This is why Thursday’s news from drone manufacturer 3D Robotics is so notable. The company is launching DroneKit, an API for developing drone apps. The masses will now have a chance to create useful apps for many drones, tapping into the technology’s potential.
“We want to encourage as many people as possible to use this and make it as easy as possible to use. That’s how you drive adoption,” said Roger Sollenberger, editorial director at 3D Robotics. “You make it easy, you make it accessible, you make it powerful. And then people make it useful.”
3D Robotics isn’t the only drone manufacturer to embrace apps created by outsiders.
In November, DJI, a global heavyweight in the drone world, announced a software development kit so that developers could make apps for its Phantom 2 Vision.
In February, it held a contest for college students to submit their apps. The winning app let drivers share the location of car crashes through WeChat, a messaging app. A drone would then be dispatched, photographing the accident scene. The app would share traffic conditions with emergency responders so they could take the best route to the scene.
Another app recognized in the contest photographed and calculated in real time the number of people in a specified area. That might prove useful for someone working in crowd control.
When I talked to Sollenberger, he spoke of apps built for monitoring football practices or farm fields. Apps developed with DroneKit can be used on any drone featuring APM, an open source autopilot suite from 3D Robotics.
“We’ll keep the drone up in the air. Now you just get to use your creativity and your developing talent to make that drone do useful, cool things,” he said.
3D Robotics will not take a percentage of the money generated from app sales, as is the custom with the smartphone app stores operated by Apple and Google. And it won’t review apps before they are posted.
If useful apps are developed, it will spur the adoption of drones. People with limited tech savvy could harness the power of drones without having to know how to fly them.
3D Robotics is already experiencing rapid growth. Its sales doubled in 2014, and chief financial officer John Rex told me earlier this month that they will probably triple in 2015. With U.S. drone rules for commercial operators expected to be finalized within two years, that will provide even more wind in the sails of the burgeoning drone economy.