This is a slightly edited version of a post that was published on my personal blog

Once the purview of the military and spies, ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (‘Drones’), are increasingly common.
NEW blc aerial

Just hot air?

A few months ago the giant online retailer Amazon announced its intention to deliver packages within 30 minutes of customers placing an order. Despite widespread incredulity, Amazon backed this up with footage from test flights, and still assures customers in the US that they can expect commercial deliveries some time in 2015.

Dronalism

In February I attended the excellent News: Rewired conference where, amongst other things, I learnt that the term ‘dronalism’ has already entered the vocabulary. If you’ve not heard of it before, ‘dronalism’ refers to journalists using drones to report from situations difficult or dangerous for people. You’ve probably already seen footage but, if not, here are a couple of examples:

Own Drone

If you’re prepared to fork out several hundred quid, you can own your own drone. For less than £300 you can have a drone that can ascend to 100m, record and live-stream high definition footage to your smart phone, and even return home automatically. I’m referring to the AR Drone 2.0 here from Parrot, but there are other manufacturers and options available.

Opportunities

I’m interested in technology and how it can be exploited for good. There are loads of potential benefits, some which are obvious, and others which are yet to be identified. A few of the more obvious public service uses include:

  • Search and rescue
  • Policing – gathering evidence
  • Quickly assessing a potentially dangerous situation before sending people to the scene
  • Low cost ‘eye in the sky’ to monitor traffic congestion and problems like flooding
  • Low cost routine aerial imagery
  • They’re fun!

Drones are getting smaller, cheaper and faster. Some come with programming interfaces, so if you’ve got programming skills you can tailor them to do exactly what you want.

Threats

I’m worried that we might be entering a period when the skies fill up with tiny hi-tech drones. This could have all sorts of consequences which I don’t think we’ve thought through – if we’re not careful, this could be the beginning of a nightmare.

Right now you can buy a drone that will fit in the palm of your hand. How long before that reduces to the size of a mosquito? A few concerns that spring to mind include:

  • Privacy – no escape from prying eyes
  • Data protection – peering over your virtual shoulder as you type passwords
  • Personal safety – drones falling out of the sky
  • Danger to each other and other air traffic
  • Noise – individually not too noisy, but that could be said of the car
  • Pollution (think balloon release, but potentially much worse)

BlueLightCamp session pitch?

BlueLightCamp 2014Is it just me? Am I alone in having mixed opinions about drones?

I’d really like to hear what you think. Feel free to comment at the end of this post, or join the discussion in BlueLightCamp’s Google Group, or join us at BlueLightCamp on 10/11th May in Southampton – it’s free to attend and you can register here.

Picture credit

  • BlueLightCamp Logo and hashtag: Matt Buck of Drawnalism
Aerial drones – opportunity or threat?
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