15 September 2015 Virgin Unite
Where are the opportunities to make a business out of drones? 3D Robotics co-founder Jordi Muñoz explores the future…
In 2008 I was 20 years old and living in Riverside, California, bored out of my mind waiting for my green card to come through, when I built my first autopilot. I modified a Nintendo Wii controller and programmed it with my own code, which I wrote to automatically stabilize a toy helicopter in the air. I turned that into a business, and when I look around me today, I see that I’m still living in Southern California, but now I’m the CTO of North America’s largest personal drone maker.
When people hear my story, they tend to ask two questions. First: how did that happen? And second: can it happen again?
The first one I don’t know how to answer. I worked hard, but also I was very, very lucky. Lots of things happened almost all at once: smartphones had revolutionized the world to the point where incredible technology was accessible to a kid with a Wii and a computer. And the internet had created, in Chris’s terms, an anonymous meritocracy where my work could connect meaningfully with experts around the world, despite my age, language, and education (I’d dropped out of college!). In this world, questions of resumes and schools and “who you know” didn’t matter. I didn’t know what I didn’t know: I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be able to invent a cheap autopilot, so I did.
So that’s kind of how it happened: perfect timing, more or less. This brings us to question number two: can it happen again?
Easy: yes. But “it” won’t be drones, exactly. It will be what drones themselves will revolutionize. I think that my particular revolution is over, that that exact combination of conditions will never be the same again. We’ve moved on from revolution to evolution – as a typo just told me!
What I mean by this is that the technology has been created, the cats have flown out of the bag. We need two types of entrepreneurs now: people who can make the technology do new things and perfect those things (this will mostly be with new software built on our existing platforms); and people who can apply the technology in new and meaningful ways.
So the next “Jordi Munoz story” (yuck!) probably won’t be about someone who figures out how to build drones and then creates their own drone empire from a video game remote. The next one will be about the people who figure out what to do with drones: how to make them do new things, and how to use them to do new things. Here are the best opportunities I see today.
Drones are already appearing on farms, but haven’t yet reached a critical mass. Part of this is due to slow-moving regulations in the US (Japan has been crop dusting with drones for 15 years!) But part is also figuring out the best, easiest, and most useful applications.
At 3D Robotics, we seek out the advice, opinions and knowledge of experts, and we respond to it. We’re nerds, not farmers. Drones will help farmers, and it’s the farmers who will change the world.
Field opportunities: regional “aerial ag” experts; crop scouting; pest and blight identification; crop health and weed identification; checking water stress and soil moisture; precision agriculture applications like fertilizer, pesticides, and water distribution.
Tech opportunities: improved NIR/NDVI imagery; simpler and quicker workflow, especially in the field; longer flight times; greater and more versatile payload capacity; cheaper and more disposable hardware.
This post was originally posted on Virgin Unite– Jordi Muñoz is co-founder and CTO of 3D Robotics
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