We've been taking a close look at the rise of drones and remote control quad copters like this one that form the iconic image of a drone, but one company thinks that we should look beyond the hardware and that the future of drones will be defined by it's software. Now 3D Robotics are the makers of the solo drone. Earlier I spoke to Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3D Robotics and I asked him to explain his company's approach.
Chris: 3D Robotics is America's largest drone company. We are based in Sultan Valley. We, like everybody else, we do hardware, we do software, but we think the model's really like Android. Like a software platform. It's a stack of software that goes all the way from the drone to the phone to the cloud. At every layer other companies can build apps or drones or other hardware.
Speaker 1: You are an open platform like Android. Why do you think the open platform model is better for drones?
Chris: Both can work fine. Obviously Apple and Android both compete. They both have their pros and cons. The lessons of the 20 years of the web are that platforms win. Open platforms win more. They allow more companies to figure out, especially on a new drone, it's not quite clear what all the applications are going to be and no one company can figure them all out by themselves, so an open platform allows more companies to innovate at more layers of the platform. They can try different sensors, they can try different vehicles, they can try different apps and they can try different cloud services and collectively, they can out innovate any single company.
Speaker 1: Right now, on consumers, there's a lot of emphasis on the look and physical presence, the hardware drones, but how important is the software? We know software is so important in the smart phone industry. Do you think it's going to be the same way for drones?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. The paths are very parallel. Right now it's largely a consumer product and so the look and feel, just in the same way that the smart phone started. Apple had to make a beautiful phone and only after it was a phone did people care that it was also an app store. Same thing with drones. It has to be a beautiful functional, easy to use drone that captures great video and only then do people start exploring the applications and other services.
Speaker 1: You are anticipating this shift in drone acceptance as well as drone usage from consumer to commercial, what's next in terms of drone technology?
Chris: Yeah, that's the really interesting thing. So basically, the first step was making drones easy to fly and we've pretty much, we and DGI have both solved that. The second step was connecting them to phones, making the phone the primary interface. Getting away from the whole sort of stick and piloting interface. It's more like a camera. You just think of it like the phone you already have. The third step is connecting them to the cloud so they become just part of the internet of things. You don't even care about the drone itself. All you care about is the data getting into the cloud so it can be analyzed. That means totally autonomous use. It breaks the link between man and machine.
These things are out there like sprinkler systems or security systems, just gathering data. To do that, to allow them to operate unattended means they have to be, have what's called sensitive void. They need environmental awareness. They need to be able to navigate a space where there may be trees and telephone poles and birds and things like that. That level of environmental awareness is the next holy grail of drones. It's the same as autonomous cars. These are robots and they need to be able to navigate a complex world even more safely than humans so that we can take humans out of the loop and no longer require them to pilot them.
Speaker 1: Right now as a consumer interacting with drones a reference point is being able to use them mainly for aerial cinematography. When the day comes and become truly autonomous, what would that do for that activity for that way that we relate to drone technology today?
Chris: Right now it's not enough to get a video. There's a right way and a wrong way to take aerial video. Hollywood knows how to take beautiful cinematic videos but we don't. We're just not experienced at these kind of things. Smart drones can turn those shots, those paths and angles into software so you just press a button and it gets sort of classic cinematic shots all by itself and that way you can be in front of the camera rather than behind it. You can be part of your own story which is really what people want.
At the end of the day, we're really recommending that people look up the top drone reviews for themselves so they can make up their decision for the holidays.