Photo of Jordi Muñoz Bardales

Computer & electronics hardware

Jordi Muñoz Bardales

Open source technology for low-cost aerial robots

Year Honored

Latin America

Hails From

"A 21-year-old Mexican faces another tedious day of confinement in his apartment in Riverside, California, waiting to obtain a Green Card, the residency card that will allow him to study, look for work or obtain a driver’s license in the United States.

March 2007 passes, and Jordi Muñoz, a computer enthusiast who as a child dreamed of becoming a pilot, has just moved across the border with his wife, leaving behind his engineering studies at the Center of Technical and Higher Education of Baja California (Mexico). “I was bored a lot at home, so I started playing with chips and controllers; I spent hours experimenting with the code, browsing and reading on the computer,” recalls Muñoz.

That was how Muñoz discovered DIY Drones, a forum where thousands of fans can build their own unmanned aerial vehicles (the so-called drones) and share their experiences, libraries of code that are constantly under development and adapt to every need, and of the technical specifications for the electronic components used to manufacture their prototypes.

Immersed in this substrate of broad, up-to-date knowledge, Muñoz not only progressed as a developer but he also inherited the collaborative and open philosophy on which he has based his career as an entrepreneur, but he also made important contacts.

His homemade experiments attracted the attention of Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired magazine, who saw a video in which Muñoz flew a helicopter using an Arduino board (an open electronic platform) and the controller for a Wii console that he had reprogrammed.

Impressed by this, Anderson contributed with a small amount of funding and Muñoz manually manufactured 40 units of his invention. Thus was born 3D Robotics, a company that employs 20 people and, according to its estimates, will generate $4.8 million dollars (EUR 3.6 million) in profit by the end of this year.

This company, of which Muñoz is the executive director, sells electronic accessories for amateurs who build drones in their garage, or for university professors who want their engineering students learn to design robots. Their best selling product is the Ardupilot system, a low cost, easy to use automatic pilot. ""For about $200 people can have a high-tech system at their disposal that could have cost thousands,"" explains Muñoz. ""In addition, since it has an open source, they can play with it and see, in real-time, the response to their changes"".

Alongside educational applications, these unmanned aircrafts (or its parts) have proven useful for an infinite number of purposes: to use a small drone instead of chartering a helicopter lowers the cost of surveillance missions, the monitoring of migratory animals or inspection of archaeological sites."