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Boffins showcase do-it-yourself flying spy drone

Aerial surveillance on the cheap

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French engineering students have designed a do-it-yourself unmanned aerial vehicle that can provide high-resolution, geo-referenced surveillance images in real time.

At the Defcon hacking conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, Antoine Gademer and Corentin Chéron, two of the students from l'Ecole Supérieure d'Informatique Electronique Automatique in Paris, demonstrated a slimmed-down version of their low-cost spying quadrotor. To the amusement of many, the 27-inch UAV flew high above a parking lot adjacent to the Riviera Hotel as it used its bird's eye view to shoot video of unwary passersby below.

The vessel is controlled in real time by remote control and can rise more than 250 feet in the air. It weighs about 3.5 pounds and can carry a payload of about 2.2 pounds. Toting a digital camera that was modified to make it lighter and more responsive, the vehicle cost about €5,000 to build. That includes the quadrotor, batteries, the remote-control transmitter, camera, and a ground station to communicate with the UAV.

A video of what your reporter saw is below.

Back in Paris, the engineering team has a more advanced version of its improvised spy vehicle. It sports three cameras whose orientation can be remotely controlled to shoot 12 megapixel geo-referenced images. That allows people on the ground to see three points of view that can be blended into a mosaic image if desired. Video streaming beams the images back to the ground as they're being taken. In all, the students have spent about €17,000 on the project.

No doubt, aerial spy drones are nothing new. But as the demo shows, they're quickly coming within the reach of geeks and hackers everywhere. ®

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