Saturday Star

From a must-have toy to a cultural phenomenon


OF THE MANY technologi­es to have captured our imaginatio­ns over the past five years, there have been few with such lofty aspiration­s as drones. These high-tech flying machines have opened up new cultural pastimes which bring together hobbyist enthusiasm and a simple human curiosity to take to the skies.

In 2015, one of the largest commercial drone developers, DJI, was valued to be worth over $10 billion, while major media companies like Facebook and Google have been quietly acquiring drone manufactur­ers to further their aspiration­s of reaching the remaining world’s offline population by using high-altitude drones to beam down data through lasers, giving those more remote communitie­s a means of getting online.

But what are the big five applicatio­ns that explain the proliferat­ion of drones, or which signal important contributi­ons to our society? DELIVERY The great thing about drones is that they are small, fast, agile, self-guiding, and can carry things. Ever since Amazon’s first patent award for a drone delivery system in April 2015, we have seen new designs emerge and new applicatio­ns imagined, including the company’s latest aspiration to create a blimp-style drone carrier which will be able to deploy fleets of drones directly from the sky. Meanwhile, companies like Flirtey have received approval for commercial drone delivery flights, for items ranging from Pizza delivery to bottled water, emergency food and first aid kits.

Other designs have included life-ring drones, blood-delivery drones, and defibrilla­tor “ambulance” drones – the prototypes of which show great success and clarity of use. FILMMAKING In 2015, the world’s first Drone Film festival took place in New York, shortly followed by a number of others around the world. In the same year, the Drones for Good prize was launched in Dubai, creating an annual $1 million prize for inventors to come up with some of the best drone applicatio­ns. Finalists ranged from drones designed to map biodiversi­ty, to a search-and-rescue drone which was its inaugural internatio­nal winner.

Award-winning filmmaker Liam Young created the first film shot entirely by drones, called In the Robot Skies. Artists are even putting 360 cameras on to drones and tur ning them into virtual reality perspectiv­es, as in award-winning Marshmallo­w Laser Feast’s In the Eyes of the Animal, which uses drones, Lidar scanning, and VR to give a completely new perspectiv­e on the world. DRONE RACING The United Arab Emirates created the world’s first Grand Prix Drone Racing event, with British teen Luke Banister winning its inaugural event in 2016 with a first prize pot of $250 000. Since then an entire community of drone races have been popping up around the world, with the first profession­al race taking place in London at the 02 Arena this year. ENVIRONMEN­T Drones also have the extraordin­ary capacity to occupy parts of our natural world that no other object can. These machines have been seized upon by environmen­tal scientists to help us understand the natural world in ways that have never been possible before. For instance, primate biologist Serge Wich has been monitoring apes from above using a range of drone systems, while Neil Entwistle, of Salford University’s School of Environmen­t and Life Sciences, has been map- ping out flooding patterns in the UK to more effectivel­y help us work out how to protect ourselves against catastroph­ic weather. MEDIA Jour nalists have also been quick off the mark to use drones. The Knight News Foundation project is developing a Drone Journalism operations manual to help reporters fly ethically and safely. And in countries where there is tight media control, there is particular value in having drones to access places which have been decreed off limits. In Turkey, for example, an activist allegedly had his drone shot down by police when he was trying to capture footage of demonstrat­ions in Istanbul. HYPE? Among all these amazing applicatio­ns, there is also a lot of hype about where drones will take us. A lot is still very much in flux. Rules keep changing, freedoms to fly are being curbed in various countries, such as Spain, and there remains a concern about safety and how best to govern accountabi­lity. What’s more, it’s crucial to keep an eye on the links between the military and the consumer sector, as the overlaps are emerging – economical­ly and politicall­y.

There is already a push back against a world where we are surrounded by drones, such as the project No Fly Zone which lets US citizens try to protect the air space around their homes from drone intrusion. We also have a massive design problem in trying to actually work out what a highway in the sky might look like.

But one thing is clear, the investment capital is there to sustain these applicatio­ns for a long time to come, and there is no sign of the number of applicatio­ns diminishin­g, so there’s still a great deal of change to expect ahead. – The Conversati­on Africa

 ??  ?? A drone operated by DroneLinx captures videos and still images of an apartment building in Philadelph­ia, US. DroneLinx has a variety of clients who want aerial photos or videos but don’t want or need their own aircraft.
A drone operated by DroneLinx captures videos and still images of an apartment building in Philadelph­ia, US. DroneLinx has a variety of clients who want aerial photos or videos but don’t want or need their own aircraft.

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