How To Tame A Drone With Your iPhone

Mavelous, a new open-source software project, lets users control homemade UAVs via their iPad, iPhone, or Android device. Piloting a drone is as simple as tapping a spot on the map.

Amateur UAV enthusiasts who build and deploy their own homemade, unarmed drones are a cool clique in the geek squad. Now a new toy could blow their circle wide open. Mavelous, an open-source, tabet- and smartphone-centric control panel simplifies a big chunk of the DIY UAV equation.

Mavelous, which started development earlier this year, interfaces with a wide variety of drones. The program uses the MAVLink (Micro Air Vehicle) communication protocol, which means it can be used to control a wide variety of homebrewed drones. The program has an easy learning curve, with operators only needing to learn the rudiments of navigation via GPS location. Instead of being laid out like a handheld remote controller, Mavelous is a map-based app.

At least one high-profile DIY drone advocate has gotten behind the project. Chris Anderson, the former Wired editor-in-chief who left the publication to helm UAV startup 3D Robotics, wrote on his DIY Drones site that 3D Robotics is integrating Mavelous into their products.

Users on DIY Drones have already managed to test Mavelous on their Kindle Paperwhites and iPhones. Mavelous' creators have also created an "armed" mode for the sake of discussions. On touchscreen devices, users can simply tap on a spot on the map to have their drone fly there.

Mavelous's front end is written in Javascript, while back end is written in Python.

Ready-to-fly hobbyist drones for home and park use can already be purchased from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other large retailers. The Parrot AR.Drone, one of the most popular ready-to-fly UAVs, comes with an app that lets users control the vehicle via iPhone, iPad, or Android devices.

For a few hundred dollars, hobbyists can build their own drones using materials easily available on the Internet or at large electronic stores. These UAVs are covered by FAA regulations that allow for legal flight in most cases. Users manually control take-offs and landings; flight at a safe altitude is handled by GPS technology similar to that found in mobile phones.

Future versions of Mavelous are slated to include automatic takeoffs for UAVs, mission control and editing, and offline map-caching. Creator John Wiseman wrote on Metafilter that "my ideal outcome would be for mavelous to grow to become the ground control station of choice for applications like drone journalism, surgical flavor strikes, and anti-surveillance protest tools."

And by surgical flavor strikes, yes, we're talking about the Tacocopter.

[Top image: Johann H. Addicks. Bottom image: Mavelous]

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