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With LEGO Flybrix, drone tech lands firmly in the mainstream

Drones, once thought of as military weapons, have taken on many uses on their ascent to widespread popularity – now, as educational toys. 

See Flybrix in action

What do you get when you cross slick aerial technology with the charm of a classic kids’ toy? A LEGO drone.

On Thursday, San Francisco startup Flybrix launched a DIY kit designed to bring drone technology to kids and young teens. The kit – which comes with motors, LED lights, and previously-owned LEGO bricks – doesn’t require soldering, and uses a smartphone app as a controller. Crash landing? Just reassemble and get back to flying.

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But all block-based fun aside, the kit may also signal a key moment for drone technology at large. Drones, after a long journey toward the mainstream, are finally and indisputably here.

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The basic kit, which sells for $149, includes 56 LEGO bricks, parts, and instructions for building a small, four-rotor drone that is controlled through an app. Deluxe kits, which start at $189, include more complex models and modification instructions, and can be flown with radio control. 

Flybrix purchases their LEGOs wholesale – both to keep costs down, and “to keep LEGOs out of landfills,” co-founder Holly Kasun told CNN. The iconic bricks have long been used as prototyping tools in engineering labs, and founders hope they can now use them to teach kids basic physics and aerodynamics.

“We want Flybrix drones to offer a sandbox-style of learning,” Ms. Kasun said. “You start with the basics and keep advancing your knowledge as you play and interact with it.”

Drones, once almost exclusively thought of as military weapons, have been used in many ways on their ascent to more widespread use – and not just as educational toys. In Britain, Amazon has begun testing its package delivery drones. Meanwhile, in California, farmers are using thermal camera-equipped drones to find leaks in irrigation lines and fight drought. Some even say drone racing is poised to become a spectator sport on par with NASCAR.

"A spike in the number of drones in operation and a dramatic decrease in cost are converging to create a tipping-point moment for the technology," as The Christian Science Monitor's Lucy Schouten reported in August:

Now that commercial drones are seen as rich with economic potential – including a projected 100,000 new jobs and $82 billion growth for the US economy in the next 10 years – initiatives such a mentoring program between drone-flying women and young girls, or another to train military veterans to fly drones commercially, can begin in earnest.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) first regulations for non-recreational drones took effect on August 29, an effort to minimize damage to other craft, property, and people as drone use explodes in popularity. More than 550,000 unmanned aircraft have been registered with the FAA since it created a drone registration system at the start of 2016. The administration predicts there will be 1.3 million licensed drone pilots by 2020, according to the Associated Press.