tv Studio 1.0 Bloomberg September 12, 2015 12:30pm-1:01pm EDT
i did not see that coming. don't deal with disruptions. get better internet installed on your schedule. comcast business. built for business. ♪ emily: if he is right, one day, drones will be everywhere. chris anderson started playing around with robots in the backyard with his kids on a whim. now his company, 3-d robotics, manufactures self flying planes, helicopters, blimps, around the world. but his flight to ceo has been anything but direct. he has been a punk rocker, a particle physicist, a journalist, editor-in-chief of "wired" magazine for 12 years, and a three-time author. joining me today on "studio 1.0" is inventor, father, and founder, chris anderson. chris, thank you so much for joining us. chris: thanks for having me.
emily: great to have you here. i would love to hear about the day when you started playing around with robots with your kids. five kids, by the way. chris: five kids. it was a big day. as you mentioned, my origins were as a scientist. my wife is a scientist and we hope some day our kids would be excited by science and technology. so far no luck, but we keep trying. one weekend -- i was the editor of "wired," and these products would come in review on friday. if you promised to review them, you could take them home for the weekend. on saturday, we took home the robot and we put it together and program it, and when we were done, you get this three wheeled tripod that rolls slowly towards the wall and bounces back. the kids are like, you have to be kidding. emily: they were not impressed? chris: we have seen "transformers." where are the lasers? i was like, ok, tomorrow we go to the field. i flew a plane into the tree. total disaster.
i have to buy them ice cream. i was thinking how could that have gone better yet so what is a cooler robot then a flying plane? what if the robot is flying the plane? i literally googled "flying robot" and the first result was drone. i googled drone, and the first result was autopilot. i said kids, we are going to build a lego autopilot. they said, all right, one last go. we sat together around the table and put together the bits of plastic, the sensors, the processors, and stuck it in the plane. the next weekend, we flew it and it almost flew. the kids lost interest. i went down the rabbit hole. emily: what year was this? chris: 2007. emily: this was before drones were cool. chris: well, it was before drones were available to regular people. so there were military drones, but something had happened. in that moment, i got chills. it should not be possible for a dad and his kids to build a drone on the dining room table with toy parts. this was a moment -- 2007 turned out to be the key year.
so this hardware renaissance that you have heard is all started in 2007. the guts of the smartphones -- the chips, the processors, they were being made in the millions. the reason regular people were able to make things like drones is that the essential enabling technologies were now available to everybody. the question was, what are we going to do with them? emily: and by drones you mean something that has its own brain. right? chris: exactly. the drones are aircraft that fly themselves. you can if you want manually control them, but you don't have to. they have gps, they have sensors, they have cameras. what that is is essentially a flying robot. you don't need any skills. it is not a piloted aircraft. it is an autonomously controlled vehicle. and that means that you don't have to worry about how the vehicle is getting around. all you care about is what it is doing, the image, the video, the data. emily: once you decided you were going to do this, how did you start? where did you get the parts? how did you put it all together? chris: this is about 2009.
here is my prototype. i need to buy these parts efficiently. i had met jack ma, the founder of alibaba in 1997 in hong kong, where i was based. i go to alibaba, where do i buy wholesale parts? i need to buy electric motors for a blimp kit. i just sort of pick from the menu. 10 days later, a crate shows up on my doorstep. there are 5000 motors all made to my custom spec. and i was just stunned. i got chills that i had gotten robots in china to work for me, and they took paypal. emily: how did you go from journalist/drone enthusiast to drone company ceo? chris: so after i started this community, diydrones, and it takes off, people started talking about doing things together. designing drones. the software, the hardware, etc. initially, i started putting
parts into cardboard pizza boxes with my children. that was the manufacturing line. that did not work well. it was clear, you know, that it had to be like a real company. making real stuff, that was someone doing it full-time. i invited the smartest guy on the site and said, you want to start a company with me? and he said sure. first, it was like him in his garage. then it was him and a bigger garage and then him with other people. initially, he was 19 in tijuana, mexico, he just graduated from high school. by the time we started the company, he was maybe 20 or 21. by the time it was 2012, he had been doing it for a couple of years. it was -- the company was doing like $5 million in revenues. i realized he had built a real company with his friends, many of them from tijuana. and i am like, this is amazing. it is ready to go to the next stage. we raised venture capital round, i quit my job and took over the ceo role. and here we are. emily: how likely is it drones will be delivering my amazon
emily: what is the mission of 3-d robotics? chris: the mission of 3-d robotics is to create the world's leading uav platform. the reason is to take this technology and put it in the hands of regular people. emily: what exactly do you make? chris: by and large, we make drones, autopilots. we makes software. by and large, we make a platform. it's open source, anyone can use it. hundreds of thousands do. for brain you can put in a vehicle. emily: what are your drones capable of? chris: that is the exciting part. the drones started by being able to fly on their own. the big driver is putting go pros in the air, getting video. the ability of drones to take those cameras and pull back, to see not just you, but to sweep around, capture your life the way hollywood directors do without any skill required, for me, that is what drones can do with video.
in the commercial domain, to be able to map the world and digitize our surroundings. we can do 2-d maps. we can do 3-d modeling. we can scan any building anywhere with a touch of a button, turn that into a 3-d model. emily: what industries will drones revolutionize? chris: today, it is a consumer revolution, and it is starting to become a commercial revolution as well. the two big industries are agriculture, where crop mapping results and smarter farming and minimizing chemical use in farms. construction is the other big industry. we can only manage what we can measure. and how do we digitize the workflow and how do we digitize construction? the answer is to use drones to model maps, do a 3-d scan of these things, and so you can see the progress of construction, the deviation, the changes from day to day, without it even being there. emily: what is the coolest thing you have seen a drone do?
chris: there is a long list. emily: choose one. chris: one of the things we have is what is called a follow me function. as you bike or ski or whatever, the drone follows you. keeping the camera on you, orbiting around to automatically capture this moment. when you are done, push a button and it flies home. emily: what do you make of the interest of facebook, google, and amazon in an industry you have been in for eight years? chris: amazon is interested in drone delivery. and google is interested in a number of things, including drone delivery, but also using drones to provide internet access to the developing world. i think both of them are thrilling. they are great technology companies with deep pockets. this is a classic swords to plowshares moment. we are taking what is formerly military technology and putting it into the hands of civilians with the hope that the positive uses will drown out the old military uses. the amazon video going viral was the first time people thought of drones in a nonmilitary context.
emily: how likely is it that drones will be delivering my amazon packages? chris: your amazon packages to your home -- that is a ways off. emily: how long? chris: a decade. but delivering to a center where you could pick up a package -- so, warehouse the warehouse, we can do that today. delivering to rural areas would be easy as well. once you get delivering to an arbitrary front doorstep, that is a little hard. as the home delivery, the instantaneous gratification movement takes off, we could start to get the next generation of mailboxes where certain homes end up with kind of well-defined machine-readable delivery boxes. emily: you are saying this is going to happen. this will happen. maybe it is a decade out but it will happen. chris: it is happening now in limited ways. dhl has an experiment in germany where they are delivering pharmaceuticals to an island. you are going to start to see it happening in places with high-value -- small, high value
packages delivered to safe areas. emily: is there any reason it won't happen? chris: regulations. in the united states, it is not legal. emily: i know the faa is considering changing the rules. how are those conversations going? chris: they are going. the faa's mandate is the safety of the national airspace. it was designed around manned aircraft. relatively large aircraft, human pilots and passengers. what we have here is a completely different kind of problem. these are small vehicles. i mean, this is large by the standards. they can be as small as your hand. drones are now so small, flying so low and smart that they can essentially navigate the space themselves. we do not need air traffic control. we don't need to treat them like a 747. we are arguing for a sandbox. tell us what altitude, distance, weight, and speed. what zones and areas they are
allowed to fly in, and then create this open spectrum, open airspace. where we, the technology industry, can innovate with minimal regulations. emily: how safe are they and how how much safer will they be in the future? chris: the safety has to do with just the size. if it is the size of your hand, and weighs no more than your phone, even if it were to fall out of the sky, it is lighter than a bird. there is an intrinsic safety to it. if it were to hit your house, it would not do any damage. if it were to hit you, it wouldn't do much damage. again, make it smaller so it doesn't seem dangerous. the other safety measure is technological. putting in place -- these things are smart. they do not fall asleep. they are not texting. they are not distracted. they know where they are at all times. when robots are done right, they can be safer than humans. emily: how about google's drone delivery operation? how -- have you taken a close look at it? and what do you think? chris: google went with what is called a fixed wing airplane model, good for long distances. amazon went with a helicopter model, which has been vertical
takeoff ability and is good for short distances. both have their place. the google one is very smart. it has the ability to, you know, use aerodynamics to travel for maybe tens, maybe even hundreds of miles. it is quite difficult to hover in place and dangle a package down on a string and then land equally and vertically. i love the fact that google and amazon are doing this with different approaches. you cannot ask for two better companies to be innovating in this space. emily: does amazon or google win? is there a place for both of them? chris: totally a place for both of them. emily: what about facebook? facebook are buying drone companies as well. a different mission to connect the world. is it realistic? chris: absolutely. google has also bought a drone company to do the wifi in connecting the developing world. there you are competing with satellites on one level and balloons. google has mentored an internet balloon project.
emily: what's a better way? balloons or drones? chris: the great thing about balloons is they stay up for weeks on end. their natural instinct is to float. a drone's natural instinct is to fall. the great thing about the drones is they can stay in one place whereas the balloons kind of float around with the wind. i think there is a case for both of them. so there is no one answer. emily: do you see these companies on a collision course? chris: no, this is all complementary. this is the first minute of the day of the drone age. there is room for everbody. emily: how omnipresent will drones be in the future? chris: i think on farms they will be everywhere. i think we will increasingly see them in sports events. this is how cameras are carried. you will see drones over the cities. maybe there will be police drones, maybe they will be doing delivery. emily: how will they change our lives? chris: how does google street view change your life? you know you can open up your phone and see the world around you with increasing resolution at ground level.
you can see it from air level as well, but those maps were taken a year ago. to get that same notion of simultaneous information about the world around us, that we can see real-time high-resolution data. this can now be taken to the air. emily: how worried should we be about robots taking our jobs? or even a step further -- human extinction? chris: you went there. emily: i went there. chris: human extinction. ok. [laughter] chris: so we are looking at drones -- these are by and large doing jobs that are not being done at all. emily: there is the ups guy taking the package from the truck and putting it on my doorstep. chris: there is. i think that is going to be a ways off. ups is pretty good at what they do. when it comes to drones, they are doing jobs that are not being done. robots are good at doing jobs that are dull, dirty, and dangerous. these are jobs people shouldn't or do not want to do. emily: how much are these going to cost? is this going to to be economical for a farmer to have multiple drones flying over his crops? chris: today they cost $750. maybe in a few years they will
cost a few hundred dollars. you might not even by one. you might just buy the data. the cost of the drone is immaterial compared to the material to create it. emily: will robots ever be able to feel? will they have intentions? chris: we tend to assume that intelligence is defined by human intelligence, but there are other kinds of intelligence. the internet is much better than us at many things. perhaps it is already intelligent on some level we cannot define. by the time we recognize that computers are intelligent, they will have surpassed us. the singularity may have already happened, not just in a dimension that we can measure. emily: what about emotional intelligence? will computers ever have emotions? chris: i don't know. yes. depends on how you define it. emily: is that dangerous? is that scary? should we be scared? chris: i generally assume technology will empower us, allow us to do what we do better. but, you know, we will see. emily: what do you want to do with 3-d robotics? what's the long-term plan? chris: just to make these things
as easy and ubiquitous as possible. if we can put these in the hands of regular people, and let them do things, we will have won. emily: google and facebook have been snapping up robotics companies. have they tried to buy yours? chris: we talk to everybody. emily: is selling something you are considering? is this something you want to keep independent or take public? chris: we haven't thought about it. emily: what do you prefer, being a journalist or a ceo? ♪
emily: you actually started off studying physics, studying quantum mechanics. chris: i thought physics was incredibly exciting. i went to study physics, after failing out of college and doing punk rock. by the time i got through physics, physics had changed and hit a dead end. and so the golden age of physics was over.
basically everybody went to wall street to become a quant. emily: and you became a journalist. chris: and i became a journalist because my parents were journalists and i had promised i would never do that. obviously, it was in my blood. emily: you worked at two scientific journals, "nature" and "science." you went on to "the economist." and then "wired." editor in chief, 2001, i believe. just as the bubble had burst. chris: the best of times, as it turned out, though it did not feel that way at the moment. i think my career makes no sense in the big picture. but every step makes perfect sense. i went to "the economist," i said, i want to start on internet coverage. they were like, inter-what? i was like, it is going to be big. this started me on the path of writing this and chronicling this remarkable moment in our history. the rise of the internet. and then in 2001, after conde nast, this media company bought "wired," they called me and said would you like to edit it? i said, absolutely. it changed my life. this is the biggest story of our
times. emily: was it depressing? chris: super depressing. 2001 -- this was a year after the dotcom implosion. everyone was like, it was a hoax, dotcon. there was a lot of interest in seeing this all go away, not just because it led to the financial crash, but also it was very threatening to existing industries. i was betting they were all wrong. i was betting the bubble had been a stock market phenomena, not an underlying technology hoax. that the internet had just started, it was going to be as big as everyone said, maybe delayed by a year or two, and it was real. i moved here in the worst of all times. three great things happen when you take over at the worst of all times. i was sucky as an editor for 18 months. but because even the good editors couldn't get any traction, my failures were covered by the marketplace's failures. the second thing, it was a great time to hire talent. all the smart people had come to the silicon valley during the bubble. as the media had vaporized, they were available. the third thing is, once i did start to get traction, my year on year comparables looked
awesome. emily: what do you prefer -- being a journalist or ceo? chris: i think they are actually quite similar. running a magazine, we shipped a product every month. it's called a magazine. we shipped a product every day. websites, web stories. ran a team of about the same size. took ideas and packaged them into a product. and so, i think it is more similar than you think. the difference being that our factories were printing plants and now they make drones. emily: what is the myth of chris anderson and what is the reality? chris: i have been very lucky to be at the right place at the right time. i failed out of college. didn't do particularly well in school even after that. i think that there is no particular genius here. i think that this -- just very lucky to be at the birth of the internet in silicon valley at the right time. if i have a talent, it is connecting the dots. i have been privileged enough to see the dots early on. and good enough at connecting them to see where we were going. emily: you have written three books. will we see another?
chris: i am busy. i don't think you can run a company and write a book at the same time. emily: so of the things you have done, what has been the most fun? what do you enjoy? chris: what i enjoy is that every friday, we fly. we get together with -- we have an open house. people in our community come together and they show what they are doing. and every friday, my jaw is on the floor again. it is e-mails and spreadsheets and meetings all week. then on fridays, i see drones do things i've ever seen before. it is as amazing as it was in 2007 when i started with my kids. emily: what is next for chris anderson? chris: more drones, bigger company. getting more people to experience what i have been lucky enough to experience for the last five years. emily: how do you want to be remembered? chris: that i helped start an industry that changed the world. emily: chris anderson, ceo and founder of 3-d robotics. thank you so much. chris: thank you. ♪