Thursday, February 14, 2013

Nemo Drone Challenge gains support from the drone community

It hasn't been a good month for domestic drones in the United States. Lawmakers in Texas, Oregon, Missouri, and elsewhere recently introduced anti-drone legislation that could cripple commercial and humanitarian drone use in the United States. Journalism, that stuff that provides the essential flow of information for a democracy, could be hampered.

Couple that with delays in the federally-mandated process to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, and you've got a problem that not only threatens a potential economic boost of $90 billion, but also shuts out life-saving technology.

I wanted to do something about it. I was preparing for a business trip to Washington DC by way of Boston, which is how I came to know a historic blizzard could slam the region and derail my travel plans. I had learned that governors in four states were ordering citizens not to use the road.

Travel, even by emergency vehicles, would be hampered severely. Well, perhaps emergency vehicles that drove on roads. But maybe not ones that flew in the sky.

I didn't have enough time to set up a Kickstarter for a drone that would help out during the blizzard. But there are many DIY drone enthusiasts in that part of the country, and surely someone out there could demonstrate that drones can provide essential services. Maybe one of them could program their drone to drop off an "emergency package."

I thought a prize would be a better format. Much like the X-Prize, which gives awards for technological achievements for space travel and oil spill cleanup, this would reward people for trying to make technology work for humanity. But this would reward people for proving that drones can be used for good.

So I did what I could. I withdrew $60 from my own bank account, and fired off a blog post. I copied the post on other online communities.

Then something unexpected happened. Over the next 24 hours, I received emails from other people in the community who believed in this vision and wanted to help.

Walter Volkman of Micro Aerial Projects LLC matched my $60. Then, Adam Sloan of BirdsEyeView threw in $100. Gary Mortimer of pledged $120. Michael Shimniok of contributed $20. Kévin Bouchard, a robotics coordinator and a student in computer science, also contributed $20.

One day after I launched the contest, the prize pot had grown more than six times its original size, to $380.

We received positive comments on DIY Drones from people who would have loved to taken part in the challenge, but did not live in the affected area. At least one person had a drone, but was unable to get it working in time.

Between the post on this website, the post on DIY drones, and another post on, the 3-day contest nabbed about 1,500 page views, 11 Facebook likes, and 12 Google+ shares.

Sadly, nobody made a submission for the contest. But there is hope that someone will win a Nemo Drone Prize yet. Some of our sponsors have indicated they'd still like to reward someone for demonstrating a humanitarian use for drones.

More details will follow. But for now, I'd like to thank the sponsors for making this possible.

In this post are some aerial photos that I took on my flight from Chicago to Boston, on Sunday, Feb. 10. The storm hit on the evening of Friday, Feb. 8, dropping three feet of snow in some parts of the eastern seaboard.

The Supreme Court has ruled that taking photos like these is legal. If the anti-drone bill becomes a law in Texas, these photos would be illegal if taken by a drone.

Another aerial photo of Massachusetts, en route to Boston.

Another cropped aerial photo, but this one was likely taken above New York state.