DIY Drones: The Future is Now

Rapid cost reduction, or demonitization, has led to breathtaking innovation in the field of unmanned air vehicles (or UAVs), and UAV advocates see the FAA issuing personal and commercial licenses by 2015.

DIY Drones: The Future is Now

What's the Big Idea?


"Hacking the physical" is how Dale Dougherty described the burgeoning DIY Drone movement to Peter Daimandis in his book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think. Dougherty, the founder and publisher of Make magazine, was describing the broad trend that has enabled individuals to construct homebrew versions of sophisticated machines at a fraction of the cost. In the case of unmanned air vehicles (or UAVs), 90 percent of the functionality of a military drone was accomplished for just 1 percent of the military's price. 

This rapid cost reduction, or demonitization, has led to breathtaking innovation in this field, and UAV advocates see the FAA issuing personal and commercial licenses by 2015. Imagine what the aerospace industry will look like in three years if amateurs continue to beat the dinosaurs at their own game. The sky will be filled with UAVs, and people who had previously been cut off from the global transportation network will have access to vital supplies and materials. Two recent developments suggest this isn't just the stuff of fantasy. 

What's the Latest Development?

Jerry LeMeiux, a retired colonel with an engineering PhD and "10,000 hours of aviation experience," has just launched the so-called Unmanned Vehicle University. While there are currently no FAA-issued requirements for personal or commercial drone operators, LeMeiux is getting a head start by offering a broad unmanned vehicle education. 

Here is a sample of LeMeiux's course that is available on Youtube:

We also recently learned that Chinese researchers had developed a brain-operated drone for the purpose of aiding disabled people. If you watch the video below, it is not difficult to see other possible uses for this technology. 

Watch the video here:

While some see the proliferation of drones leading to a dystopian future of swarms of cyborg insect drones, these recent developments show us an industry that is maturing, and which offers clear benefits to humanity. That does not mean that civilian and commercial drones will not need to be regulated in the future. Our already overcrowded airspace could get very crowded indeed. It's time for the FAA to get to work!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
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Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine
Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

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