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I had the privilege to sit down and chat with possibly the smartest person in the drones and robotics space, Raff D’Andrea from Verity Studios.  Many of you probably already know who Raff is, but for those of you who don’t, let me give you a quick run down…and honestly I’m such a fanboy, it’s hard to figure out where to even start with this guy!

Raff is a former professor of controls theory at Cornell (four time world champion at the annual RoboCup competition), currently professor of dynamic systems and control at ETH Zurich, and founder/CEO of Verity Studios where their drones perform indoor drone shows for the likes of Cirque du Soleil, Metallica, and Drake.  All this after co-founding Kiva Systems (autonomous warehouse robots) and selling it to Amazon for $775M. Oh yeah, and somewhere in all that he did two TED talks with over 16M views, invented a self-balancing dodecahedron, several blind juggling machines, and has build a number of art installations…where does this guy find the time!

Who better to solve a critical problem in the drone industry that most people still believe to be impossible.  Here’s the setup: over 90% of all drones in the sky are quadrotors; this is because they are the most simple and efficient of the drones with only 4 moving parts required to fly.  The problem with 4-rotor drones is that if one of the motors/props fail, the drone comes violently crashing out of the sky. This doesn’t appear to be such a problem for people today when drones are small and only fly in controlled settings; but as soon as there are millions of drones flying over people and highways, doing real work on a daily basis, this becomes a major issue very quickly.  Many engineering teams are working on solving this issue through the use of parachute systems – which are great – but they come with several issues, such as cost, weight, and the fact that you can’t control where the drone goes on its way back to Earth. People are working on parachutes because most people think it’s impossible to fly and control a quadrotor with less than four working propellers.  In comes that smart dude we were just talking about! Raff and his team at Verity Studios have figured out a way to fly and control a quadrotor (therefore bringing it home and landing it safely) with only two rotors! This is some truly deep deep tech, and really mind blowing when you watch a drone recover and land safely after losing a motor! They are now making these algorithms available to the entire industry; meaning that all those quads flying around today could become significantly safer OVERNIGHT with a simple firmware update.

We had a fireside chat while he was in town for SXSW where I got to learn so much more about what they are up to…I truly think you guys will find this stuff interesting!  Thanks Raff!


– Colin