It’s a shame that in the same week that a drone was delivering medical supplies to a remote clinic in rural Virginia, the focus of the media was on the way that that drone owners were thwarting firefighters’ efforts to douse forest fires in drought hit California.
Their presence in the area was preventing the fire department flying their helicopters for safety reasons, therefore putting lives at risk. But maybe this story reflects the general sense of unease that some have about this emerging technology.
Certainly early in their development as a consumer product, the main focus has not been on what they can do for us but rather about what they can do to us – the implications of drones being used to invade our privacy, in particular.
This bears striking resemblance to the world of mobile phones. These devices, suddenly everywhere, were feared as a destroyer of personal time, privacy and the ultimate tool of government snooping. Years later many of us can’t imagine life without these devices, are drones just the latest in a line of technology becoming more present and useful in our lives?
While privacy concerns are perfectly legitimate and the actions of a few Californian hobby dronists were undoubtedly stupid, they represent just the minority of users. They also ignore the significant societal good that the use of such technology provides us.
The delivery of vital medicine to the rural outpost was described as being a ‘Kitty Hawk moment” by the drone-delivery company Flirtey Inc, which made the drop. Referring to the Wright brothers’ first successful aeroplane flight might seem overblown but it reflects how drones, which may have been around a while yet, are still an emerging technology. Equally providing a boost to public confidence, as the Wright brothers also achieved, could help shift public perceptions of drones as either playthings for those intent on infringing privacy or pieces of war kit for picking off terrorists. This could be their watershed moment.
The list of potential applications for drones is awesome – agriculture, meteorology, film-making, viticulture, geological mapping, border security, photojournalism and logistics have all already been identified as areas where drones could have profoundly beneficial area on our lives. Indeed many companies are already involved in providing these services.
But as the technology becomes more advanced and people feel more comfortable with their use (dispelling anxiety about their use as snooping devices or as state-sponsored weapons of destruction), drones could also develop into gaming, entertainment and sporting devices. There has even been the suggestion that they could become an essential part of a marketers armory, for projecting advertising messages in front of a target audience or for using to create multimedia formations with swarms of drones coming together to create a three-dimensional logo.
In truth, the potential opportunities for drones are only limited by the imagination. Just as in the world of mobile phones, as they became more a part of our lives, people may find more ‘good uses’ for them than bad, it’s surely only a matter of time before our collective imagination is fully unleashed.