Groupon Hosts the First Drone Games

Close to 30 hackers launched their programmable quadcopters over a cheering crowd at the first ever Drone Games, a flying drone competition for Silicon Valley’s developer community at Groupon San Francisco this past Saturday.

Helicopter on a leash.

The prizes went to James Halliday, team Stanford (Eric Smalls, John Backus & Omar Ritzwan), and Nathan Rajlich. “We looked at three factors: first, was the idea unique? Second, how difficult was the technical challenge? And thirdly, execution: did the demo actually work?” said Chris Anderson of Wired and 3D Robotics who headed the panel of judges. Also judging were Dale Dougherty of Make: magazine, Gever Tulley of Brightworks, Andreas Raptopoulos of Matternet, and Drew Olanoff of TechCrunch.

Winners of the First Drone Games

In a huge step for drone security, winner James Halliday demonstrated a drone that could take over other drones by infecting them with a virus. Stanford students Eric Smalls, John Backus and Omar Ritzwan came in second with their swarm of AR drones controlled by a single computer. Bronze medalist Nathan Rajlich liberated his AR drone from the confines of Wi-Fi with his hack to fly it using the cellular network, promising remote control over long distances.

Among the other demos showcased were hacks for facial recognition (Mark Harrison of Pixar), hand gesture control (Twitter team), hovering above moving objects (Stanford team), and a drone retrofitted with an Arduino-controlled robotic arm (Max Ogden). Groupon engineers Ulf Schwekendiek, Tuomas Artman, Hung Dao and Thavidu Ranatunga demonstrated a drone that tweeted photos of the faces it recognized.

Drone Games 2012 Judges and Organizers

The impact of these hacks could be far-reaching. Developers no longer need a PhD and security clearance to write software for flying drones. The same functions every Web programmer uses to build apps can now make drones navigate, take pictures, find people, fly through windows, and play games. Could drones deliver mail, transport items and even people? Ideas like these are no longer the exclusive domain of science fiction writers. Even if they sound far fetched, the Drone Games convinced me of one thing: the worldwide community of hackers can push the edge of what is possible further much faster than any single group or organization.

Jyri Engestrom
Director of Product Management and Drone Games co-organizer

Click through to see the final standings:

1st Place – James ‘Substack’ Halliday
Dronebotnet

2nd Place – Team Stanford (Eric Smalls, John Backus, Omar Rizwan)
Synchronized Drones

3rd Place – Nathan Rajlich (aka Too Tall Nate)
Air Drones over Mifi

Other demos:

Groupon Team: Tuomas, Ulf, Hung & Thivadu
Drone on a leash that followed it’s ‘owner’ while capturing photos of faces and immediately sending out to Twitter!

Max Ogden
The ‘CatCopter’ – Arduino-controlled robotic claw arm that works on a continuous open-close loop.

Mark Harrison
Using a NodeJS server on a laptop, this team installed virtual joysticks in the app which served as a remote. They also enabled facial recognition capabilities using the camera in the drone.

David Chen demonstrating fist detection by helicopter.

David Chen [and Twitter clan]
Hacked drone to find a feature (this instance a fist) to follow, allowing it’s user to control the direction of it’s flight by hand rather than requiring a remote.

Team Stanford 2: Vishesh Gupta, Marty Hu, Steven Wu
Clock recognition capability designed to allow the drone’s camera to see a clock and hover over that image. Yes, that’s right, a clock. The team, however, experienced some latency issues – the drone would take off, move it’s position away from the clock, then didn’t quite come back…

Kieran Farr & Xavier Damman
Hacked drone as a steady-cam/camera to move with it’s user and broadcast using facial recognition capabilities. Drone was also able to determine the ‘size’ of a face (way to measure distance) to determine whether to come in closer or back away.

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