Microsoft Now Lets You Build Your Own Drone App

Microsoft Mission Planner running on Windows 10. (credit: Brien Posey/Redmond Magazine)

Microsoft Mission Planner running on Windows 10. (credit: Brien Posey/Redmond Magazine)

November 19, 2018 | Source: Redmond Magazine,, Brien Posey, 6 November 2018

More than a perk for hobbyists, Microsoft's new software development kits (SDK) will -- for the first time -- give anyone who has basic development skills a way to build apps for an emerging class of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Those of you who are regular readers probably know that I usually stay away from developer-related content. Even so, Microsoft made an announcement recently that I just had to talk about:  the company is releasing an SDK that will allow you to control DJI drones from a Windows 10 app.

In some ways, this idea of using an app to control a drone is anything but new. In one of his Microsoft event keynotes earlier this year, Satya Nadella discussed the possibility of using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze drone video in real time. The example that was given was that a drone could be used to autonomously inspect industrial piping if an AI engine could be trained on what to look for.

Microsoft's new SDK will -- for the first time -- gives anyone who has basic development skills a straightforward way to build their own drone apps. However, Mission Planner is a versatile but seriously complex application. There is a steep learning curve associated with using Mission Planner for functions beyond basic telemetry. I have occasionally wished that it was possible to put aside some of the application's complexity while retaining those features that I actually use.

It's easy to dismiss this new SDK as being something that is only relevant to information technology (IT) people who also happen to fly drones. While I am sure that there will be plenty of hobbyists who take advantage of the SDK, I think that focusing on hobbyists misses the bigger picture.

Drones are basically flying computers. The drone that I fly, for example, has a full-blown Linux PC onboard. The drone's controller has a built-in wireless access point, and all communications between the controller, the drone and the drone app use Wi-Fi. As such, a drone could be easily classified as an IoT device.

Personally, I think that the SDK's real potential lies not in its ability to script new flight control algorithms, because that can already be done. The SDK's real power is in its ability to send data to and get data from the drone. This, of course, raises the question of what type of data might be useful.

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