Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fifty: a possible beginning, drone races

Fifty! Finally I made it. It actually is proving to be harder than I thought. I ran out of ranting steam a while ago.

But here it is anyway:

Check this out:

This project clearly shows that even organisations like DARPA are trying to use crowd sourcing. Well technically the DARPA hackerspaces space program is another good example I found early on in my "ranting about space" career. 

So what I would like to do with freespaceships isn't complete lunacy. There is the issue of the insane complexities and difficulties of the level of engineering needed for accessing space, but with the right system design, and with the right kind and amount of people it all probably could be solved.

The problem is actually within the field of social and software engineering, and not rocket science. First a system needs to be designed and built or grown, that has the capability to tackle the complexities and finance of a full blown space program.

It is clear that large amounts of people can run space programs, it's been done by countries and corporations. The question is can large amounts of people as a hobby, out of sheer interest in the subject, and mere desire to go up there someday do it?

Copenhagen suborbitals are actually pioneering in the field it seems, and although they aren't doing it as a hobby, they did manage to engage a supportive crowd and seem to be going extremely well so far.

So where do drones come into the picture?

Automation of tasks is going to be a major part of human activities in space. It already is, however it is clear for everybody interested in the field that the grunt of the work will have to be performed by machines that are partially or fully automated. /3d printing in space/ If we would like to do all this in an open source fashion we are going to need to build a database of software and hardware solutions. Open source ecology is my favourite example to illustrate current attempts at building such databases.

Drones or robots aren't easy to make, but the lack of need for explosive components, the lack of need to operate in harsh and remote environments like in orbit or on another planet, make it easier for hobby groups to work with.

There is already a culture of hobby groups working with robots and drones out there. So there is already a fertile ground where this open source database could grow. There are already websites by the thousands where one can look up designs, and instructions for all sorts of cool projects. Also hackerspaces around the world seem to do a lot of activity in this field too.

Drone races!

It seems that for a long time now large scale contests have been used by governments or organisations to attract attention and get people working on a problem or set of problems.
There is the reward of a prize at the end of the contest that motivates groups, there is also this competitive atmosphere yet a sense of community around these events that can generate large scale involvement.

We have the sport industry that basically works on the same principle and generate large scale involvement, insane amount of revenue yet it's only about entertainment. If we could replicate that and somehow intimately tie it in with the aforementioned open source database, and the hobby groups working world wide on engineering problems, we might be able to create the seed for an organisation that will in fact be able to tackle space travel and colonisation.  

Space travel and drone races!

First of all, we are already in space, and we are already on a planet. This is why I thought that the exploration and colonisation of the solar system can actually start right here where we are. I would like to be involved in projects that send probes to other planets, but for now I would be content with sending probes around the globe.

However I still think we need to stick to tough challenges with lots of constrains to encourage innovation that is usually required in off world missions. So I thought sending long range missions to extreme environments could potentially be a starting point for this "large scale hobby hardware design organisation".

It has all the same issues of engineering problems, financial problems, export control problems, as an open source space flight organisation has, but the level of difficulty is dialed down a little bit. Also because we are staying on the planet, people will generally find it less daunting of a task, and possibly less of a crazy idea.

There are also other great advantages. We could ride the current increase in environmental awareness and the missions could be both a platform for, or a piggy back rider for all sorts of environmental campaigns. It could potentially engage a large crowd, and would hopefully allow for the design and organisation of the network we need to tackle the harder problem, which is space travel and off world colonisation.

The actual design solutions would also be ones we could use to tackle real world problems. Rescue operations, or environmental monitoring just to name a few of the fields drones would be and already are extremely useful in.

When I talk to people about "freespaceships", it seems practically nobody thinks it is possible, or why it would be useful. The general opinion seems to be that space travel is for people/organisations/countries with truckloads of money they can afford to throw out the window. It probably would prove impossible to prove to them that it can be done on a hobby scale without first convincing them to join. It is a catch 22 situation.

However attacking the problem from the side with a seemingly much less daunting project, it might be possible to get the masses on board before they even know where the train is actually heading.

Open source drone race to Antarctica!

This is the actual specific goal I had in mind for an international open source drone race. It would require long distance operation of the drone. It would require tackling serious and quite difficult engineering problems, it would also require the financial support of a large crowd for it to take off.
It is also something nobody has attempted before as far as I know. It is something that potentially could draw a lot of attention and support. 

It would be an open source race, meaning that all contestants are required to share their designs and data with everybody. The idea is that we could develop the database and network needed for the open source space program while working on this project. It would also allow for interesting patterns of cooperative competition that you cannot see when the contestants are distinct nodes shrouded in secrecy. This would lead to more intricate connections between teams, and hopefully would lead to faster and better design processes for all involved.

I chose Antarctica because it is a widely uninhabited and also quite extreme environment with hopefully not much of a political baggage to hinder the contest if it gets off the ground. I also would love to travel there, but I have no money or time for it. Sending a drone would be the next best thing to actually going.

Of course this all is just an idea with not much actual research behind it. Maybe one day I will do the research and come up with something tangible before I blog about my ideas. This wasn't one of those days.


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