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Update: Eye3 Drone Officially Too Good to Be True

Kickstarter cancels the camera drone project after numerous concerns are raised

2 min read
Update: Eye3 Drone Officially Too Good to Be True

The eye3 camera drone that we posted about last week had a ring of too good to be true about it, and we voiced a number of concerns from people familiar with DIY drones expressed in this thread over on, uh, DIY Drones. As of last Thursday evening, Kickstarter has pulled their support for their project, effectively ending it, amidst evidence of photoshopped pictures and rumors of other projects by the same people that went way, way south.

At first glance, the eye3 drone seemed like an incredible deal. For US $2500, you could get yourself a beefy hexacopter capable of lifting over 6.8 kilograms (15 pounds) with an included autopilot that would take all of the hassle and stress out of flying the UAV, and enable people with zero experience to make immediate use of it. That sounded great, but a bunch of smart people over on DIY Drones expressed skepticism that it was possible to do everything that the Kickstarter project was claiming it could do, and further pointed out that the eye3 kit bore a striking resemblance to existing kits that you could order yourself for less money.

People on the Internet, being people on the Internet, did some digging and found out several things. First, the pictures of the kit on Kickstarter are just pictures of this kit (from cnchelicopter.com) with the attribution photoshopped out. Also, the founders of eye3 allegedly owe a bunch of people money (or a product) on another project. It appears that Kickstarter took a closer look at whether they thought it would be possible for the founders to make it happen and decided to shut it down. (Note that no one lost money because the project was still in the pledge phase.)

So what's the takeaway from all this? Well, the obvious thing to note is that if something seems too good to be true, odds are it probably is. In this case, the eye3 was only borderline unrealistic, which is what made it so seductive. That said, there's clearly a market for a professional-level camera drone with an autopilot that a novice could use, but it's entirely possible that promises like eye3 made for anything less than $5k or $10k are what made the project impossible to begin with.

If there's a positive note that we can end on, it would be this: The fact that a project like the eye3 drone is even remotely believable shows just how far the DIY drone community (in general) has come. It's vaguely incredible that with some research, you really can just go out and buy the parts and build one of these things, autopilot and all, since until relatively recently, such a thing would have been inconceivable for anyone without a military-sized budget.

One last note: If you're still a believer, its creators say that eye3 is still happening (just not on Kickstarter), and you can get updates here.

[ Kickstarter ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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