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The Feds Accidentally Mailed Part of A $350K Drone To Some College Kid 157

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the finders-keepers dept.
Jason Koebler (3528235) writes "A Redditor got more than he bargained for in the mail today: He was accidentally mailed parts to a $350,000 environment and wildlife monitoring drone owned by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. 'We sent a set of about eight boxes for this one aircraft system, and one was misdelivered by UPS. We're working with UPS to find it,' the federal agency says."
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The Feds Accidentally Mailed Part of A $350K Drone To Some College Kid

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  • Re:I know, right? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Monday May 05, 2014 @08:00PM (#46924543)

    Show me a model plane that has a 15 km radio range, autonomous GPS navigation, IR and visible light camera on a stabilized mount, designed to be reliable in hazardous environments while being handled by infantrymen, and can stay up for 3.5 hours. Then plan to build less than 30,000 of them. Complex systems and low quantities make these things very expensive. This is very different than a simple toy that takes a tens of thousands of dollars to design and hundreds of thousand are aircraft are made.

    Sell them to the government at a 100,000% markup.

    You even exaggerate or do you really think you can but an RC aircraft with remotely similar capabilities for $1. (The $350K is for the complete system which includes 3 aircraft plus spares).

  • Re:Stupid headline (Score:5, Informative)

    by digitalhermit (113459) on Monday May 05, 2014 @08:43PM (#46924817) Homepage

    Yes, that is true. Except for the insurance part. UPS doesn't really provide "insurance", per se.

    Don't be fooled by the optional 'high value' stamp, which allows you to declare a higher value. Rightfully so, it's not "insurance" but just allows you to claim the proper value if it is lost or damaged.

    If it's really important, ship it via a UPS customer counter or Mailboxes facility.

    I used to work there a couple decades ago. One of my roles was to process computer claims. Considering that many items can fall from belts and "Fragile" means "Throw me hard, please!" in UPS-ese, I'd make sure to ship any critical items through their desk with a proper declared value.

    Not that FedEx is much better. I think at one point they were but if you've seen what goes on behind the scenes it's a wonder that anything gets to its destination in one piece.

    Might as well talk about the USPS too. (BTW, UPS is not USPS; some are not aware.) I shipped a display stand once. It was a fairly sturdy unit, cube shaped, of some expensive teak wood with brass corners. It could easily bear my weight (and I am not a slender dude). When the first piece arrived, my aunt asked what it was. "It's a stand," I said.

        "How do you put it together?" she said.

    Eh?

    Apparently they'd shipped a piece of my broken stand with a piece of someone else's broken furniture. The label from my box cut out and taped to this other box. I still don't know what happened to the rest of my display stand, but presumably someone is wondering what the heck happened to the rest of their chair.

  • Re:wait... what??? (Score:5, Informative)

    by BitZtream (692029) on Monday May 05, 2014 @09:47PM (#46925211)

    automous navigation features cost you less than $500 for a fully working system controller including required accelerometers, gyros, GPS, compass and a short range telemetry system (only short range due to low output power). The flight controller doesn't have to be any different on a tiny little RC model all the way up to the the largest aircraft in service. The OSS software doesn't yet support orbiting but I suspect it will soon. The only hardware difference is the servos to drive the control surfaces and power output of the engines.

    Oh, and its open source ... and it probably does more than anything the UAVs you mention do as far as flight control.

    If you want the cheap asian knock off, its less than $200 from hobby king.

    UAV controllers are an essentially solved problem, its just refinement at this stage, and the hardware to do the actual flight management is dirty cheap.

    Communications are also a solved problem, the hardware is available already and is available to anyone, though it requires a operator license ... which doesn't come with the UAV, you have to get it yourself from the FCC.

    Optics are a little tricker, but nothing to justify the cost of these systems unless you're ordering optics like used in the U-2 spy plane, which your drone isn't going to be capable of taking advantage of anyway. For anything other than what the NSA wants, a gimble to deal with pan/tilt/stabilization and vibration dampening isn't that expensive either, though gimble and camera are likely to be the most expensive bits if you want high quality but that may just be my misperception as thats the area I know least about. Low end stuff that works as well as anything you've actually seen footage from (i.e. not secret stuff) is less than 5k and it will shoot as good as most movie cameras ... from thousands of feet up where you can't hear it at all.

    $100k is a ridiculous price. The communications/control system is a freaking PC with a high power transmitter, nothing special.

The bogosity meter just pegged.

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