Drones and Boundaries

I have been waiting eagerly for a good press article on drones before writing about CES and drones, and now I’m giving up. There are no good drone articles from CES!

Drones are proceeding through cycles of innovation, citizen acceptance and industry use while constantly redefining boundaries delineating what technology is meant to do for us. This continuous boundary-testing makes the drone space a very rich space for studying how new robotics will change society, and what barriers crop up along the way.  You all heard about how the police refused to authorize drone use during a missing persons search, and one volunteer successfully used one anyway. Our sense of legality is constantly challenged by drones. But more interesting than slow-moving state laws is our relationship to floying robots.  CES featured all manner of new drones meant to follow the owner, even indoors– all while avoiding obstacles. In Robot Futures I talk about the robot smog that may be born of easily available, low-cost robots let loose in our public realm. Drones appear to be heading there far, far faster than, say, robot dogs and cats.  We all know Google Glass did not succeed swimmingly, and some of this had to do with the concept of cameras everywhere- of constant surveillance. An interesting question will be whether drones suffer from this as they pervade our public spaces– or will the fact that they’re a separate entity flying about, camera on board, mean that we don’t blame the user; we just consider the drone to be its own, independent agent that has an ‘eye?’ We are going to find the answer to this question in 2015, given how quickly drone innovation is proceeding.

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