He’s worked as editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, authored three books, and founded two drone-related projects: DIYDrones, a drone enthusiast website, and 3DRobotics, a drone manufacturing company that sells pre-assembled drones; he currently serves as CEO for that company.
Anderson recently talked with Business Insider about his first experiences with drones, the popularity of GoPro cameras, and what he’s most excited about for the future.
Business Insider: What does someone need to know before buying their first drone?
Chris Anderson: There’s a lot of different kinds of drones, including helicopters and airplanes. Airplanes are beautiful and can fly for hours, but you need a little bit more room – you have to land them. Helicopters are very good for stationary views.
One of the first things you have to ask is ‘copter or plane’? Most people choose copters because they’re easier to control. If you want to learn how to fly, there’s plenty of RC toys on Amazon so I’d recommend you start there.
BI: How do the drones you use work?
CA: Drones are autonomous. You can’t fly them, but that’s the point. Typically they’re connected to your phone or laptop, or in our case even the Pebble watch. You give them instructions, such as “Go there” or “Follow me” or “Map that building.” It doesn’t require a pilot, that’s what makes them drones.
Most people just want to get the pictures rather than fly the vehicle. Drones use their intelligence to make flight easier.
BI: You first learned about drones when flying a remote-controlled airplane with your kids. Tell me about that experience.
I’m a terrible pilot and I flew the plane into a tree. So I thought, what if the robot could fly? I literally googled “flying robot” and got to “drone,” and googled “drone” to get to “auto pilot.”
[After ordering some parts], my kids and I sat at the dining table and looked at these parts, and it was pretty clear that something in the world had changed. By the end of the evening we had created the elements of an autopilot.
It should not be possible for a guy and his kid to google ‘flying robot’ and end up building advanced technology on the dining room table. I got chills. Something had changed to enable that. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I started DIYDrones to explore this question.
BI: Did you ever find an answer to that question?
CA: The answer was smartphones. All the components in the Lego drone were essentially smartphone parts.
BI: Tell me about your drone company, 3D Robotics. How are your customers using the drones they buy?
CA: Today most customers are people with GoPros. As go GoPros, so goes drones. GoPros have really revolutionized the experience of telling your life. But the one thing it can’t do is put a camera on a crane, like a film director, that’s where our drones come in. YouTube created the GoPro boom, and GoPro created the drone boom.
We hear new applications every day. The creative ones are the most thrilling, the places they’ve taken them. The tops of mountains or spotting rhino poachers over rain forests. The stuff that’s always the most prized for me is the industrial applications, where I’d never think to use them.
BI: Will “drone pilot” be a common occupation down the road?
CA: We actually don’t use that word. We sometimes use “drone operator” or just “camera operator.” Our drones are just a camera in the sky. When you take a picture with your phone, you don’t call yourself a “phone operator.”
In a perfect world, you don’t even care how the camera gets in the sky; all you care about is the shot. The better we do our job, the less you think about the drone. You think about the shot, you think about the angle.
BI: What do you think of the new GoPro cameras, since you mentioned GoPros and drones go hand-in-hand now?
CA: I have a small collection of GoPros. That announcement video was jaw-dropping.
The most interesting thing was how many of those shots were taken from drones. It’s clear that once you have cameras of that quality, you want to get the angle, you want to get the perspective, it’s not enough. If you want to tell your story with Hollywood-level tech, you want Hollywood-level angles.
BI: What are you excited about for the future of drones?
CA: This is the first minute of the day for this industry. We’re just starting to see what happens once we take complexity out of the equation.
Putting powerful technology in the hands of powerful people is sort of the story of Silicon Valley. How do we make it easier? How do we take piloting out of the technology? How do we reinvent photography for an aerial age? That’s what’s most exciting.
Then what people do with it, watching people build on our platform is what excites me the most.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com