George Washington: Fly your own drone for under $300

By George Washington. Cross posted from Washington’s Blog.

Fly Your Own Spy Drone … Using Your iPhone

The Parrot A.R. Drone can be launched and controlled with your iPhone or iPad:

The Parrot A.R. Drone costs $299.

The Parrot A.R. Drone can maintain stable flight at an altitude of up to 20 feet, and a maximum altitude of up to 160 feet.

More sophisticated drones can fly higher and for longer, in a more stable fashion.

For example, protesters in Warsaw used a spy drone last month to see what police were doing. As notes:

People tend to assume that UAVs will be used by the police to keep watch on us, but as … video, taken by a RoboKopter of riots in Warsaw, shows, they can equally be used by citizens to keep tabs on the police. No need to wait for the local news to send a helicopter to get the aerial scene of a demonstration, just Do It Yourself!

Here is the video of the police shot by the Polish protesters:


(Here’s what the RoboKopter drone used by the Polish protesters looks like.)

Drones can range from simple:

To advanced:

For more amazing technology, see this and this.

For information on building your own drone, start here.

Disclaimer: The FAA apparently considers do-it-yourself drones to be legal. We don’t know whether there are any Department of Homeland Security or other regulations or laws prohibiting flying your own spy drone. Consult with a representative of all appropriate Federal, state, county and local agencies to determine whether or not you may fly your own drone.

NOTE If I’d run across this post a little earlier, I would have noted that a drone makes a great stocking stuffer! Also, drone with a camera is a lot harder to take out with a nightstick than a hand-held camera or cell. Subject, of course, to the caveats above. Anyhow, I love DIY. –lambert

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Alex

    I totally want my own drone. BTW, has it occurred to anyone else that the cost of being a supervillain has declined to the point where anyone can afford it?

  2. Clonal Antibody

    See also DIY blimps for longer staying power – Hyperblimbps

    What is a Hyperblimp?

    The Hyperblimp is a streamlined, helium-filled, patented airship that slips through the air rather than pushing it aside. It is propelled by a central axis rear propeller, capable of moving in any direction. These airborne vehicles are whisper quiet, yield zero pollution, and are efficient enough to run on sunlight alone; they are as maneuverable as a hummingbird, yet incredibly smooth in flight. They require low maintenance, relatively low initial cost, and are capable of vertical take-offs and landings.

  3. Toni

    Interesting to think about how these might develop into the distant future and how they might further democratize surveillance. (…and the use of force? How long until we see these with little explosive or pepper-spray bomblets hooked up, I wonder…?)

  4. ambrit

    It is all too easily imagined that the ‘powers that be’ would define the use of ‘non public’ surveillance units as ‘terrorist related’ action. As James Fallows so eerily predicted some years ago, ‘society’ is in a race to ‘define down deviancy.’ The flip side of this is that the more you define down deviancy, the more people begin to self identify with ‘dissident elements’ within the society. The above comment about low cost super villianage shows just how ambiguous the concept can become.

    1. Alex

      Just to clear this up, I don’t think that ownership of a camera drone is, or should be, any kind of crime (as long as the drone isn’t used to peep in someone’s window.) What should be obvious, however, is that the cost of doing extreme amounts of damage, and of doing the damage by remote control, is going downward in a damn-near exponential manner. The cost of gathering large amounts of private information on an individual or group is similarly going down.

      Essentially, it is very easy for anyone willing to spend a paycheck or two to deliver deadly force or gather private information in the same manner as the state. At some point someone needs to do some work on this issue.

      1. ambrit

        Dear Alex;
        I do indeed agree with you. However, since “Knowledge is Power,” I expect the State to assert its ‘right’ to monopoly status in that regard. Not only this, but the SOPA act, access to legal documents, the ‘preservation of Decency’ on the internet, etc. etc. (As a thought experiment, the DOJ brings suit against the manufacturers of mini drones to protect the privacy rights of Homeland Security Feldwebel “X.”)

      1. ambrit

        Dear lexicon;
        I think you are right about that. I was referring to Fallows piece in The Atlantic about the process and its probable effects on people in the West. (See also a fun ‘Comic’ feature in the National Lampoon about such a “Dystopian” America. “Sieg Health!”)

  5. sleeper

    There was a proposal during the Eisenhower admin called the “Open Skies Agreement” in which the sky was to be open for surveillance aircraft.

    Expect that the FAA will regulate private drones so with faint hope in our hearts we ought to ask that an open skies clause be included in any new regulation.

  6. LucyLulu

    Drones were used at Fukushima to get pictures/video of the reactor buildings in places where it was too “hot” to send humans, some of the ones widely posted on YouTube and the internet. I’m not referring to the original videos obtained by the US military’s drones, but later film with the drones operated by two Americans, civilians I believe, from onsite. The drones were much smaller than the one that was captured by the Iranians, they appeared to be perhaps 3-4 feet long. Later they used terrestrial robots made by Roomba to also go inside the buildings. One of the drones ended up crashing. The biggest problem, or perhaps benefit, is that they are very noisy thus can not be used in stealth mode.

  7. K Ackermann

    Not sure if this is legal or not…

    1 Styrofoam ball of about 1 foot radius, upon which you mount:
    Several cheap directional mics. Hook these mics to:
    A cheap MCU, with some code to measure the time delay between the different mics. The time delay allows you to triangulate precisely the direction of the sound. If there are particular sounds you are looking for, then read this, and add appropriate cheap discriminator circuit.

    Now you can drive some cheap servos that aim a 50-calibre machine gun.

    This gun will not run away, or flinch, or anything other than fire continuously and precisely at the sound until it runs out of bullets, or the sound stops.

    Asymmetry is widening every day.

    1. ambrit

      Mz K;
      You warm the cockles of my heart!
      I think this one would be countered with the long standing legal theory, (codified into law lots of places,) that one cannot set and leave deadly force traps to protect ones property. (No shotgun aimed at and wired to the door of your ‘abandoned’ house when the bank threatnes to ‘foreclose.’ Hey, even Minions and Henchmen got rights! Ya dig?)

  8. ambrit

    I,m having a good laugh right now at the sudden proliferation of ads for surveillance equipment and RC toys popping up on this thread. More soberingly, if ‘search modes’ can be tagged for ad countermeasures, what is Big Brother doing with the capability?

    1. ambrit

      Dear P-Dub;
      It most assuredly depends upon your definition of “porn.”
      Who would have suspected a few years ago that nowadays; Due Dilligence + Balance Sheet = Fiction?

  9. George

    Techie question:
    The first CNET video works for me.
    The Polish ones don’t.
    Is anyone else having this problem? I’m using
    Firefox 9.01 on MAC OSX 10.6.8

  10. Rory

    I’m not a gun guy, but it seems to me that the basic precept underlying the Second Amendment is that the nation’s citizens should be able to retain the power that they need to effectively resist government tyranny. Somehow I see a connection here.

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