The world of drone games just got a little more interesting – there’s now a drone on the market that can fire nerf projectiles. I can guess what will be on every boy’s (boys of all ages?) Christmas list next year. Andy Shen, the creator of the Blast, shares his source of inspiration and the process of development. Get yours today and join the nearest dogfight! And stay tuned for more on his new, secret design to be released this summer.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m a professional photographer and an amateur bike racer. When I first heard of multirotors I immediately wanted to shoot bike races with them. I researched the topic for a good two to three years before I understood it well enough to pull the trigger on a build. I finally shot a bike race a couple of years after that, but by then I’d become far more interested in flying for its own sake than aerial photography. The bikes just take me to flying fields now, and when I crash there’s less blood and broken bones.
How and when did you get started flying drones?
I got one of those little coaxial helicopters to fly around the house, the ones with just pitch and yaw control. Then I got a tiny little quad, and the first time I banked it around in a turn my eyes almost popped out of my head. I flew that for a few months ‘til I could whizz around the house, and then in early ‘13 I built up a FPVManuals tricopter. That was followed by a RCTimer quad and a Flip FPV, and I’ve been designing my own ever since.
Where’s your favorite place to fly? What’s your favorite drone to fly?
Being a Manhattanite without a car there aren’t a lot of options, you learn to take what you can get. I’m more interested in flying skills than scenery, so I can make do almost anywhere, just give me some trees and obstacles.
The favorite bird at the moment is my new secret design – it’s somewhere between a plane and a multirotor and it’s incredibly fast and fun to fly.
What inspired the Blast?
You can read about it in excruciating detail here, but the short version is my nephews gave my daughter some disk shooters and told her to send them videos of her shooting my drones. I got the idea to shoot back, and after failing to come up with a clean way to mount a shooter on my Flip I decided that I had to build it from the ground up.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of designing it?
I built a little jig to test out the shooting mech, and once I had that locked down I drew up a quad around it, which CNC Madness cut. The prototype was pretty ugly and unwieldy but it worked great. I thought it was a marketable idea so I contacted Tim Nilson of Lumenier, who, small world, I used to race bikes with before we were ever into multirotors.
Collaborating with Tim was incredibly gratifying – the final product is so much better for having us both working on it. I’m really indebted to his superior knowledge on manufacturing and materials. The fact that he’s a juggernaut in the industry didn’t hurt either – things I considered hurdles didn’t faze him in the slightest.
We’d discuss the design on Skype, I’d draw a revision, and then he’d send me new CNC’d or laser cut parts to test. Sometimes it was full-on CNC’d carbon parts, sometimes it was laser cut portions of the frame in Delrin. Once we got close I flew down to Florida and we put in three good days of work on the home stretch. After I finished designing, Tim’s crew still had to spec some parts, like the custom wound motor for the shooting mech.
Who makes it and where can you get one?
What other drones have you designed?
I have a mini called the Danaus, which has fully guarded props but an AUW of just 580 grams, so it’s still quick and agile. I showed that to Tim while we were working on the Blast and he took it on as well. We finished it before the Blast and it turned out to be the first product of Lumenier Labs.
I also have a mini frame that’s only 70 grams and builds up to 440 grams, including Mobius and battery. I’m working on a bamboo mini that builds up like a puzzle without glue or hardware, and could potentially retail for as little as $35. It’s also a featherweight at 456 grams. I’ve designed my own gimbaled aerial photography rig, a fun fly 350 quad, several failed VTails…it’s a compulsion that has no end. You can read about them on my site.
Do you have any other projects/ideas in the works? When do you expect those to be produced?
The one I’m obsessed with at the moment is the secret one I mentioned earlier. There’s a 250 and a 350 version, and I’m getting them out to test pilots. It’s really radical and unbelievably thrilling to fly, and I certainly wouldn’t want to race against it. I’m hoping it’ll be released by the summer.
Thanks for sharing with us! Is there anything else we didn’t ask that you want to mention?
I just want to say how exciting it is for us all now, to be involved in such an interesting field in its infancy. Innovation is happening at such a high rate it’s dizzying to keep up. Not only am I having a blast (wordplay!) I’m learning so much every day I feel like I’ve gotten ten times smarter since I started!
Follow Andy Shen, it’s the cool thing to do:
- Handmade Drone Ornament - July 15, 2019
- Data Visualization and Analytics: Q&A with Jan Wouter Kruyt of Propeller Aero - November 7, 2018
- End-to-End Drone Mapping Solutions – Q&A on eBee X and ANAFI Work - October 29, 2018
- 3D Sensing Solutions – Q&A with Cepton Technologies - October 26, 2018
- Would You Rather: Race a Car or Race a Drone - July 18, 2018