TL:DR: If you want to use an Ardupilot based drone for commercial operations than have a read; if not, then have a great New Year!
For those who do not know me, I float around here under coby and cglusky. I started and operated Rocketship Systems, which also ran FlyingFoam and BoxBotix. I am also the guy designing the Dev Frame, and I hang out over at GoodRobots. We recently sold most of Rocketship Systems, and will close the rest tomorrow. I am starting a new service endeavor that will use drones as part of it’s offerings. I have spent the last few months iterating through business idea/plans and one that keeps coming back to mind is the idea of a commercial drone coop. It is not something I am going to pursue personally, but I think has merit for the community to review.
A Coop is an organization owned and controlled by it’s members. REI is one popular example. Credit Unions and Ag based Coops are also popular here in the rural US. I have read about grocery Coops in the UK and EU. Feel free to search. One of the better resources for starting and running one is the USDA Rural Development Program in the US: https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/all-programs/cooperative-programs.
Why do I think we need a Coop when we already have ArduPilot? Well, after a lot of research (and an unreasonable bias against DJI) I ended up buying an Autel Evo to start my new service business. If you have not caught on yet, I used to build small quadcopters for people to use. So, why am I not eating my own dog food? I may eventually, but for simple, creative missions to capture aerial video and images I can not buy the equipment for the money I spent on the Evo. Then I still have to build it all out and I hope I get a tightly integrated and easy to use package. So, from a business perspective it does not make sense. And Frankly, I do not think it’s ArduPilot’s job to provide integrated systems. But a Coop could.
As a Coop we could identify the most important use cases and work backwards to fund the development of the requirements most important to building said integrated systems. Honestly, most of these systems likely already exist, but are being sold by companies that do not enjoy the transparency and democratic control of a Coop. Some are even using ArduPilot. I have no problem with that model. I just think a Coop would better serve small independent operators who prefer to leverage Open Source, but desire a bit more structure and support to build out the ecosystem.
I think it should be separate from ArduPilot, but become a partner to help fund related software dev. I also think it should charge a fee for membership to help fund development as decided by members. And I think it should provide Integrated Systems (hardware and software that provide a capability), Support (Maintenance, Audits etc) and Training (Part 107 etc) from Business Admin (boilerplate biz plans etc) to Flight Operations (Operations and Maintenance manual and checklists). So you end up with revenue from dues as well as sales of systems and support. I don’t think a Coop would be all rainbows and Unicorns. As a democratic organization it would be messy, and a lot of work. But I think it’s a good match for people attracted to the same spirit of Open Source development.
And before this turns into a manifesto let’s get to some concrete steps:
- Form a small group of stake holders to figure out if it’s desired
- Identify initial use case
- Work backwards to identify requirements
- Figure out how much money it would take
- Produce a simple plan and roadmap
- Come back to the community with the initial proposal and repeat as required
If people are interested I am game to help out but I am NOT an expert at forming a Coop. The first question that comes to my mind: Can you do this internationally, or do you need to start small in a single country and then create chapters in others as required? As I said, it would be a bunch of work. But I do think it would be worth it for those of who would like to continue to democratize drone tech while pursuing sustainable commercial use. I am posting this to see if there are others who feel the same. If not, we all move on.
Happy New Year!