Speaker Bios & Abstracts

This year, DroneCon included several plenary talks on two tracks: Technical and Applications. The Technical track comprised the first half of the conference, and covered the latest in autopilot sensing, estimation, and control. The Applications track focused on how people are using Ardupilot-based vehicles for survey, land and resource management, industrial, and other applications therein.
Below are the bios of our speakers and the abstracts for their talks.

chrisChris Anderson
is the co-founder and CEO of 3D Robotics and founder of DIY Drones. From 2001 through 2012 he was Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine, AdWeek’s “Magazine of the Decade” (2009). Before Wired Chris was with The Economist for seven years, and prior to that spent six years at the two leading scientific journals, Nature and Science.

State of the Union Keynote: How we’re doing as a community, a project, and a movement, and where we’re going over the next year. This will cover everything from platform adoption initiatives to accommodating regulation. The talk also includes an update on the DroneCode Foundation, and a consumer drone industry consortium.


IMG_0108-2Randy Mackay is one of the key members of the ArduCopter team. His obsession with computers began with a TRS80 and a book of Basic games that he had to type in himself—games that were riddled with bugs which he needed to fix before he could actually play them. He later got into RC helicopters, and the combination of the two passions, programming with RC, was natural step. Years later he received a BSc in Computer Science from McGill University.
Randy led the traditional heli part of the ArduCopter team, along with integrating optical flow sensors into the ArduCopter code, while by day he’d make financial risk management software for a Swiss investment bank. Beyond the traditional heli, Randy has added improvements in the magnetometer and sonar code.
Randy’s also a great example of the international nature of the community: a Canadian living in Tokyo, where he’s challenged to find open spaces to fly—but where there’s a will there’s a way!

hesterKevin Hester, Head of Platform Engineering at 3D Robotics, has been writing software professionally for 30 years and joined the APM developer group about 18 months ago. He has written Andropilot and Droneshare and contributed a bit of code for the APM and telemetry firmware. Prior to entering the land of drones, he riveted, wrote custom avionics, and flew an aerobatic experimental airplane. His engineering background includes stints as the technical founder of a few startups, an engineer at Apple (three times), and work in the Android group at Google.

Dronehub API Overview: The Dronehub API is designed to make it easy an open platform for programming drone behavior (on vehicle, on the ground or in the cloud). This will be an overview of the current API, future plans and then a discussion on direction.

weibelDoug Weibel
is currently working on his dissertation in Aerospace Engineering Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is active as a pilot of both manned and unmanned aircraft. Doug is a jack of all trades (but master of few, if any) and can claim to be or have been a NASA test pilot, air-show performer and national-level sailplane racing pilot, a registered yoga teacher and registered securities representative, a licensed insurance broker and auto dealer, a certified pesticide applicator, an Elder in the Presbyterian church, and a father of two awesome teenagers.

A 15-minute Guide to the Extended Kalman Filter
The extended Kalman filter (EKF)—and other derivatives of the Kalman filter, such as the unscented Kalman filter—are commonly used in sUAS for estimating attitude, position, velocity, wind speeds, and other quantities. Fully understanding the EKF requires technical expertise in several fields, including multi-variate probability theory and non-linear modeling and transformations. This presentation’s goal is to reveal the key concepts behind the EKF without resorting to more than high-school level math and physics. This basic of understanding of what the EKF does, and why it does it, will make using EKFs more accessible both for those wanting to implement EKFs and for those wanting to better understand how EKFs work.


hallLeonard Hall
is an RF engineer and Associate Lecturer at the School of Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide. He has significant experience working with defense and research organizations, with specialties in antenna and array design, electromagnetic simulation, RF system design, simulation and characterization, silicon integration and packaging. As a lead Ardupilot developer, Leonard is responsible for the copter control system and auto-tuning functions.

Talk: Auto-tuning on Arducopter [abstract unavailable]


fergusFergus Noble is co-founder and CTO of Swift Navigation. After graduating in 2011 with an MSc. in Physics from the University of Cambridge, U.K., Fergus moved to California to work for Joby Energy on GPS systems for high-altitude wind turbines. He co-founded Swift Navigation with Colin Beighley to develop a new open-source GPS receiver for autonomous vehicles.

Introduction to Differential GPS: High accuracy localization is essential for enabling the next generation of autonomous applications, but has typically required expensive and exotic sensors outside the reach of individuals and small businesses. In this talk I will introduce an affordable new open-source GPS system that is one hundred times more accurate than a standard GPS receiver and dive into some of the techniques that have made this possible.


jinoJono Millin Before starting DroneDeploy, Jono Millin was reading a Ph.D. in Machine Learning, after his MSc in Data Mining. He is passionate about technology and the outdoors.

Overview of DroneDeploy: Jono will give a summary presentation of DroneDeploy, offer a quick demo of what they’ve built, and discuss the potential of the “Internet of Drones.”



challingerJonathan Challinger is a Computer Science student turned APM developer who does independent log analysis and software development for 3DR. Among his accomplishments have been: improving the Attitude and Heading Reference System in the early days of APM; prototyping and advocating for APM:Copter’s inertial navigation; and conceiving of compass interference compensation.

Talk: Advancements in Magnetometer Calibration and Compensation Dronecon Program [abstract unavailable]


frewDr. Eric W. Frew is an associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences and Director of the Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1995 and his M.S. and Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University in 1996 and 2003, respectively. Dr. Frew has been designing and deploying unmanned aircraft systems for over ten years. His research efforts focus on autonomous flight of heterogeneous unmanned aircraft systems, distributed information-gathering by mobile robots, miniature self-deploying systems, and guidance and control of unmanned aircraft in complex atmospheric phenomena. Dr. Frew was co-leader of the team that performed the first-ever sampling of a severe supercell thunderstorm by an unmanned aircraft.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Communication and Atmospheric Sensing Missions Keynote: This presentation describes the Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles Heterogeneous Unmanned Aircraft System. The unmanned aircraft system is comprised of a fleet of small and miniature unmanned aircraft connected through a multi-tiered, net-centric command and control architecture. This talk describes components of the unmanned aircraft system, including different airframes, autopilots, ground control stations, payload sensors, and networking middleware. Emphasis is placed on the design of the system for in situ atmospheric sampling and communication applications.


mckinnonDaniel McKinnon
received his bachelor’s degree in Physics and doctorate in Chemical Engineering before co-founding Agribotix after being conscripted by the Denver Zoo to develop a drone for wildlife observation and capture. At Agribotix, he has worked extensively with growers and agronomists to develop both a front-end data collection workflow and a back-end data processing solution that quickly and easily gets valuable actionable intelligence into their hands. These efforts have resulted in the establishment of several concrete value propositions for drones in agriculture as well as numerous lessons for what works and what doesn’t in the field.

UAVs in Agriculture: What do farmers really want? The technology community has embraced UAVs as the solution to all of agriculture’s problems and inefficiencies. Drone-collected images can theoretically lead to reduced fertilizer, water, and chemical application; increased yields; reduced uncertainty; and ultimately increased profits for the farmers. However, while many of these hypotheses may be true, the advanced data currently being collected by drones is far ahead of the adoption of the precision agriculture technologies that enable farmers to act on the data. Through working with farmers and agronomists over the last 18 months, Agribotix has identified the types of data farmers are interested in and a number of different applications for UAV-collected imagery that any farmer can use immediately without strongly deviating from a standard workflow.


lefabRobert Lefebvre
 is currently a major developer for Arducopter flight control of Traditional Helicopters, and also does work in multicopter dynamics as well. He grew into this role in a less conventional way than most of the other developers, having very little formal computer programming education.  Obsessed with RC cars and trucks as a boy, he later started flying RC airplanes as well.  These interests led him to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ottawa.  An old-school mechanical engineer who prefers to get his hands dirty, he loves machines with their complicated workings exposed.  He is largely self taught in programming, but appreciates the generous assistance of the other developers as well.


Introduction to Rotorcraft Aerodynamics: Rotary Aerodynamics is a very complicated field which is chronically misunderstood. This presentation will cover some of the basic concepts that apply to fundamental design of rotary-wing VTOL aircraft.  It will compare and contrast multirotors with conventional helicopters, and present a different way of thinking about clean-sheet multi-rotor design.


miserChris Miser is a Former Air Force Officer with extensive technical, engineering, and program management experience in manned and unmanned systems. He earned a Meritorious Service Medal when forward deployed into Iraq to successfully repair an A-10 downed by missile fire. During his last assignment in the AF he led in-house research and contracted efforts for micro/small UAS development in the Air Force Research Laboratory Munitions Directorate, including development of the first weaponized micro UASes.

In 2011 Chris created Falcon Unmanned and shifted strategic focus to the civil UAS sector. Since that time Falcon Unmanned has become a leader in professional low-cost unmanned systems and has two systems including Falcon (fixed wing) and Falcon Hover (multicopter). Falcon is currently a provider to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the World Wildlife Fund Wildlife Crimes Technology Project, and its crafts were used in the Boulder Floods of 2013 and most recently the Mesa County Landslide.

Anti-Poaching UAV Applications [abstract unavailable]



JaimeJaime Machuca Mercado is the Co-founder and CTO of Droidika. After graduating with a degree in Electronics Systems engineering from ITESM Campus Guadalajara, Jaime went on to work in the automotive industry. During his almost 10 years with Continental Automotive, Jaime led the software development group and was responsible for several projects for Chrysler, Ford, Nissan, and GM in NAFTA before moving to Germany and leading the development of a fully reconfigurable instrument panel used on the Mercedes S-Class ’14.

Jaime is also a very experienced RC Helicopter pilot, flying since the age of 13. In the summer of 2013 Jaime decided to take a risk and mix his hobby with his work, and together with Felix Audirac created a new company dedicated to providing complete solutions with Unmanned Vehicle Systems. Droidika has since provided solutions for cartography, cadaster, search and rescue, and agriculture applications in Mexico.

Comparison of a conventional survey vs. a UAV-based survey in an urban setting: Traditionally a survey of an area has been done by using high precision GPS and by intelligently selecting points in order to recreate the terrain. Today, drones can produce similar results in a much shorter time and in more remote areas than traditional techniques. But how does one compare to the other? What are the challenges faced by drones? and what are the advantages over traditional methods? This talk will present the results of a survey done by traditional techniques, a UAV fitted with a high resolution sensor and a UAV fitted with a low-cost sensor.


coolahanDanny Coolahan
is an Australian cinematographer and an avid outdoorsman. He recently brought two Iris quadrotors to the Alaksan Chugatch to film a ski movie. Danny operated the vehicles for over one month, flying in a variety of modes and styles to get the best shots possible of the athletes. While there he learned many valuable lessons about operating rotorcraft in harsh winter environments. Danny will be sharing those findings along with a trailer for his upcoming film.

Talk: The highs and lows of flying and falling drones in the Alaskan Chugatch [abstract unavailable]


1066669129Andrew “Tridge” Tridgell has been working on free software projects for twenty years, mostly related to system software and networking protocols. Before starting to work on free software full time he contributed to the Samba project (www.samba.org) as a software engineer for IBM, and was a researcher and lecturer in computer science at the Australian National University.

Tridge got interested in UAVs after hearing about a local team entering the Outback Challenge at a meeting of his local maker group, and grew to become lead developer for APM:Plane and APM:Rover. Despite his considerable pedigree, Tridge maintains that his work on APM with the DIYDrones community is “the most fun project I have ever worked on.” He lives in Canberra, and delivered this keynote remotely: Autopilot Development Updates.