We were the first ones to break the news that start-up charity Reallocate and open source aviators ARIA have teamed up to bring some drones to the Playa this year. Now it seems the story has made it all the way to mainstream yuppie rag Fast Company. They have some more detailed updates on Reallocate’s plans for “Startup Country” – turning shipping containers into innovation centers, using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to solve the “last mile” problem, and connecting the developing world with Western expertise.
Let’s hand it to Reallocate, it’s a bold plan, which is what the world needs if we’re really going to make a difference. Reallocate are currently filming the promotional video for their Indiegogo fund-raising campaign, please support them in any way you can. Their Burning Man project is funded by private donations of funds and equipment and volunteers.
How does all this relate to Burning Man?
Every year, Singularity University graduates generate attractive visions of a better future, where people use 3-D printing in zero gravity, mine waste for precious metals, and produce energy from ultra-efficient solar cells. One of the most seductive visions to emerge from last year’s Singularity class was the Matternet, a concept that would see electric autonomous aerial vehicles (AAVs) transporting supplies and people across the planet–essentially leapfrogging ground transportation in certain parts of the world, much like cell phones have allowed developing nations to leapfrog landlines.
The Matternet team has since split into two: one group that’s working on a proprietary version of the idea, and another that’s creating an open-source version. The latter group has a grand vision: creating an Internet-like network of AAVs that could one day allow someone to make a one-to-one sale with anyone in the world or send medication quickly to where it’s needed most, simply by delivering goods on a flying autonomous vehicle to its destination. But before Aria (that’s the name of Matternet’s open-source group) does that, it’s teaming up with ReAllocate–an organization that’s building a network of designers and engineers who want to use their expertise to work on humanitarian issues–for an experimental project at Burning Man
Sounds like a taco-copter on steroids – scratch that, a taco-copter WITH steroids. California loves their medical home delivery services, how long until the weed-copters are running the gauntlet of the DEA-copters to make drops to your iPhone?
“We’re transforming shipping containers into innovation centers,” says Dr. Mike North, the founder of ReAllocate. “We want to take them into the developing world, bring people from the community in, and facilitate them developing their own social enterprises.”
Reallocate handles the innovation, Aria handles the last mile, the solar-powered containers charge the drones:
As with the Burning Man project, Aria can use these shipping containers as ground stations where it can swap batteries and payload. “The ground stations are like the routers of the Internet. They can extend range and capacity of the drones,” explains Arturo Pelayo, the co-founder of Aria.
Pelayo imagines all sorts of uses for the open-source drone network once it gets up and running: HIV tests that can be quickly delivered to labs, eliminating potentially deadly waiting times; medicine delivery in remote areas; even observing permafrost disappearance and other global warming-related changes
So what is this “experimental project” at Burning Man going to look like?
The pilot project will, according to an ad posted by the ReAllocate team, “serve as a proof-of-concept for an open source network of retrofitted shipping containers that can be used to exchange goods and services in regions of the world that have no existing infrastructure, thus addressing the ‘last mile’ challenge.”
At Burning Man, that will potentially translate into a few retrofitted shipping containers–one housing 3-D printers, another with a 3-D capture studio–and some UAVs. Burners will be able to send out the camera-equipped UAVs to take pictures, bring them back, and print the pictures on a 3-D printer. Those 3-D printed objects can then be sent to recipients on the UAVs, with help from an Android app that sends out a GPS signal with the location of the device so that a drone can hone in on it. Aria will use one of the shipping containers as a ground station for the UAVs.
ARIA founder Arturo has commented on this post. He says:
At ARIA, we believe we can create an open system where Makers can build and expand a flexible AND open transportation network.
We are doing this open source because we believe we are at the right intersection of technology, passion and possibility. We don’t aim to get rich off of this. Our goal is simple: Positively impact the lives of a billion people within the next decade.
The more UAVs we have, the more pressing need there will be for an “air control system”. ARIA aims to solve that not by ‘controlling’ airspace but through Artificial Intelligence that can harness participatory design and produce a system to prevent mid-air collisions and create a safe environment that can accelerate economic activity (through the rapid exchange of goods).
We start at Burning Man because of the belief in Radical Self-Reliance. Every community were we want to have a ground station already has self-reliant people, we just want to provide open blueprints that they can use to continue iterating that vision of a roadless world.
Reallocate is located as part of the IDEATE camp – look for them near Center Camp, around 6:45 and Columbine/Ring Road. They’ll be the ones with the shipping containers and drones.