Would you allow people to fly your plane remotely via a web service for a fee?

Hi,
I've been thinking of a web 2.0 startup that would pair up people with model airplanes with people who would like to fly them remotely via
the web from the comfort of their homes.
A video camera would transmit live video from the plane and/or the ground.
The owner of the plane would be responsible for the safety of the plane. If flight inputs coming in via the web put the plane in danger, then the owner can override them temporarily.
Flight inputs may come in from one person or a combination of people via some voting mechanism. Users who would like more control over the plane would pay more.
Has anyone done something like this before?
Would you allow people to fly your plane remotely via such a web service for a fee?
Amir
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Amir Michail wrote:

You mean sort of like an RC flight simulator, except that when they're going to crash I either have to take over the controls or I have to watch a whole bunch of work hit the ground hard?
Oooh oooh. I'll sign up. Right after I find a doctor to spend eight hours amputating my feet, toe by toe and without anesthesia.
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It's a way for people to make money from their hobby.
To make it safer, you might take over the controls whenever the airplane descends below some altitude, whether or not it seems to be under control.
Amir

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Amir Michail wrote:

Reminds me of the Video Phone, an idea characterized by Invention And Technology Magazine as "a solution to a problem that didn't exist".
More specifically, to answer your questions, I don't think I would be interested in such a service, either as a user or a provider. It's hard enough for two guys to agree to meet at the flying field at the same time. How would you get synchronized with your customers? What if you wanted to do it Tuesday afternoon but it was too windy? What if there were too many people on your channel? Would a person who is too lazy or cheap to get their own airplane hang in there long enough to wait for the channel to be available? I don't think that most customers would have the patience to get involved. Anybody with sufficient patience would probably get their own airplanes. I also don't see how a customer would find a real airplane in which they have no investment to be any more entertaining than a high quality simulator of the type currently available.
As a provider I don't think that I would be interested because you probably wouldn't be able to charge enough to make it worthwhile.
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Ideally, there would be many providers. So a user would just visit the site and see which planes are flying or about to fly soon.
What if there

You can have users pay more if they want to wait less.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, you could have a collaborative system where a large number of people could control the plane all at once. Depending on skill level, your inputs might have more influence than those from others. You could even turn it into some sort of game so that you are rewarded more for inputs that the online audience likes.
I don't think that most customers would

It's more accurate than a flight simulator and there's a novelty factor to it.
Amir

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Amir Michail wrote:

You'll be hard pressed to squeeze a dollar out of somebody for this idea. Having users "pay more to wait less" just sounds ridiculous to me.

You don't fly RC, do you? What you're talking about sounds like one of those stupid Nintendo games where you push buttons to make a surfer or skateboarder do stunts, which are all preprogrammed. Flying a real airplane is nothing like that. If you have ten people flying it, the decision has to be made which person is actually flying it. In reality, only one person can fly the airplane until it's passed to the next person. If one guy tells the plane to turn left, another guy tells it to turn right, and the other 8 people do nothing (which is a command to hold the current heading) the plane can't obey everybody.
I'm not the kind of person who likes to say that things are impossible, but I don't see how you would write a program to determine a pilot's skill and reward him with more control input based on audience appreciation. The whole thing sounds ridiculous. You're a programmer, right? In the world of computers you can do whatever you want to with programming. But when you're working with a real airplane, that changes everything. You suddenly have to consider real factors. How do you define pilot skill? And if the skillful pilot's controls take precedence, how do the competitors get a chance to demonstrate their skill?
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No, I don't fly RC, but I've played with X-Plane, which is pretty realistic from what I understand.
To make this idea work, I would need to find some way to get a large number of users involved with a single flight in one way or another. Some could contribute to flying the plane while others might just watch for example.
Yes, the details to make this work would require lots of thought and experimentation.
I wanted to see whether there is interest in this idea before spending a lot of time working out the details.
Amir

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Amir Michail wrote:

If you are serious about this idea your first step should be to get a plane and learn to fly it. It would be hard to understand what you're dealing with if you don't know how to fly. Even if it doesn't work out, flying RC planes is fun.
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Amir Michail wrote:

If you already use X-Plane, try this: Use a camera to capture the screen in realtime, use VLC to send it over a network, write a trivial piece of software to transmit keyboard/joystick control back to the computer running X-Plane, and try to fly. Since its for testing only, you don't need a fancy-shmancy setup. And using X-Plane you won't be losing money on crashing RC planes.
Jen
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wrote:

A remote VR flying experience with a buddy-box backup for safety......hmmmmmm. Very innovative idea, Amir. I'd love to give it a try. Looking forward to seeing your fee schedule.
Abel
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You can neither be a programer or a model airplane enthusiast. Step 1: Learn to fly a plane, see what reaction time you need to be able to fly it.
Step 2: Ask an experienced programmer if it is possible to even make a program that will support that kind of reaction time. It is not possible.
Also: If people can't get out of the door to fly a plane, then they sure are NOT MA enthusiasts. How many flying fields have electricity installed? How many of them have Internet connection?
Nice thought, and its good that you asked, but there are better ways of making money :)
Stefan Pettersen

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They don't have to be MA enthusiasts to want fly a model plane from their home in a risk-free and relatively cheap way. This would be for the "casual gamers" of model planes.

See the technology used in justin.tv:
http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/03/19/kiko-guys-back-as-reality-tv-stars / http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin.tv http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&taxonomyName=mobile_devices&articleId 15558&taxonomyIdu&intsrc=kc_feat
I don't know what sort of lag this has. But even if there is a noticeable delay, in a few years the situation will likely improve considerably.
Amir

melding
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Amir Michail wrote:

I've always been amazed at people who ask your opinion and then argue with it.
You're talking to a bunch of model airplane people because you wanted to know what we think. Now you know.
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Stefan Pettersen already pointed the main issues with the idea out.
Amir Michail wrote:

Right there you'll have at the very least a whole bunch of problems: 1. You need relatively high resolution to be able to recognize the plane and/or ground markers. High resolution means high bandwidth requirements AND quite a bit of delay encoding the video. I'd reckon you'll lose about half a sec right there. 2. Transmitting live high-res video reliably and without frame loss from a plane is not quite as easy as it sounds. 3. Forget "from the ground". You'd need someone to track the plane, or build an automatic tracking system. If you've ever flown on a sim, you'll know that ground cam helps zilch, since the window is too narrow to give any sense of where exactly the plane is in relation to the ground.

Uhm. Oke, aside from the video encoding delay, the transmission delay (from the flying field somehow to the server and then to the customer) and then the decoding delay... now you add even more lag by sending the control input back to the site. Do you even realize HOW much lag that is?

Sorry. You need to start over. VOTING??? Add even more delay? Sheesh.

Hell no. My planes aren't THAT fast, and even they are across a football field in maybe 4-5 seconds. I'd definitely not trust them to a "pilot" whose skill is at best doubtful, who has to fly with, oh, at least one second delay between visual and control input... wait, that's not hell no... that's a HELL NO! :)
There's a rather easy way to test most of that scenario: Take two computers. Put VLC (VideoLAN Client, free) on both machines. Take any video you have, and on one machine let VLC play it AND encode it for transmission. Now set up the other computer to receive the video. Set the monitors side by side and see what the delay is. Add maybe 1/5th of a second buffering (and that's very conservative) for some simulated internet delay and control feedback. See? Now, to get another important factor into the equation make sure you transmit the video (and optionally sound) in an encoded signal no more than maybe 300kb/sec ... notice the loss of detail? Even slow turns will be a blocky blur. Or, alternatively, look at the various in-flight videos on YouTube to see the crappy video. How you expect people to fly remotely that way is beyond me.
Anyway. nice try. Maybe if you find a plane that flies at a snails pace, takes eons for turns/climbs/dives, has a built-in safety to prevent oversteering in any direction and probably just puts your customers to sleep... yeh, then it might work.
Jen
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On May 20, 7:40 am, Jennifer Smith <jenni...@you-wish-you- knew.mine.nu> wrote:

You argue that bandwidth and time lag would likely be problems. Maybe so with today's technology, but the situation is likely to be different in a few years.
As for voting introducing lag, well that would depend on how the voting mechanism is implemented: you could count votes as soon as they are cast.
BTW, some work done on interactive audience participation:
http://www.monzy.org/audience http://www.cinematrix.com/whatis.html
Amir
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Amir, you are SO obsessed with this idea that it's a bit weird.
Please forget it... lol
Or make it happen and make us all look bad. I dare you :)
Stefan Pettersen P.S. I can just picture 10 people sitting at their computer around the world paying a fee to look at a small dot in the sky and voting as to wether it should go right or left next. That would truly be people with some kind of disorder.. (remember that after a left turn, you better go left again to bring the plane back :D )

ground.
is?
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Amir Michail wrote:

Rather unlikely. If you've ever followed the development of the Internet in general and video/transmission technology in particular, you'd know that there are certain factors pretty much putting the nail in the coffin of anything close to real time video transmission.
If you're really interested in the technical issues, feel free to go to any university library and look up the various dissertations targeting this specific issue. The various h.nnn codecs were mainly developed to combat such issues, but even they simply cannot overcome a rather fundamental principle of computing: To process ANY data takes time. To COMPRESS data takes even more time. You've got two conflicting goals: 1. Transmitting high-resolution, high-quality video suitable for providing a sense of airplane orientation and movement 2. Provide this service to a wide audience, which means limited bandwidth for transmission.
The two goals are mutually contradicting each other. You're right, bandwidth will improve over time, making it easier to deal with that issue. However, with current technology and CPU power I don't see this happening soon enough to validate your business idea.
The next problem you're facing is much more difficult to overcome: Latency. Basically, the best latency you could hope for would be a wire directly from your service to your customer, without switching equipment in-between. Now, most people erroneously seem to believe electronic signals (on regular wire, not talking optical at the moment) travel with the speed of light. That is, unfortunately for you, not even close. Thus there is ALWAYS transmission lag depending on the distance of the remote operator. On top of that you don't have a direct wire, there is switching equipment in-between. While modern switching equipment is rather efficient, it still introduces processing delays.
Do yourself a favor: Use traceroute and check the latency between you and a host on the other side of the planet. I'll bet you'll not get much better RTT than maybe 150ms. You think that's not much? Think again. There's plenty of ways for you to try out the effects of lag. I've given you a few possibilities in my last mail. There's plenty more ways to test this yourself. On top of that keep in mind that even just half a second is A LOT of time when talking about RC aircraft.

Correct, you can minimize the impact. Since processing is involved it'll still be introducing ever so slightly more lag.

I'm aware of such systems. They're not new and have been around at least since the early 1980's. You're missing the point though: All these projects have comparatively low latency because there is only comparatively(!) little processing involved. If you happen to have access to any such systems, try adding 250ms (that's only 1/4th of a second, a rather optimistic value) lag to the action and see what happens.
However, it's your money going down the drain. Go ahead and see if you can pull this off. It's certainly doable with a lot of development and all kinds of safeties built-in, but definitely not nearly as easy as you seem to believe it is. My suggestion would be to try this with a lot slower vehicles first (boats on a pond maybe) and then move up to, say, cars on a racetrack, and only if that works well(!) then try it with airplanes.
Jen
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This is an excellent suggestion! An R/C car on a track would be the way to develop and prove the technology before moving on to planes.
Dave
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Jennifer Smith wrote:

This comment reminds me of a conversation my brother in law related to me, between two co-workers. They had just seen an exciting action movie in the video store where they worked.
"Wow, how did they do that?"
"Special effects."
See? There's always a simple answer.
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| > Anyway. nice try. Maybe if you find a plane that flies at a snails pace, | > takes eons for turns/climbs/dives, has a built-in safety to prevent | > oversteering in any direction and probably just puts your customers to | > sleep... yeh, then it might work. | | You argue that bandwidth and time lag would likely be problems. Maybe | so with today's technology, but the situation is likely to be | different in a few years.
OK, let's assume that all of the technology issues have been completely resolved -- we now have perfect, hi-res video with no lag time. This will never happen, but perhaps in a decade or two we'll get close enough.
How much do you think people will pay for this? Once you take your cut, who will put their plane up on the block for that price?
Don't forget that this person has to be right there, `flying' his plane with the unwashed masses to make sure it doesn't crash. So he's spending his time flying ... but not even flying. I guess he could do his own normal flying when he has no customers, but then he's not getting paid.
Looking at the sort of people found on online games, he's probably dealing with a significant number of people who *want* to crash the plane. Sure, the owner can stop 95% of the attempts ... but that other 5% is quite expensive. I guess you could add a system to rate the users, but then they'd just switch usernames.
Griefing would be taken to a whole new level with people being able to cost the plane owner real money -- and best of all, it would be his fault! I can envision communities developing who's sole purpose is to discuss the best ways they've made these planes crash, and talking about how to crash certain people's planes. With downloadable videos, of course.
The owner has to pay for fuel and maintenance. (I'll assume that you will provide all the needed hardware and gear, though that's a big assumption.)
Most flying fields don't have Internet access. Many (most?) don't even have electricity. But with perfect technology, let's assume that this problem goes away too.
When I work out what I spend on the hobby, each flight costs an average of several dollars -- for spent batteries, gas, broken parts, the plane itself, etc. -- and perhaps I spend almost as much time working on the planes as flying them. You could reduce that a lot by using a stock, reliable system -- but it won't be much fun for anybody. People are likely to want to pay only for wildly aerobatic planes, though you might find a few who think this might be a viable replacement for learing with an instructor and are therefore willing to fly a trainer type plane -- but it won't be a good replacement.
I can't imagine you'd find a significant user base willing to pay more than $10/hr for this (and that's only the die-hards, who really want to fly R/C but can't. Perhaps they can't handle sunlight, are under house arrest, who knows?), and I'm hard pressed to think of many people willing to offer their planes up for less than $20/hr, once they've done the math and understand what they're getting into. That's a pretty big disconnect, especially once you take your cut.
It's an innovative idea, yes, but I don't see the economics working out.
Consider these people -- http://www.rcflightschool.com/ -- they offer professional flight instruction, which is probably mostly one on one, very similar to what you'd do. They will provide the plane. One week to solo, only $629. But these are professionals, and I assume very good at what they do. Your local club probably provides instruction as well -- but for free, partially because many students wouldn't even willingly pay a few dollars per hour. And one on one buddy box time is still rewarding -- but merely protecting your plane from online hooligans? Doesn't sound so rewarding.
| As for voting introducing lag, well that would depend on how the | voting mechanism is implemented: you could count votes as soon as they | are cast.
I guess if several people could fly a plane at once, you'd have a better chance at making the economics work, but really -- now you want us to pay $5/hr to offer suggestions to what the plane does with ten other people? I think I'd rather poke my eyes out.
I think you'd be better off making a 3D airplane combat MMO game and do away with the `real planes in the air' aspect entirely.
If the technology improves to where you can have full 3D VR, making it feel like you're actually at the field flying the plane, then maybe -- but then you'd still be competing with real flight simulators that have exactly the same capabilties -- and cost a whole lot less.
--
Doug McLaren, snipped-for-privacy@frenzied.us
I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.
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