Wednesday, April 11, 2012


The growing DOT drone scandal

by Larry Geller

Jim Dooley and Ian Lind have done outstanding work on investigating the state Department of Transportation drone fiasco. The short story is that DOT bought an expensive surveillance drone that they can’t legally fly because of airport restrictions. But the back story is much more troubling, having to do with state procurement policy.

You can pick up the thread by starting at Ian’s article on the drone contract posted today. I won’t give the story away, just click and read Ian’s development of the story.

I have a snide remark about the DOT comment posted in Hawaii Reporter and quoted by Ian:

“It works, we’re maintaining it, but we just can’t fly it.”

… so we found something the DOT is actually maintaining!

But why throw more money into it? Why not just put it back into its shipping box and look for a buyer? Are they polishing it each week? How does one maintain a drone that isn’t used?

From Ian’s story yesterday we learn that the state paid $75,000 for this paperweight. I’ve written about drones which seem to cost around $10,000 from the manufacturer’s website, and also about “do it yourself” drones that cost even less (here and here). Of course, it is still not legal for the DOT to fly them, but my point is that there’s yet another more reason to question the lavish expenditure.

I have to admit that I love the idea of do-it-yourself helicopter drones. There are apparently commercial versions available that are well advanced, but the idea of home-brewing and programming a little helicopter appeals to me.

Here’s a video of a field test of a home-made helicopter. It’s a little boring at the beginning, but about 2/3 into the video it goes autonomous, flying via GPS waypoints. Here is a wiki on the ArduCopter. The DIYdrones webpage is here.

At least, check out this YouTube video of the Swiss drone in action.


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