Welcome to The Drone Age? The Battle of Ideas
Back in October I took part in a panel as part of The Battle of Ideas at Manchester Science Festival on whether we are about to enter the ‘drone age’. I took part in panel alongside Professor Andy Miah, from the University of Salford and James Woudhuysen a visiting professor at London South Bank University. The discussion ranged from Amazon delivering drones everywhere, to using them to spot environmental damage through to my own contribution to the creative application of drone technology, the production challenges around this and inclusive practice. Here’s a run down of my opening comments:
What does the drone society look like?
Now I’m pretty niche in terms of drone expertise, I know about how you’d use drones for artistic purposes. So alongside if people like Amazon get their way, and create a drone delivery system for packages above our heads, in my drone age people are using them for artistic purposes. So there will be more people doing thing like using them to shoot aerial photography and film at the fraction of the cost of a helicopter, like in Skyfall, or using them to put on spectacular light displays in the night sky using swarm technology like KMEL Robotics in Australia. Drones open up really exciting possibilities for creatives.
This is how I think it can be useful for society
With all this in mind, in this drone age we’re heading into – how can we make the best it can be? I think this fundamentally comes down to being inclusive. The world isn’t only made of one kind of person, and the needs and things that would make people’s lives better are going to be different for everyone. Let’s take disability as an example of a group that isn’t being represented so well in drone technology at the moment. As part of Project Daedalus I watched A LOT of films made by drone developers, and not once did a person with a visible disability appear! Which was almost as bad as there only being two black people…
Anyway, there’s all different kinds of disability out there, but let’s deal with a really simple use of drone technology happening today to help wheelchair users. There’s a really interesting guy called Craig Grimes. Now Craig had an accident almost 17 years ago and broke his back whilst he was a student at university. He was previously really into hiking, kayaking and climbing and once wheelchair bound found himself looking for ways to continue with his hobbies. So, he started hiking again, and soon realised how useful a resource that could show other wheelchair users what different routes were like, so they they could try them out with confidence themselves to.
So, he created a website ’experience community.co.uk’ , and as a filmmaker he created film where you can watch as he travels, demonstrating the different gates you might need to get through, and the gradients that will challenge someone using a wheelchair. Now where do drones come in you may ask? Well Craig created a crowdfunding project to get a camera enabled drone, which he got the funding for. He’s now using it as a way to be able to show others the whole route from the sky, and give them the confidence to visit these places in the real world. The drones eye view gives the viewer a better perspective on how far things actually are along the route, and the kind of surrounding you’ll be in and exploring.
Now, as a non wheelchair user, until I heard of this project, it hadn’t even occurred to me how useful a guide on a walking area for wheelchair users would be. Once it’s pointed out it seems obvious, I wouldn’t want to set off on a circular route only to discover the last section has a gate I can’t get through either! So with that in mind I think it’s important to have people from all parts of society involved in the technology.
As well as enabling wheelchair users to get out and about by showing routes like here in the UK, there’s a project in the Chicago Drone Users Group, who are training young people to fly drones, with an eye on them becoming the logistical experts, cinematographers, photographers and mappers of tomorrow. So if we can get young people with disabilities working with drones now, can you imagine how useful this would be in our imagined drone age of the future, where skillsets like this will be in demand and experienced people valuable?
I think there is huge creative potential for drone technology in the arts, and the best way to get the most out of this technology is to make sure that all parts of society are involved.