It’s a forgone conclusion about the near future: drones will be everywhere, doing everything. The sky will be thick with light plastic flying machines whirring around, emitting broadband internet, protecting us from pollution and getting us home after work.
We're not there yet, but drones are already widely used, and not just for fighting wars, delivering online shopping or walking dogs (or delivering pizza). Here are five unexpected ways people are already using drones:
To teach journalists how to use drones to report stories which they can't get to in person or are too dangerous to cover at close range, two US colleges are offering courses in drone journalism. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Drone Lab and the University of Missouri’s Missouri Drone Journalism Program are teaching students how to fly drones, navigate federal aviation regulations, operate remote cameras, consider the ethics of drones, and interpret and use the material gathered by drones.
But a few trailblazers are already out there, getting stories ground-bound journalists can't get to. Last year, the Daily Dot published a story about Brian Wilson, a photojournalist who flew his drone into an exploding building in Harlem, New York. The drone captured images that no ground level observer could until being caught in the smoke.
Bloomberg Business reports that at least 10 US media companies, including the New York Times and NBC are trialing the use of drones in their news reporting.
In 2012, New Zealand Police purchased a drone from Palmerston North company Hawkeye UAV Limited to assist in criminal investigations.
A 2013 Official Information Act request by David Beaston showed that, at that time, the drone had only been used twice. The only use the Police were prepared to comment on was its investigation of the murder of Sofia Helen Athanassiou, where the Police used the drones to take photographs of the crime scene - a steep bank with overhanging trees - that would be easily disturbed by people on foot.
But the potential uses of drones are much more amazing (and alarming for people that care about privacy) than crime scene photography. Though currently using manned aircraft (so, planes not drones), US-based Persistent Surveillance Systems does exactly what its name suggests. It surveils cities by flying a small plane in a continuous 2-mile circle for 6-8 hours at a time, taking super high-resolution photos from twelve cameras, like a real-time Google Earth.
When a crime is committed, the ground crew can analyse the photos, ‘rewinding’ the images to the time and place of the crime. By studying the photos, technicians can, for example, follow cars from the scene of a bank robbery to a safe house, alerting the Police to the criminal’s whereabouts.
By using planes, Persistent Surveillance is limited to human participation. If (/when) it moves to drones, the company will be able to monitor cities for longer and longer periods of time, like an eye that never blinks.
Have a listen to the story of Persistent Surveillance (and the privacy concerns it inspires) on this Radiolab podcast:
AND: The Daily Beast reports that a bill passed in North Dakota has been amended to allow state law enforcement to use drones armed with, among other things, tasers and tear gas.
It’s the law of unintended consequences - anything that can be used to fight crime can also be used to commit it.
Cheap, small and untraceable, drones are a perfect addition to any criminal’s arsenal. Want to get cigarettes and cellphones into a prison? Use a drone. Want to smuggle crystal meth into the US from Mexico? How about a drone? Need to figure out which home to burgle? Have you considered a drone? Want to steal another criminal’s marijuana crop? A drone could be right for you.
Think that all sounds pretty scary? Drones flying around committing crimes. Just imagine if those criminal drones had guns:
(It should go without saying, but Idealog in no way encourages or condones criminal activity. Remember: crime doesn’t pay, but developing and marketing new and exciting legitimate uses for drones probably does.)
Selling real estate
Worried that you’ll only get $1.5 million for your draughty Auckland villa? Everyone’s onto that super wide-angle lens trick real estate agents are always pulling. So why not give Trade Me browsers a virtual tour of your house and its property with some impressive drone video?
Have a look at this drone video Whittaker shot of a Hawkes Bay home sold by Baileys:
As seen on this Seven Sharp segment, the New Zealand Transport Agency are using drones to mow hard-to-cut grass on the sides of roads and motorways.
Think a radio controlled lawnmower could be dangerous? iRobot, the makers of those little vacuum robots that buzzes around your lounge, bouncing off couches and table legs, is working on a robot lawnmower which uses a wireless beacon system to avoid cutting through flowers and fences.
What could possibly go wrong?