Riley Morgan: Drone Pilot and Young Entrepreneur

Drones Drones & Vehicles Robotics
Riley Morgan: Drone Pilot and Young Entrepreneur
Photo: Andrew Terranova
Riley Morgan at the Drone & Aerial Robotics Conference
Photo: Andrew Terranova

Riley Morgan, age 14, has the drive and intelligence to take him places. Most recently, it took him to the Drone & Aerial Robotics Conference, where he was the youngest attendee. He made quite a splash, getting to demonstrate his own quadcopter on the main stage. He also got to talk and exchange ideas with key attendees like Colin Guinn, Chief Innovations Officer at DJI, and Raphael “Trappy” Pirker, who is well known for his daring aerial videography. He made quite an impression for someone who just heard about the conference and decided he should go.

Riley has always been a maker. He loved Lego as a kid, and made all kinds of creations. At age 10 he got his first Lego Mindstorms NXT set, and that opened up a whole world of building and programming robotics and electronics. Later at school he competed and did fairly well in FIRST Lego League, applying all he had learned to solve challenging tasks.

Before the age of 13, he got interested in the online building game, Minecraft. Perhaps obsessed would be a better description. He built his own multi-player server, which he then migrated to a hosted server and began charging for access. The server became popular enough that he was able to make the $300 he needed to buy an Parrot AR.Drone 2.0. He dove into this new world of piloting drones with typical enthusiasm.

Riley Morgan's Quadcopters
Riley Morgan’s Multicopters

It didn’t take too many flights (OK, crashes) before he broke his AR.Drone. He started looking for something more robust. He bought a DJI Phantom quadcopter next, and kept upgrading. He eventually graduated from buying completed drones to building his own from DJI multicopter kits.

He flew his multicopters all over, every chance he got. People started noticing, and stated asking him questions. Seeing an opportunity, he started a website, made his own business cards, and planned to sell his assembled drone kits. He actually only sold one. After hearing the widely publicized news of a man who killed himself with a RC helicopter, his father became concerned and made him shutdown sales.

Riley's Aerial Photography
Riley’s Aerial Photography

Undeterred, Riley now he offers aerial photography services through his website, Storm Multirotors. If you live in NYC area and are interested, check out his site and contact him.

For his next adventure, Riley would like to create a weather-proof quadcopter to fly in the rain. He would equip it with a 3-axis gimbal mount for optical, infrared and night vision cameras. Perhaps even make it float for water landings. Riley hopes to approach local authorities to offer his services with this all-weather quadcopter.

Whatever Riley sets his mind to next, I’m sure he will continue to make an impression. With his enterprising spirit, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear more about this young man someday.

11 thoughts on “Riley Morgan: Drone Pilot and Young Entrepreneur

  1. jstults says:

    I think what this young man is doing is pretty cool. It’s a shame that it could result in a $10k fine from the FAA though. I’m not sure it’s quite right to encourage him to take this risk when the big boys are running scared:

    I will let other companies take their chances of being fined by the FAA, as I’m sure they are looking for an example company to kill.

    Drone Pilot Challenges FAA on Commercial Flying Ban

    Hopefully, we’ll get some sanity and clear legal precedent out of the Pirker case, until then it seems sort of wrong to use a sympathetic 14 year olds as a sacrificial lamb: “Hey FAA, we dare you to fine this kid because of his lemonaid-stand drone business”.

    1. rocketguy1701 says:

      Agreed, completely, on all points.

    2. Andrew Terranova says:

      It’s true that many people are concerned with the legal, ethical, and regulatory impact of commercial drone use. This was a major theme at the DARC conference where I met Riley. A key message I heard from the drone user community there was that it is important for the people that use and make drones to engage with regulatory and legislative bodies, so that we develop rules and laws that don’t overly stifle innovation and entrepreneurship.

      As to using Riley as a “sacrificial lamb”, that was certainly not my intention. I’m calling attention to a remarkable young man, which is something I’m proud that MAKE can do. I think Riley and his parents can make (and have made) their own decisions on what he is permitted to work on.

      1. rocketguy1701 says:

        Andrew, I understand that isn’t your intention, but the FAA isn’t exactly known for concerning itself with intentions. Personally I agree with you entirely, but that’s sadly irrelevant.

        Under the current regulations, what he’s doing is illegal and can get both him and his parents into some very hot water. The FAA has already started to tighten down on this, which is ironic since they’re supposed to have already finished with the rulemaking process to make this no longer a weird legal gray area where they can sort of make it up based on their current mood.

        The FAA has cease and desisted *search and rescue* drone use, which is even dumber than going after a kid with a quad, so really, they will not hesitate to stomp all over this kid.

        I think that openly engaging on this issue is a great idea, but that’s not what this is. It’s “cool” from our perspective, and over the line from the FAA’s. Is that good or right? No, but it’s a reality that you need to be aware of when exposing someone to enforcement actions.

        This is an ethical problem of journalism that I think you haven’t fully grasped, based on your response. It’s easy to feel that everything should be openly discussed, and by and large that is true, but you are, unintentionally, throwing this kid under a bus in this case.

        I would redact the article or pull the post entirely. I don’t say that lightly, because it’s incredibly irritating that the FAA is so dysfunctional on this issue, and it doesn’t sit well. But it’s really your only ethical option if you don’t want to incriminate this kid, which, factually speaking, you have.

        1. Riley Morgan says:

          There was no FAA “regulation” until the Pirker case, and even then, they just pulled it out of thin air: they didn’t have it put past anybody, vote on it, or even think about it. They just decided that if one sells video from something flying without a person in it, then it is an unmanned aerial vehicle and it has to pass standards they haven’t even put out yet! Plus, I’m not even charging for the video- I’m charging for the editing. I met Trappy (Rafael Pirker) at DARC, and we have exchanged contacts and talk a lot about his case and what I’m doing- The whole reason the FAA fined him in the first place is because they didn’t like the way he was flying and where he flew it, and there were no laws against it at the time. There still aren’t any, its a grey area. These FAA regulations were put in place in the course of about 10 minutes just to get what they think is a dangerous pilot out of the air. Andrew isn’t incriminating me, and I’m not really worried about the FAA stopping me from what I’m doing. I haven’t broken any laws or FAA regulations, and I’m not planning on it. I have an AMA license, and I’m operating completely legally. I appreciate your concern, but taking this article down would do nothing to help me, in fact putting it up is what helped me the most. I’ve been getting lots of emails from people in need of help building their own quad or people who just want to get into the hobby or filming side of this, and I just want to help them out. I’m not breaking any laws, its all just a fun interesting hobby somewhat pays for itself.
          Riley Morgan

          1. jstults says:

            Thanks for joining the discussion Riley. I think it’s great that you’ve got a plan you think will let you operate legally. Have you or your parents talked with anyone at the FAA to see if they agree with your assessment?

  2. Riley Morgan says:

    I haven’t personally talked to anyone in the FAA, but my parents and I have spent a lot of time researching what would allow me to do this legally and reading up on FAA regulations and policies. Technically, I could still charge for my aerial video and not the editing since the thing saying that if I do sell aerial video or pictures it becomes an unmanned aerial vehicle and need to follow new guidelines is only a policy, not a regulation or law. And man, this comment section is getting really thin hahah :)

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Andrew Terranova is an electrical engineer, writer and author of How Things Are Made: From Automobiles to Zippers. Andrew is also an electronics and robotics enthusiast and has created and curated robotics exhibits for the Children's Museum of Somerset County, NJ and taught robotics classes for the Kaleidoscope Enrichment in Blairstown, NJ and for a public primary school. Andrew is always looking for ways to engage makers and educators.

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