Yes, I meant heavier than air, I thought heavier than air, I wanted to make the distinction to allow from not-heavier than air which had prior history and existence, and I slipped and _wrote_ lighter than air. I see I made a number of other typos in that post.
I was pretty impassioned at that point. I knew the Wrights had been treated badly. I had just found out how badly. I just didn't know how very applicable their plight was, their loss of legal rights, to what I was saying was the likely results of DARPA GC, until I read that paragraph about the government setting aside their patent rights.
Perhaps the difference between me and others here, is in my 3+ years as an officer in the navy, in my year and a half at Comptek Research as an engineer, in my 3+ years at Rockwell International as a scientist (with much less exposure to the military), in my 5 year ordeal with my own company, selling tank fire simulators to the Army (which bankrupt the prime, and took me years to finally get paid for what the Army went ahead and used immediately anyway).
BTW, I think one of those big companies eventually got the contract to maintain the boxes I built. I went down and gave a presentation to about a dozen engineers who tried to pick apart my design, unsuccessfully I might add. I'm sure they were paid more to maintain that equipment, than I was to design and build it. And remember, I still wasn't even fully paid for several more years.
In my many discussions with my 75 yo co-worker, Bill Stewart, who worked for E-systems among others, I don't recall every hearing a story about a contract with the military that went smoothly, with no law suites, and no chicanery, with no privileged information getting passed around where it shouldn't have been, with no competitors ripping off ideas. Not one example. None. Maybe the stories where things went right just aren't worth telling. But his experiences parallel my experiences.
Let me tell you about just one of Bill's stories. Did you know we had the equivalent of the Preditor and Global Hawk in the early '60s? The company Bill worked for, on their own dollar, came up with an RC plane made on a Switzer glider (iirc). They demonstrated it for the military. It was a working system. Tremendous range and duration. Since they were the only ones that had it, the military said they couldn't buy it from them as a single source. They forced them to turn over plans to their competitors so they could have a competition to see who could build the best one. (Remember, the military didn't fund this project, it was a private development.) After the competition, they awarded the contract to the competitor, and the competitor muffed it. Millions later it was cancelled. Tthe Army pilots didn't like to shown up by a pilotless vehicle, so they fought it. The company who made it, never got a dime.
So I have some, but still limited, exposure to such matters compared to most government contractors, and this is only my experience.
I passed it along before, and now after, our little robot community answered the call to avarice and fame. I want us to have our eyes wide open.
I haven't said much about it before, but half a dozen of our products (of those we know about) went into the race in multiple teams. We know because some took weeks of support with us chasing phantom problems, some of which seemed native to the platform they were installed in, an environment beyond what the design was envisioned for. Yet we overcame them. While this improved our products, and we appreciate that, the support also had a real dollar cost us, far exceeding our total sales dollars, let alone anything like profits.
Many of these competitiors asked us to donate our products, to sponsor their teams. I felt I had to remain impartial since several teams were using our products, and of course I felt I would not give away things to a cause I saw as bogus from the outset.
I was offered half the prize to be come the lead programmer on one of the teams for the second race by one of the vehicles that showed great promise in the first race. I seriously considered it. But eventually I turned it down on principle.
So to this extend, I am not a disinterested party. I have (minorly) less money in my pocket today, because DARPA came up with a get rich scheme. Not only am I actually (marginally) poorer, the contest also distracted my customers from their intended useful tasks, and left them all jubilant at the great competition, but flat broke. Without cash flow from their efforts, they weren't customers any more were they?
Think about opportunity loss. It's like we lost several years of our intellectual "children" sacrificed on the alter of non-profit. If all these racers were designing new products, and if they'd bought a few boards from me (or any other supplier in our industry for that matter) wouldn't some of them be coming back for some small volume sales by now? Yes, usually, volume sales follow prototype sales. Do I expect a flood of sales now for the new fleet of DARPA inspired autonomous vehicles about to come streaming out of American factories? No. There's been talk, but I'm not holding my breath.
Likewise, I think our entire industry felt the effects. If you see robot suppliers cutting back, or folding, think what DARPA might have had to do with it. Will Servo Magazine survive? Well... I won't speak for them, but where are the nifty articles from DARPA research? Where are the inspiring projects from DARPA research? Or were all our guys out building dessert dust buggies instead of writing? And just how is cash flow at T&L Publications? Sorry to say, I haven't done them justice, although I don't owe them anything right now. But I stopped advertizing a year ago, and just now placed a couple test ads. Gather many others are in same boat.
So how do we recoup our investments? No one in our industry made a profit here (maybe Sick lasers). Even the guys who won $2 million, lost $8 million doing so. No profit there. How as an industry do we rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Darpa??? I, for one, have no desire to be turning into a full time government supplier again. Experience is what you get, when you don't get what you want. I'm experienced. Is that what you competitors see for your future?
If history repeats, anyone who wants (meaning the existing contractors who already took a billion dollars to produce almost nothing) can copy all that was done out of the required white papers (and again sell that for more billions of dollars, because the cost isn't about what is made, but what it costs to get the business).
If that violates a patent, since this is a time of war, that little detail can just be set aside, just as history teaches us. They have the connections to get the lucrative government contracts, and the vast staff to handle all the make-work paperwork the government saddles them with, and know how to grease the buyers with the right kind of.. what... answers? assurances? golf outings? (maybe "kickbacks"? or however it works, I was never sure, but it didn't seem to be low bid).
Nope, I made a decision a long time ago to stay away from supplying the military as my primary business, for the sake of keeping my soul and sanity, in for none other. I also shun get rich quick schemes, whether it is a letter from Nigeria, any sort of Ponzi scheme, or an invite to a contest by DARPA. I look on both with the same kind of suspicion. None deserve my time and life's blood. I'm saddened to see it was taken out of our industry and by the way it was done.No, overall, I don't think DARPA GC was a good thing.
Randy M. Dumse
Caution: Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
Randy M. Dumse
Caution: Objects in mirror are more confused than they appear.
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