When I arrived at the Swarm Love Nest, the first person to greet me was Eric Smalls.
Eric is a thin, short fellow who is in his third year at Stanford. I asked him about his autonomous drones project, called MANNA, and he immediately showed me YouTube videos of LEGO NXT robots he programmed that used sonar to escape maze. He showed me another video where the same robot beamed instructions to another robot so they could quickly make it through the same maze.
He followed these videos with another video where he is standing shirtless in an open field with a quadcopter executing a program that transmitted GPS waypoints via the internet from his laptop.
Eric Smalls (left) from MANNA and from Jon Bradford (right) from Tech Stars.
On demo day, Eric was one of the last to present — with a beaming smile and a quadcopter in his hand — and won the jury prize for his MANNA project from a panel of judges who reviewed all Swarm #1 class presentations.
Ruben Alexander: Can you describe the MANNA Project?
Eric Smalls: Our goal at MANNA is to democratize access to Personal “Smartdrones” & accelerate the creation of applications using Drone 2.0 technology. I love drones and mobile applications but until now there was no easy way for Drone developers to easily create and distribute apps like we do today with Mobile apps. I set out to change that with the MANNA Dove by taking Personal drones to the next level–connecting them to the Cloud!
With the MANNA Dove’s Internet connectivity and obstacle avoidance system, you can effortlessly launch apps directly from your Smartphone.
MANNA Dove is a new personal drone designed to self-fly & perform apps built with our SDK, a culmination of over 2 years of research and development.
What drone projects have you worked on before you started attending Stanford?
I taught myself how to code at age 16 by programming a LEGO NXT Robot to use sensors like sonar, light, motor encoders to understand the world around it and make intelligent decisions about how to efficiently detect and avoid obstacles–ultimately winning me 1st place in my HS Robotic Maze Solving competition.
My second project, “Scout”, combined the Obstacle avoidance system I developed with Multi-robot communication enabled by Xbee radio, allowing multiple robots to cooperatively solve a maze.
My senior year I competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge as project lead for [the] first time. [Our project was called] Developed: a telepresence and autonomous mission control system.
Finally, prior to attending Stanford, I was fortunate enough to intern at UPENN GRASP Lab, the most advanced Drone research lab in the world alongside researchers like Vijay Kumar and Daniel Mellinger –who at the time was developing multi-drone systems. At UPENN, I researched Mosaic modeling using an AR Drone and Computer vision to create 2-Dimensional maps of the environment.
Ruben: What drone projects have you worked on while at Stanford?
Eric: My friends John Backus, Omar Rizwan, and I won Second place at the 1st Drone Games Hackathon for writing code to simultaneously control multiple AR Drones from one computer. We wrote a set of scripts and modified the nodeJS drone library to enable virtually limitless simultaneous control of multiple drones.
Balaji Srinivasan and Vijay Pande challenged us to build a startup from the ground up in 10 weeks. [We] built proof-of-concept for autonomous food delivery via drone. [It] won best startup project.
For fun, I did contract work using drones to take aerial photos & videos.
Ruben: What is the final product you will deliver for the Swarm crowdfund?
Eric: Our developer kit for the MANNA Dove – the first self-flying Smartdrone, featuring Candid, a hands-free aerial photo & video app coming soon for iOS and Android.
We’re already hard at work, building a robust MANNA SDK that developers can use to integrate the Dove with their smart devices including wearables.
The SDK will include well-documented code, samples, and tutorials to make integration with any iOS or Android application as easy as possible. We’re also working on Dronenet, a marketplace where Dove owners can earn cash by sharing their spare resources, so that anyone interested in working with the Dove can get started right away!
Ruben: What programming language will developers need to know with the MANNA developer kit?
Eric: You will have the choice to develop Dove applications for iOS and Android. Example applications Developers can build with our SDK include but not limited to:
- Personal Security
- Personal Delivery
- Drone Journalism (future of journalism)
- Virtual Tourism
- Programmable light and music shows
- Search & Rescue
- Visual art design
- On-demand mesh-networks
- Augmented Realtiy Games
Ruben: What will people be able to do when they receive your coin?
Eric: MANNA Dove ($2,500 or equivalent in bitcoin) is an owner’s smart property or in other words a Digital “key” granting owners access rights to their registered MANNA Dove after verifying Proof of Ownership. Allows one to digitally transfer ownership and shared equity contracts.
MANNA Credit ($5/ea or equivalent in bitcoin) is an eternal reputation system applications, services become its own currency. Applications to Proof-of-Identity, Incentive system for
The MANNA T-Shirt ($25/ea or equivalent in bitcoin) [is a] can be tradable and redeemable digital key granting owners access rights to their registered MANNA T-Shirt.
Finally, MANNA will be releasing a Whitepaper describing our Cryptoeconomic system applied to MANNA Dove as one of the first real-world applications of Bitcoin technology. Sign up for updates.
Ruben: At the Swarm demo, someone threw in a FUD question about how drones can be used for terrorism. Can you repeat your response?
Eric: The Globalization of technology and Digital technologies are promoting international regulatory competition that we believe will provide welcoming & fostering environments for new Drone 2.0 innovation.
As designers & engineers, we’ve been experimenting with governance structures, and rules for ethical and robust socio-technical policy implementations. One example of this how low cost digital transactions can efficiently allocate property in the face of Tragedy of Commons. In short, a resolve is a trade-off with the potential of using coase theorem, cryptoeconomics, and low cost bitcoin enables low cost, instantaneous, and trustless transactions.
MANNA believes that proper rules governing Skyways will be essential for large-scale adoption of commercial and personal drones.
Bitcoin is more than a digital currency; it also epitomizes a model of thinking. Such systems have no single point of control and no single point of failure. We are currently designing our system inspired by the blockchain’s distributed architecture and similar agoric computer systems. POLP stands for principle of least privilege, pioneered by Marc Stiegler and Mark Miller; the purpose of POLP involves minimizing and localizing the decision making process for granting authority. Thus, traditional viruses and attack vectors become obsolete.
Stiegler summarizes, “the flaws that make SkyNet unstoppable are the same flaws that make crackers, terrorists, and warriors possible. The same fix that eliminates crackers can terminate the Terminators.”
Ruben: What are your thoughts on drones being used by the US for war?
Eric: US foreign military policies using such as The War on Terror campaign implements what I call a “Bandage solution” where one only superficially addresses the underlying problem – in this case, providing temporary stability, generally followed by period of revolutionary upheaval. As Noam Chomsky points out, US Drone strikes in foreign countries engender terrorism because innocent civilians are often caught in the crossfire, leading to a vicious cycle of conflict.
On the other hand, there is enormous potential to foster economic growth in the developing world by introducing “Drones for good.” Firstly, due to lack of an existing secure property registry, and secondly, because of poor transportation infrastructure.
According to economist Hernando De Soto, informally owned buildings in the third world amount to approximately $9.3 trillion of unrealized capital. Smart contracts can offer an alternative implementation of Secure Property Titles.
That said, we still need to address the second problem of transportation or the successful distribution system for goods & services present in any healthy market. In emerging economies, many people use mobile phones to exchange goods & services. Yet, due to poor road-transportation infrastructure, an Entrepreneur’s market reach is a function of the distance they can travel, often by foot. This artificially limits the formation of higher-level trust networks. Formalizing Metcalfe’s law and applying it to a Drone transportation network, we find that ”the potential value of a land transportation network is the inverse fourth power of the cost of that transportation.”
The combination of MANNA Doves and smart property implementations can jump start developing economies, by enabling local emergence and wealth creation on the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution.
In fact, De Soto has implemented similar policies in countries such as China, Peru, and Botswana, with success–turning would-be terrorists into respectful entrepreneurs.
Ruben: If drones take over pizza delivery, what will pizza drivers do?
Eric: So there’s three points to unpack:
1) The underlying premise behind this question is a fear that “robots will take our jobs;” this is known as the “Luddite fallacy” after the textile workers who feared that automated looms would displace them. Although automation did lead to textile workers being laid off, new jobs in other industries developed.
2) Man invented machines so he would not have to work. Thus automation is a sign of technological progress. If we fail to recognize this we can get caught in a perpetual cycle of misemployment. Instead, we must ensure our capital markets are designed to support continuing technological development, advancement, and the creation of wealth unlocked by the emerging robotics revolution. According to Marc Andreessen, “software engineers in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high.”
3) Furthermore, a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that, in 2020, 1.4 million jobs will depend on computer scientists. Despite its growing importance, computer science is taught in very few U.S. schools. A 2012 study, by the College Board, found that only 5% of high schools in the United States are certified to teach AP Computer Science. That number decreases even further when one considers computer science throughout K-12 education.
Ultimately, I agree with Andreessen’s conclusion that the only way through this problem is — not by outlawing innovations but — life-long learning and education.
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