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Over the decades I have designed, built and commissioned many bits of bespoke technology.
Most times, these projects are created for other people and to solve a problem that isn't mine.
Although there is still a great deal of satisfaction to be had from turning a concept into a practical reality that serves a purpose, the joy is just that much stronger when you're doing something for reasons other than commercial ones and the solution directly affects you.
And that's how it was on Sunday when I put my ADSB aircraft alarm to its first real test at the local airfield during an RC model plane and drone flying session.
How cool it was to hear the alarm begin beeping whilst we were all standing around paying it no attention.
And, sure enough, half a minute or so later, we could hear a manned aircraft approaching the airfield.
Checking the rather crappy "make-do" LCD screen on the alarm allowed the identity, altitude and distance of the aircraft to be read before the pilot called up on the radio to identify himself.
Although nobody was actually flying a model the first time the alarm sounded, later alarms served useful as a method of ensuring that all those flying were instantly aware of the approach of a manned aircraft.
All those present were suitably impressed and appreciated the fact that we'd just raised the safety of model flying by another level.
Throughout the day I did notice a couple of small bugs in the software, none of which affected its operation as a warning device, so some minor changes will be made before I release the software to the public domain. There were also some last-minute changes to the hardware configuration when I realised that the buzzers I had were not actually active buzzers but simply electromagnetic transducers. This resulted in some hasty PC board etching and soldering on Saturday so as to create a little "buzzer driver" circuit.
With this project now pretty much "ready to roll", I'll be encouraging other clubs and lone-fliers to build their own and use the alarm as a valuable extra piece of safety equipment. There is already significant world-wide interest within the model and drone flying communities. Most people are aware that safety is not the product of countless rules and restrictions but the result of having the right attitude and taking sensible risk management measures. This alarm is a valuable piece of that strategy.
It will be very interesting to see how the media deals with the release of this project.
In an era when vilifying drones is a great way to get eyeballs on advertisements, I have a feeling that my press releases will go largely unnoticed by the mainstream media. They will probably prefer to continue publishing stories about the risks of drones bringing down airliners and the dangers of drones spying on you through your bedroom window.
It will also be interesting to see how the regulators respond. The MoT and CAA feel very comfortable conjuring up sometimes ridiculously restrictive rules that they believe will contribute to safety... will they be as quick to embrace and recommend a piece of tech that really does something positive?
I predict an interesting few weeks ahead.
And yes, I did consider making a business out of this by building these devices and selling them (a *lot* of people have asked to buy turnkey units already) but the reality is that our nation's policies make it just not worthwhile to spend the time, money and effort doing that.
Since I'm persona-non-grata in the "old boys network" that hands out taxpayers' money to anyone with the right connections and a good handle on hyperbole, this would have to be entirely self-funded and since I didn't put my snout in the trough to claim funding from the CV19 handout scheme, finances are (as always) quite tight here.
Add to that the totally unrealistic cost of shipping stuff from NZ to other parts of the world and you can see that it's just a total non-starter. Yeah, I could get stuff made in China but that's not going to do much for *our* economy is it?
What a shame we don't have programs that allow people to leverage good ideas and commercially viable products like this to deliver *real* benefits to our economy. I'd love to see a bunch of Kiwis putting these things together and proudly shipping them to the four corners of the planet. Bah... I guess we should just stick to dairy and tourism... oh, that's right, tourism's buggered too! :-(
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