloting. The US is probably about 25-30% of the global radio controlled market.

The world government, military market for unmanned air vehicles is about $5 billion and is expected to grow to $10 billion.

The civilian toy remote control vehicle market (almost all not with autopiloting to make them into drones) is close to the overall dollar size of the military unmanned air vehicles.

Civilian remote piloting will get bigger with applications like cheaper aerial monitoring of farms. Aerial photos for real estate.

Tourist photo and other applications. And the reality TV- citizen youtube type markets.

There are far more increases to economic productivity possible from valid uses of these devices.

I believe the transition to add significant levels of autopiloting will be pretty fast over the next 5 years. I see the price dropping to about $50 within 5 years from about $150 now to add in the autopiloting device with its software.

By about 2018, there will be in the range of one million remote controlled vehicles sold or converted to drones each year. These 'toys' are mostly made in China. I do not see a meaningful global restriction.

Personal drones will be safer than people flying remote control planes

I believe that adding smart electronics to the devices will make them safer.

The FAA has made progress integrating drones with air traffic control. It will be easier to add in the technical compliance and safety to drones than it is to get a person to fly their remote control plane safely.

Google's Schmidt just asked for Restrictions on Personal Drones

Eric Schmidt (who used to be Google's CEO) has just called for regulation of personal drones for privacy and security reasons.

Eric Schmidt did not call for regulation of Google Glass or Android smartphones.

So when there will be a few million personal flying drones in a few years there will also be 5 billion smartphones that all have cameras. Most of those smartphones will be android smartphones.

In terms of privacy, the price of gigapixel photography is coming down. Already today you can spend a couple of hundred dollars on Amazon and buy a robotic camera mount so that you can stitch together 100 ten megapixel pictures taken over 2 minutes to get a gigapixel image. The change is that a bunch of cheap cameras can be combined to take a higher resolution snapshot that can be captured in a second or less instead of 2 minutes. You can use the gigapixel camera system from a tall building.

Schmidt was using the example of being constantly buzzed by a neighbors UAV. But today the neighbor can mount cameras on his side of the fence. The neighbor can use his telescope or binoculars. The neighbor can fly his remote control plane. The neighbor can play loud music. What can you do ? There are regulations against loud music and causing a public disturbance.

Instances where these other situations are problems happen but are manageable nuisances in general. There does not seem to be the need to be a lot of extra regulation. There needs to be some smart regulation.

There are plenty of problems people can have with snoopy neighbors and other problems with neighbors. People talk to their neighbors.

There are 270 million guns and a few million of those are rifles. So if the neighbor's buzzing drone is a problem and the police do not handle it or you do not know which neighbor it is. There is the option to shoot it down or getting your own drone for a dogfight.

The solution I would recommend is that the Police with a larger UAV budget and faster and stronger UAVs will be able to exert air superiority over the problem neighbor and also use electronic and surveillance tracking to determine where the UAV is deployed. If everyone knows that that cannot be anonymous in their deployment of UAVs then most of the problems go away.

The neighborhood watch could also combine UAVs into a community patrol as well. So it would not need to be just the police. Good neighbors can help keep solve community issues.

There is the issue of putting bombs into robotic vehicles but remember Google is developing robotic cars. How big a bomb in a robotic car versus a personal drone ?

There are millions of remote control planes now but most without the autopilot. Remote control planes have not been used as weapons in any meaningful way or numbers. The car bombing situation is manageable.

Far more social and economic benefits from responsible use of personal drones

There are far more social and economic benefits from responsible use of personal drones.

* better and more efficient farming
* personal photography
* tourism
* Better personal movie making (a crane shot without the crane)
* a flying antenna for better communication on open spectrum

There can be faster first responder reaction to (medical, fire and police) emergencies.

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