Chris Anderson: Weaponized Lego, Drones & IoT - InformationWeek

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Chris Anderson: Weaponized Lego, Drones & IoT

In his keynote address at the InformationWeek Conference, Chris Anderson said drones are the perfect example to show the rise of the Internet of Things.

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11 IoT Programming Languages Worth Knowing
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When was the last time you felt a disturbance in the Force?

Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics Stores, said he felt a "disturbance in the Force" in 2007 that ultimately led him to his current endeavors. Anderson shared his story in his keynote address at Monday's InformationWeek Conference.

In 2007, said Anderson, something with hardware had changed. It was the year the iPhone had come out and the makers of the Fitbit put a Wiimote sensor into an exercise device. In 2007, people were taking note of Arduino. The barriers to entry for hardware were starting to diminish, the same way they had years earlier for software.

It was also the year that Anderson and his son "weaponized Lego" by building an autonomous model plane using Lego Mindstorm parts and sensors.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Anderson's story (aside from the fact that he once lost a battle of the bands for the right to use the name R.E.M.), is that he never really set out to make one of the world's largest drone companies. Anderson was originally looking for ways to get his children enthused about the Maker Movement. This led to Anderson selling drones from his house -- the first manufacturing crew consisted of his children and was conducted around the family's dining room table. He soon connected online with Jordi Munoz, whom Anderson called a genius. Munoz turned out to be a teenager in Tijuana, Mexico, who felt the same disturbance.

[ What's this maker movement stuff all about, anyway? Read Why The Maker Movement Matters To Your Business. ]

With the cash flow from Anderson's DIY kits, Munoz created an assembly room with multiple employees and, eventually, a clean room. Anderson said that he was soon looking for venture capital and founding a company with three different factories. It sounded like a remarkable story, but Anderson is insisted it isn't. He said this is proof of a movement.

(Image: 3D Robotics)

(Image: 3D Robotics)

The movement comes from the fact that smartphones, connected sensors, and the cloud are all so easily connected. "It is the Internet of Things," Anderson said. "The Internet of flying things."

The ubiquity of cheap, cloud-connected hardware, sensors, and open APIs and code make it possible for anyone to create new hardware products quickly and inexpensively in their garage. He compared what's happening today to the era of cheap processors that enabled personal computing companies like Apple to rise out of garages in the 1970s.

According to Anderson: "Our drone is more sophisticated than anything the military has. Why? Because our users are less sophisticated. The military has trained pilots and checklists and tech support. Our users open a box under a Christmas tree and expect it to work. It is like the genius of an iPhone. One button. This is a one-button drone."

In other words, the disturbance in the Force wasn't just a personal tremor. It was as if a million nerds cried out at once "aha!" and were not silenced. Of course, this is the foundation of the Internet of Things. And, according to Anderson, the best place to look for it is in the garages of the world.

Interop Las Vegas, taking place April 27-May 1 at Mandalay Bay Resort, is the leading independent technology conference and expo series dedicated to providing technology professionals the unbiased information they need to thrive as new technologies transform the enterprise. IT Pros come to Interop to see the future of technology, the outlook for IT, and the possibilities of what it means to be in IT.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/29/2015 | 11:49:55 AM
Re: Chris Anderson: Weaponized Lego, Drones & IoT
@zerox203- I'm actually a fan of the name "maker movement" because it is very inclusive. It isn't "engineer movement" or "artist movement" or "inventor movement." It leaves space for all sorts of people who put something physical together.

I also like that we're celebrating the creation of things again as opposed to just software. It isn't that I'm against software, but I was getting a little tired of everyone working only on the next pizza delivery app.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/29/2015 | 11:46:25 AM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
@Tom- Yes, the reason I used the term is because it is actually illegal in most countries to fly their drones in places that would tax it. And nothing is autonomous wihtout being programmed frist. It isn't that the drone actually lives a separate life and does what it wants. But it makes decisions based on what you want it to do without your input. So for example, the "follow me function." You don't control the camera. You simply say follow me and it keeps you in frame and changes angles on its own.

Yes, if it was challenged by a deep urban environment or thousands of other flying drones, it might not be able to handle it. But it is illegal to use it that way anyway.

Also, for the record, I don't think anyone would ever program a weapon system to select its own target. That seems like the fastest way to a critical failure I can imagine. That's how Tony Stark ends up with Ultron.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/29/2015 | 11:46:22 AM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
@Tom- Yes, the reason I used the term is because it is actually illegal in most countries to fly their drones in places that would tax it. And nothing is autonomous wihtout being programmed frist. It isn't that the drone actually lives a separate life and does what it wants. But it makes decisions based on what you want it to do without your input. So for example, the "follow me function." You don't control the camera. You simply say follow me and it keeps you in frame and changes angles on its own.

Yes, if it was challenged by a deep urban environment or thousands of other flying drones, it might not be able to handle it. But it is illegal to use it that way anyway.

Also, for the record, I don't think anyone would ever program a weapon system to select its own target. That seems like the fastest way to a critical failure I can imagine. That's how Tony Stark ends up with Ultron.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
4/28/2015 | 9:49:21 PM
Re: Chris Anderson: Weaponized Lego, Drones & IoT
I read Curt's big profile of Mr. Anderson and his story (which is linked towards the top of this article) a couple of weeks ago, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. This article and his comments from his keynote add some flavor to that story, and really round out what the real-world application looks like - what the end result of the "Maker Movement" is. I still think the name's a bit hokey, but it's definitely a real trend that is bound to affect more people than realize it today. Something as simple as rooting your smartphone could be considered a piece of this puzzle.Young people are growing up more technically savvy, and that doesn't just mean knowing how to use social media. This will, in short, cause them to grow up to be the sorts of people who tinker in their garage, who know their way around the tools, and know a good idea when they see one.

I have a  relatively computer-averse friend who mentioned to me how she'll have to use MATLAB for some of her neuroscience and psychology courses in college. It's not hard to see how, with open standards and IDEs this extends to entrepeuners of all sorts, such as Mr. Anderson. Though this is another stricly software-based example, Unity3D recently extended their license to be fully open (100% free) to all organizations making less than $100,000 annually, including schools, etc. . That covers a lot of people (I use it myself). It uses a version of Microsoft's C# for scripting with a fully-open IDE called Monodevelop. Any software you make with it can be exported to 21 platforms, including Android, game consoles, and Oculus Rift, with one click. It's easy to see where all this openness is pointed. More power to the Maker Movement.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/28/2015 | 2:18:26 PM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
>He can build a drone which is essentially autonomous.

It can be programmed, but its autonomy is limited. It is designed to operate in an environment without threats. One reason the military doesn't use autonomous drones -- apart from ones programmed for simple missions like a cruise missile -- is that we're still not good at programming armed, flying systems for all possible scenarios. Smart weapons just aren't smart enough to make their own targeting choices yet.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
4/28/2015 | 4:24:49 AM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
"But when he contacted this person online he had no idea he would find a teenager with the chops to build an international business from a garage. This wasn't lifelong friends starting a business. This was two people brought together by accident (fate?) who had the good sense and skillset to realize what they had."

@David: I agree that it'd be unfair to label the incident as pure luck. There's a lot that goes into the process which includes intellectual skills and a drive to make something big. Luck may just be the cherry on top which makes the whole thing look pretty.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
4/28/2015 | 4:22:09 AM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
"Does that make the technology more sophisticated? Or the users more dangerous? Which users? In short time, the government will be regulating all drone users because, well, it makes sense.

@Broadway: I think there are two sides to this. You could argue that the technology could be put to help the military and be at a better use. Or, it could land into wrong hands and create a havoc. It really depends on the nature of application of the technology.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
4/28/2015 | 3:18:56 AM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
@Michelle, agreed -- Anderson's story is remarkable. In 2015, it is easy to see that technology and sensors have progressed to a great extent, products/services that were previously impossible are now possible but, identifying an opportunity from the year 2007 and then, creating a company out of it, is pure genius.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
4/28/2015 | 3:04:58 AM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
@David, the ability of a drone to deliver humanitarian aid is an extremely interesting use case -- self-destruction is a good feature as well. Another, interesting use case of drones that got my attention is a use case from Africa. Park rangers have started using drones to help protect elephants and rhinos from poacher that are involved in the ivory trade.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
4/27/2015 | 11:28:37 PM
Re: Flying things with the interwebs
@Broadway0474- Well, I'm sure that is in the eye of the beholder. But what he was getting at is that the military isn't trying to do what they're doing. He can build a drone which is essentially autonomous. He showed off some prety amazing camera skills of the drone. One that was cool was a "follow me mode." You launch the drone and and it tracks you where you go (via your phone) and always keeps you in the middle of a camera shot. But i changes angles and altitude to get the best shot. He said it was essentially Spielberg in a drone.

At any rate, what Chris was getting at is that the military has pilots. It has mechanics. It can afford to make them less autonomous. It can afford to make them less durable.He said, "mine are more sophisticated because my customers are less sophisticated."

That said, I'm sure there are all sorts of "stealth drones" or whatever that would be more sophisticated in some ways. 

But his drones are being used in Syria to deliver humanitarian aid in a war zone, and they know how to self-destruct if a bad guy gets a hold of it, so we're not talking just a toy here. This is something that knows how to work alone, without a pilot, in a war zone. 

You can decide based on your own definition of "sophisticated." But I'd say they are certainly impressive for something that is built for a tiny fraction ($700-$5000) of the cost of a military drone (sometimes in the millions).
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