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News and Commentary.  Drone news editors like myself were spoiled for choice when it came to content last week: exhibitors at InterDrone launched hundreds of announcements about new technology, new deals, and new agreements.

Among the plethora of newsworthy, forgettable, and merely confusing announcements was one that stood out as something of a major event: the joint venture agreement announced between 3DR, Yuneec, and Dronecode.

3DR and Yuneec are familiar names in the drone industry.  Dronecode, however, is one of those projects that industry insiders know all about but many of us have never heard of: the ultimate open source drone platform.

In vastly simplified terms, you could think of it as the Android option vs. DJI’s Apple. “The Dronecode platform contains everything needed for a complete UAV solution: flight-controller hardware, autopilot software, ground control station, and developer APIs for enhanced/advanced use cases,” says the organization. The idea is to allow as many developers as possible access  – lowering the costs and time to market of great commercial applications.

Dronecode is a carefully organized entity – neutral and loose enough to encourage contribution and innovation; official enough to generate a commercially viable product. It’s governed by the member organizations as a “Collaborative Project” under the wing of the non-profit Linux Foundation.   With more than 50 corporate members that include names like Intel, Honeywell, Bosch, and Sony the organization has the clout to work together on regulatory and development issues.

That 3DR is a founding member – and CEO Chris Anderson is the Board Chairman – should not come as a surprise.  In an InterDrone keynote address titled “The Past, Present and Future of Open Drone Platforms,” Anderson said that he was a “real believer in open platforms, open source, and open innovations.”

Anderson explained that multiple market drivers had led to open platform adoption. There’s the growing perception that open-source platforms are more transparent, and more trustworthy, than closed-source technology.  There’s demand for choice, and the inability of many manufacturers to keep up with the costs of full-stack development.  There’s the rise of Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) technology, which DJI hasn’t done yet.

Perhaps most significantly, there’s an immediate market need.  Security concerns have led the U.S. government to question closed-source technology from China – a direct hit to DJI which emerged last year.

Enter the announcement.  3DR and Yuneec, 2 of Dronecode’s founding members, have created a U.S.-headquartered venture which will operate as “3DR Government Services.”  The new entity “will have a particular focus on serving the security and open platform needs of U.S. government customers and their vendors in the construction and engineering industries,” says the announcement.

“3DR Government Services will combine Yuneec’s UAV system expertise and manufacturing scale with 3DR’s software. The first product from 3DR Government Services is the Yuneec 3DR H520-G… It includes the complete 3DR Site Scan UAS platform, integrated into a custom version of the Dronecode-based Yuneec H520 hexacopter sUAS technology with a simplified and smaller controller designed for Apple iOS devices. It also includes integrations with both Autodesk and Esri platforms, the leading software ecosystems in the construction and geospatial industries respectively.”

In a conversation prior to his presentation, Anderson was supportive and complimentary about DJI’s technology: but he acknowledges that the issue of data security has become a problem for them.   “It’s complicated because of politics,” he said.  “We needed a ‘Made in America’ solution, at least for the parts that matter – the software.”

While Anderson says that China has mastered drone manufacturing, he points out that the “best of breed” approach has major benefits in a rapidly evolving landscape.  “This is a model for the future of technology companies,” he says.  “It’s going to be the best of Silicon Valley and the best of China.  You are going to need hybrids – but you need to do it in an environment that is growing increasingly complex.”

In 3DR Government Services, says Anderson, “3DR  and Yuneec have combined to merge production in Shanghai, software in Berkeley, and operations in Tijuana.”  The group hopes that this will provide the best of commercially available hardware, combined with specialized software.

Both Yuneec and 3DR are already government vendors, giving them both access to the processes and insight into the needs of those customers.  That insight has led to a tailored offering designed to fit the gap of commercial drones acceptable to U.S. government clients.

“This offering meets two critical needs: the demand for vendor choice by government agencies and contractors at the federal, state and local level, along with increased need for open platforms that can be security certified and more easily approved for operations beyond the constraints of today’s FAA Part 107 waivers,” says the announcement. “Use of the Dronecode PX4 software has already been specified by the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) effort to create a new standard platform for small, low-cost UAVs. This is in part because its open source core and commercial-friendly BSD license allow for easy integration and validation by many vendors, increasing choice and lowering costs.”

“This joint venture cements a strong relationship that goes back to the start of Dronecode and the shared belief that an open software platform would help the drone industry grow and mature faster, just as it has in so many other industries,” said Chris Anderson, CEO, 3DR. “For U.S. government customers who are increasingly looking for U.S.-based trusted solutions, this combination of global leaders in hardware and software provides the best of both worlds.”

“Yuneec and 3DR, both founding members of Dronecode, have joined forces to provide a secure, end-to-end sUAS solution based on open source software, targeted to US Government customers.  The Yuneec 3DR H520-G is a hexacopter UAV platform that is custom built to work with the Site Scan iOS app.  This partnership strengthens Yuneec’s commitment to deliver a wide range of public safety solutions to federal, state and local government agencies,” said Frank DeMartin, Yuneec USA’s Senior VP of Sales and Marketing.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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