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Lab Tests


The Future of Drones in the USA

Following our #drone experiment, we were contacted by Todd Medema, a tech entrepreneur in the USA and self confessed drone enthusiast.  He provides honest and down to earth technology reviews on Tech Gear Guide to help you make decisions about which bits of tech to buy.  

Todd wanted to share what is happening in the USA. Unlike in the UK, where the regulating body is the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority),  the airspace there is regulated by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). 

How Drones are Fighting to Change the World 

Early on a Monday morning in Washington D.C, a recreational Drone enthusiast lost control of his craft causing it to crash land in the front lawn of the White House. Uproar stirred across the political landscape and a familiar question was being asked on a larger podium than ever before: Are recreational drones safe and should we be regulating their use more strictly?

Of course the crash was completely harmless but it represents a question of safety that many are eager to answer.  How can we safely regulate these devices? Is the tech too advanced and potentially dangerous for the average untrained consumer? Should we provide licensing regulations and mandatory classes on proper use? The answer is unclear but what is clear is, like it or not, consumer drone use is here to stay.

Why we love them

Drones are a great hobby for people searching out new perspectives on the world around them. Sure they’re fun to fly around but for most, the real treasure lies within aerial videography. This exciting new hobby has captured the attention of millions with enthusiasts spending upwards of thousands in the pursuit of unbelievable videos.

The most popular means to create this stunning videography is to combine a professional grade drone with a GoPro camera. Simply turn it on and it’s practically impossible to not get stunning results.

Before drones, videos like these would not have been possible without renting a helicopter, which was of course virtually impossible for the average consumer.

Drone technology has opened the doors for an entirely new form of creativity and exploration.

Why they’re controversial 

There are some immediately obvious implications that appear when providing this kind of technology to anyone with a few spare bucks.  Having a floating video camera forces us to ask questions about our privacy we’ve never been faced with before.  Many fear that having a camera on a quadrocopter could lead to videos through our windows or even just watching us go about their daily lives on the street. No one likes to feel watched so regulating what and where we can record video seems inevitable.

In 2011 a drone videographer named Raphel Pirker was fined by the FAA to the tune of $10,000 for using a drone to film a promotional video for the University of Virgina.  Outraged, Raphel took the FAA to court and contested that the US government was operating under outdated laws from the 1980’s that were originally intended for model airplane use. On top of this, the ‘laws’ they were enforcing were not even enforceable by the government as they were merely guidelines and carry no force of law behind them.  The court ruled in favor of Mr. Pirker and dropped all charges against him.              

Now, as this ruling may seem advantageous for hobbyists across the globe, it’s sparked the FAA to begin a ‘roadmap’ to much more strict laws against recreational drone use. There are talks about putting regulations as strict as prohibiting flying at all without a license. Naturally, enthusiasts are not a fan of these propositions but luckily few of these laws will be able to even see the light of day before 2017, so many are working as hard as they can to keep these laws stifled before then.

The FAA claims that drones represent a risk for commercial airlines citing that over 200 cases have been reported in 2014 of drones getting too close to manned flights. They also cite potential terrorist hacking inceptions as a risk to all drone operators. While these are all good points of interest to consider, most enthusiasts believe some lax regulations involving clear flight patterns for commercial airlines and furthering technology into drone firewalls could prevent these issues.

The Future of Drones

The future of drones is extremely unclear for a multitude of reasons. The US government has closed off most airspace to commercial drone use, which has many potential investors in the technology waiting around for more clear regulations.  Speculators predict that if we can overcome the government’s regulations the drone industry could generate over 70,000 new jobs and $14 billion in economic activity in the United States alone. Where is all this money coming from?  From home delivery of goods to dusting crops for farmers, virtually hundreds of possibilities for revenue exist.

Just imagine the implications of having a cheap and easy to learn means of flying through the air.

  • In Southern California former Navy officers are using drones to inspect power lines.
  • Farmers are using drones to inspect their fields for dry soil or insect infestations.
  • has a very publicized plan to deliver packages straight to your doorstep as soon as 30 minutes after you click the order button on their site.

Things we never imagined can all become a reality simply depending on how our government decides to treat the future of drones in the eyes of the law.

For now, the future of drones is in their hands.

Let’s hope they treat it with the respect it deserves. 

For more reviews on the latest tech, check out Todd's blog



Rebuilding Bromford in Minecraft

By Vicky Green 

During our last set of Lightning Talks , our colleague Nic Webb opened up a new world of possibilities by introducing how ‘Minecraft’ could be used to plan buildings and communities. We looked at the work by Ordnance Survey and OS Open Data and explored some fantastic maps created in New York City.  These inspired us to set ourselves a challenge to fire up Minecraft and have a go.

So we did… and four of us looked at it for a few minutes, each taking the controller to try and make sense of it all.  It was then we realised we actually need experts! Someone, who could create worlds with skills and speed!

Taking advantage of the Christmas School holidays, I enticed my 12 year old son and his mate to come into the Lab with talk of google glass, drones and unlimited play on Xbox! It was an easy sell…

The two boys soon set to work, they decided to build our Lab in Minecraft before beginning a more detailed project recreating Exchange Court - our central office.  They began by photographing the building, finding floor plans and created focal point of the building within an hour!

To get an aerial view of the building our experts flew the Lab drone over Bromford....

To get an aerial view of the building our experts flew the Lab drone over Bromford....

At work in the Lab Lounge....

At work in the Lab Lounge....

Their speed was ridiculous and huge attention was paid to the internal and external detail of the physical building.  These guys work fast and collaboratively.  One does the mining, the other builds – they work seamlessly together and know exactly what they are doing! After all, this is play to them!

We asked the lads what they thought about what we had asked him to do. They told us that they really liked that they had a real building to work on.  It made it more interesting and felt like a challenge. 

Rather than being cooped up in their bedroom, they were developing in the open.  Colleagues of Bromford stopped and admired their work, which did wonders for their confidence.  What they have managed to achieve in 2 days is fantastic – we know that no adult in our building would have been able to create this.

Taking shape: Exchange Court rebuilt 

Taking shape: Exchange Court rebuilt 

So what did we learn from this experiment?

1)     Minecraft not only is a great platform to build on, but it is a place that encourages collaborative work.  It encourages  the gamer to use logic, creativity and use real space awareness. What does this mean for the future of work? 

2)     Bring in the experts – now we realise that we can’t just recruit an army of 12 year olds, but you can learn from them. 

3)     Develop in the open – unlock the potential of the bedroom gamers, let others see their work to build their confidence.

Our next challenge is to test this in a community. We've identified an Older Persons community that is currently not making full use of the facilities and building. What would happen if we engage younger people to work with residents to map their existing community and rebuild it in Minecraft?

Will the collaborative nature of the experience spill over into the offline world?

People have to watch each others backs in Minecraft and support each other. Exactly the behaviours we want to unlock in our communities.

Follow this link to view the work of OS Open Data 

UPDATE 29/01/2015

Since the original post James (Vicky's boy) has created a video walk-through of the Bromford minecraft building which Nic shared at the last lightning (or lightening) talks. Thought you guys wouldn't mind a peek either. 

Alternatively, you can follow THIS LINK to view the lightning talk in full. 

Peace! Tom