The Cannondrone Run

The idea is simple: A cross-country race between drone aircraft, inspired by the infamous Cannonball Run .  Explaining the purpose is a bit more complicated.

Drone technology has evolved quickly over the last decade and is at a point where off-the-shelf quadcopters capable of doing useful things (flying cameras around, etc.) can be had for under $100USD.  This is pretty cool, and it also has had some negative side-effects.

I think this technology could have some significant life-improving applications, but I believe that it is in danger of the same kind of “ satisficience “ that has been reached in computers, mobile phones, etc.

The proposed race will push both the technological and the sociological limits of what is being done with consumer drone technology today, and the development of technology necessary to compete (or even complete) the race will dramatically broaden the application possibilities for drones.

Let me give you an example: One pro-social use of drones would be to deliver library books to rural communities, however the most common quad-copter-style drones lack the range to do this on their own.  In order to compete in this race, advances in battery capacity, en-route charging or in-flight charging would need to be developed, which would then allow drones to be used for this application.

Another important aspect to the race is that it pushes the boundaries of the law.  Based on current FAA requirements a drone can only be operated within line-of-sight of the operator.  This means that in order to participate in the race, the operator will either need to find a way to meet this requirement, or develop technologies that can evade detection and capture.  There are a number of creative solutions to these problems that I can imagine (and countless more that I can’t) and both have very practical application in positive drone use scenarios.  A technology that allows an operator to preserve line-of-sight operation increases safety and potentially social interaction with drone work. A technology that avoids detection will also avoid collisions with other aircraft, and be capable of delivering packages in a more secure fashion.

One final advantage to the somewhat “outlaw” nature of the race is that it will discourage corporations from direct involvement.  The have too much to loose if they get caught, and there’s no “branding” opportunity in the traditional sense.  This will encourage independent participation and foster technological development at the grassroots level where it is less likely to become encumbered with intellectual property constraints or compromised in order to be “monitizable”.

There are countless other advantages that I won’t attempt to enumerate here. What I will share is what I see as the essential elements of how the race should be held:

1.  The first race should be coast-to-coast in the United States as a nod to the event that it’s based on.  Races elsewhere are very much encouraged, but key is that there is sufficient geographical distance to force anyone participating to come up with technology beyond what’s available off-the- shelf.

2.  The start point of the race is announced in advance, but the end point is not announced until the race has begun, ideally in a way that only participants are aware of it.

3.  Cooperation will be rewarded

There may be other constraints, but I really don’t want to make it complicated.  The idea being that any kind of “cheating” serve the higher goal of encouraging open, independent research & development to take drone technology to the next level, and open a new frontier of applications.  The secondary goal is to push the social and political boundaries of how drones can be used and derive intelligent ways to address the fears that result in restrictive legislation.

If this piques your interest I’ve setup a room to discuss the pros, cons, risks and rewards of such a race (should it ever take place) at https://hack.chat/?cannondronerun

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// jjg

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