Mind/Iron Blog Articles

Disposable Drones

June 2015
By Bryan Bergeron

When I made my first foray into the world of quadcopter drones, the cost of entry for a DYI drone was a little over $1,500. There was the nine-channel controller and receiver ($350), the quad structure ($100), the four motors ($200), microcontroller with sensors ($400), motor controllers ($180), and a good supply of lithium batteries and charger ($300). Commercial options were both limited and at least double the price. Then, came offerings from the likes of Parrot with their $300 drone, and affordable kits such as the $600 Parallax quadcopter — which required an R/C radio, batteries, and charger for a complete drone.

When I made my first foray into the world of quadcopter drones, the cost of entry for a DYI drone was a little over $1,500. There was the nine-channel controller and receiver ($350), the quad structure ($100), the four motors ($200), microcontroller with sensors ($400), motor controllers ($180), and a good supply of lithium batteries and charger ($300). Commercial options were both limited and at least double the price. Then, came offerings from the likes of Parrot with their $300 drone, and affordable kits such as the $600 Parallax quadcopter — which required an R/C radio, batteries, and charger for a complete drone.

Today, anyone can pick up a miniature drone on Amazon for less than $30 — complete with R/C unit, battery, and charger. There’s no way I could create something that small and functional for less than ten times that — the batteries alone are $6.

I think that drones are the quartz watches of the 1970s. Through mass production and universal appeal, the price of quartz watches dropped so low that it was often cheaper to buy a new watch than to have the battery replaced.

What would be the value proposition of disposable drones? For starters, consider the delivery service. One-way delivery is the norm for most services today. That is, Amazon or other online retailers send you a box through UPS or FedEx, you open the box, remove the contents, and toss the box in the trash. You don’t have to return the empty box to Amazon.

Of course, there’s the issue of how to dispose of the electronic waste from used drones — especially those pesky lithium batteries. The other issue is price point. At what price does a one-way flight make sense? It depends, of course, on the contents of the flight package. It’s one thing to deliver a pizza by quadcopter and quite another to deliver an organ, drug, or piece of military equipment

As new technologies go, the move toward disposable drones will probably start as a hybrid process where, for example, the central processing “brick” could be dropped into a mailbox and returned to the seller for use in another drone. This approach would have the advantage of minimizing waste — assuming the batteries, microcontroller, and motors could be refurbished and repeatedly sent out

Whether or not any of these predictions come to pass, one thing for certain is that hobby-level drones are becoming more affordable by the day. As such, you can easily find a drone worthy of a teardown after you’ve managed to fly the craft into a brick wall or — my favorite — the ceiling. Good luck flying. SV

 


Posted by Michael Kaudze on 05/21 at 11:41 AM
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