Be Like the NSA and Build Your Own Aerial Drone
Courtesy Sean Gallagher, ArsTechnica.com
“What exactly did you say you were trying to do again?” the ranger asked me as we stood on a seawall at Fort McHenry, taking turns winding in hundreds of feet of kite string attached to a nine-foot kite.
The kite, a nine-foot delta wing, had landed near a channel marker buoy and was now a nine-foot delta wing sea anchor. Tethered to it was a modified plastic food container encasing a very wet Android phone that was never intended to be a submersible. As we pulled the kite in, I asked myself the same thing—what the hell was I doing?
What I was trying to do was replicate what the military, government agencies, and private companies typically do with satellites, aircraft, and drones: get a bird’s-eye view of the Earth’s surface and create a photographic map.
Instead, my attempt at do-it-yourself aerial mapping quickly turned into a fiasco involving a squadron of US Park Service rangers, a few dozen puzzled tourists, and the flagpole that stood where the Star Spangled Banner once flew. I only mapped the limits of my own sense of humor, the patience of the National Park Service, and the contours of the bottom of the Patapsco River. An effort I planned since August was starting to look like a complete failure.
Fortunately, dear reader, I am not easily deterred.