Friday, February 8, 2013

UPDATED X5 I'll give you $380 if you make your drone useful during winter storm Nemo.

Above is a picture of a quadrotor drone, an airframe from a fixed-wing drone, and $60 $120 $220 $280 $340 $360 $380 cash. The money is yours if you make your drone useful during the aftermath of winter storm Nemo.

I know it's not a lot of money. It's all I can afford right now. Several generous and forward-thinking folks in the drone community have made this prize possible. We'll mail the prize money to you if you complete a task that demonstrates how useful drones can be in the event of a natural disaster.

Why? Because I believe that drones can be used for good. That's why I started and co-founded Drones for Good.

The North East is having a weather crisis. Some call it "Nemo."

Governors in four states have ordered citizens not to use public roads. Airports are closing, and public transit is closing down in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Feet of snow are supposed to fall, making it difficult for emergency crews to respond to the disaster.

You know what could help during a time like this? A drone.

Dr. Mike North, of Discovery Channel's "Prototype This," once developed a drone to drop inflatable survival gear into the ocean. Matternet wants drones to deliver medical supplies to undeserved parts of the world. There's a Kickstarter project right now to build a drone that can lift 50 pounds.

Drawing inspiration from these ideas, I want you to make an "emergency drop" using a DIY drone.

But there are people who want to prevent you from using drones. These people fear an invasion of privacy. These people don't believe drones can provide useful public, commercial, and emergency services.

I want you to prove them wrong. I want you to prove that drones can be useful.
There are, of course, some important rules:

1) You must live and perform this task in a location where you're prohibted to drive during the current winter storm. You must not fly your drone if the winds are exceeding the capabilities of your drone.

2) You must abide by the code of ethics posted on, along with the code of conduct established by AUVSI, a major proponent of unmanned vehicles and systems, and RCAPA's guidelines.

3) You must abide by FAA regulations as a hobbyist, and therefore fly below 400 feet at all times, and at least 3 miles from any hospital or airport.

4) You must not fly above a crowd of people at any point during the mission.

5) You can only use a multirotor aircraft, such as a helicopter, quadrotor, hexcopter, or any variant thereof.

6) The drone must have a pilot who is within visual line of sight at all times of the drone. However, the drone must fly under its own guidance (i.e. autopilot control) for the majority of the mission. You must have an additional spotter. 

7) Your drone must travel three city blocks, or 0.25 miles, whichever is longer during the course of the mission.

8) You must present video evidence (posted on YouTube or equivalent) that the mission occurred between Saturday, Feb. 9 and Monday, Feb. 11. Day flights only.

9) The drone must have attached one flashlight and one box of matches. These must be secure to your aircraft.

10) Your drone must have at least a fix of seven GPS satellites during the course of the mission.

11) You must also supply "black-box" evidence from the autopilot of your mission. This must be in .rlog format (sorry, only able to accept data from ArduPilot at this time).

12) I am not responsible for any accident that may occur in the course of your drone mission, or any practice leading up to your drone mission. That's all on you. I'm serious. This is for experienced drone users only.

The first one to complete the task wins. Whether you succeed or not, share your videos online. Email your submissions to

Good luck.

### UPDATE @ 8:52PM, 2/9: K√©vin Bouchard, robotics coordinator for Fusion Jeunesse and computer science student at Universit√© Laval, has pledged $20 for the Nemo Drone Prize! Thank you for your help, Mr. Bouchard.

Our new total: $380. ###

### UPDATE @ 8:10PM, 2/9: Michael Shimniok of BOT-THOUGHTS.COM has kicked in $20 for the Nemo Drone Prize!

Also, amending some previous updates, as Gary Mortimer of announced he is in fact contributing $120, not the $60 as listed previously. Thank you Mr. Mortimer for your assistance.

Our revised total for the contest is now $360 - much, much better than the $60 I started with. Thank you to all the generous donors who believe drones can make the world a better place.###

### UPDATE @ 4:03PM, 2/9: Gary Mortimer of SUASNEWS.COM is contributing an extra $60 $120 to the Nemo Drone Prize!

That puts our new prize total at $340!

Thank you to all our sponsors for making this prize possible. If you'd like to contribute to the cause, email me at

For those in the affected areas, please keep in mind that the contest will end at sunset on Monday. NOAA is indicating light winds for the northeast on Sunday, and it now appears that there will be some precipitation for Monday. If you want to try to win the prize, it looks like tomorrow might be your best and only option. ###

### UPDATE @ 2:08PM, 2/9: More great news -- Adam Sloan of BIRDSEYEVIEW is contributing $100 to the Nemo Prize! That brings the total cash reward for the challenge up to $220!

In addition, Mr. Sloan is announcing that his aerial photography company, BirdsEyeView, will be donating aerial robot services FREE OF CHARGE THROUGH MONDAY. If you could use the assistance of a flying robot during this 2013 Nor'easter, email him at ###

### UPDATE @11:23AM, 2/9: Great news, everyone! Walter Volkman of  MICRO AERIAL PROJECTS LLC is chipping in an additional $60 for the award. That means the total cash award for this challenge is $120!

I'd like to thank Mr. Volkman for his kind contribution to the cause. Micro Aerial Projects LLC provides aerial infrastructure and asset management, aerial mapping, post-disaster assessment, and drone journalism services (and more) courtesy of his Aibot X6 hexcopter.

Additionally, I'm now referring to this challenge as the NEMO DRONE PRIZE. It's like the X-Prize, but instead of sub-orbital spaceflight or oil cleanup, it's to put drones to use for helpful causes. ###

### update @8:53, 2/8: To be clear, the drone must travel .25mi or 3 city blocks (whichever is longer), then land (this is the "drop"), and then return to the original location from where it was launched, and land at that launch location.