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MadeinFuture Series: I Lost My Drone

Here is the robot’s arm.

At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), I sat next to a young boy from India. He built robots at the Robotics Institute. One day, he gave me a tour around the building and showed me a robotic arm. He and a team of students were working on dozens of algorithms to make the arm functional.

“I love this stuff,” he said. “But what I love more is building drones.” He went on to talk about the drone he was building in a remote part of Pennsylvania, which he later flew successfully. After graduation, he landed a job at a startup in Pittsburgh where he is constructing commercial drones. Meanwhile, CMU won $250 Million in funding for the advanced manufacturing of robots.

Where the drones live.

My brother Radim and I with CHIMP

Pittsburgh is home to the largest concentration of robotics startups (Israel is catching up) and the largest global R & D center for robotics research called National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC). I recall taking my brother for a demo day at NREC where a warehouse of robots, commissioned by NASA, DARPA and other agencies were stored side by side. Some had tarps wrapped around them so students wouldn’t take pictures while others were proudly displayed for the young adults to touch. I took a picture of one that went to space. My favorite was CHIMP; it was recently featured on “Rise of the Robots” on PBS’s Nova.

Photo Credit: NRECDrones are everywhere.

Drones are everywhere.

Drones have made significant advancements in the past few years, penetrating every industry and market. Drones can fly through thick canopies of vegetation, navigate climate and temperature extremes, and deliver humanitarian packages to conflict zones in Somalia and other parts of Africa. Drones are everywhere.

On Instagram, I follow From Where I Drone, an account that shows beautiful images around the world from drones that were purchased on Amazon. The company has already begun to deliver select goods to residential areas.

What keeps me up at night.

Soon we will order our drones on demand. Give them names. Share our drones via apps, and rent them out like our cars. We will sleep with our drones, and take them to important family functions, like weddings and dinner parties.

Drones as wearables on animals.

On the commercial side, research is shifting towards wearable technologies for animals. For the past five years, M.I.T has been studying the motions of small insects to develop the technology for the wearables. Currently, the U.S. Government allows a maximum of 3GHz signal power to be considered in the development of animal’s wearable technologies, according to Adnane Belmamoun, the Director of the Department of Study Development, IT and Growth at Advanced Research Center, Inc. in Santa Monica, California. For long range control he uses a max of 1.5 GHz. Belmamoun has filed a patent for a wearables on birds, saying, “we are compliant with aviation and animal safety laws.” A quick search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) will yield little results on Biodrone and UBS systems and yet such invention is on it’s way to the market.

Drone it.

Drones are a reality, devices we will call “friends,” integrated in every aspects of our lives. Like friends, drones hold us accountable by letting us know the mistakes we make. My brother, a racing athlete, who is qualifying for Subaru Motorsports Rally Team USA in 2018, uses drones to identify mistakes he makes on tight turns around and between abandoned mill equipment. The information gained from a bird’s eye view allows for him to adjust the software on his car.

Now imagine that a bird or an insect can communicate your faults. The commercialization of such drones will be in the hands of government or industry first before landing in the palms of consumers. Soon enough the command “drone it” will add to “Google it” and “Tweet it” and so forth. Make sure you hold onto your drone; don’t lose it. If you’re like me, you will lose yours amid the branches of a tree. Don’t worry, another is on its way.

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