Ethan O'Toole and Matt Davis of 757Labs gave a very intriguing talk on an open source unmanned aerial vehicle platform today. Net-net, for about $1100 (not counting some of the foam parts and their time), they've designed an open source UAV. Yep, that's right--an open source UAV.
They've obviously given this a ton of thought--rotary versus fixed-wing versus payload versus computing platforms, and lots more. Here's the net-net--they've hacked together a Linksys NSLU2 core (running a 2.6 Linux kernel); GPRS/EDGE radios; GPS navigation modules; and a bunch of software, all with the goal of improving search & rescue and aerial photography (and more, but nothing Big Brother-ish). They're also adding an Analog Devices inertial measurement unit (for three-axis accelerometer and three-axis gyroscope user), although Ethan needs to get Linux running on the dev board.
And it's freakin' cool. A colleague of theirs is building a foam plane with a 12-foot wingspan, which will enable them to mount their gear, as well as provide a platform for nicely stable photography. Serious flyerage.
Needless to say, all of this will be remotely controllable. Picture an RC-plane. Make it big. Make it bad-ass. And do it for a fraction of the cost of what you think a UAV might cost.
Lots more here, at their site...