Daniel Dale takes a look at drones and where the technology is headed.
When I picture a technician in a factory making remote controlled planes, I picture celibacy.
I picture mens’ beady eyes disappearing behind fog on spectacle lenses as they steam up with lust and the heat emitted from soldering equipment.
I picture jeans hitched up to just beneath the breast plate.
And now I picture these same men standing on grass verges at the sides of motorways (how did they get there, where did they park?) as they gawp at real-size planes and furiously scribble data in to notebooks for reasons god alone knows.
And most of all I picture them continuously chewing Werthers Originals.
What I don’t see when I picture a technician in a remote controlled plane factory is one of the most Iconic actresses of the 20th century.
Yet in 1944, it was in such a place while making these small remote controlled planes (used by the military as one of the earliest forms of drones) that Norma Jean got her big break.
She was spotted by an army photographer whose pictures first brought her widespread attention, prompting her shortly thereafter to change her name to Marilyn Monroe.
Yet putting aside from this improbable collision of drones and glamour, for roughly the next 60 years the drone would be pretty much all about the military; used for aerial reconnaissance and, later, the dropping of bombs.
But by far the most exciting advances in the drone have occurred in the last few years and have taken place in the private sector. In particular, something so traditionally mistrusted is increasingly being put to both commercial and benevolent use.
Drones as Lifesaving Technology
As you read this, drones are being flown all around the mountains of Rwanda by pioneering company, Zipline, to deliver urgently needed medical supplies and donor blood to many of the country’s remote hospitals.
The self-navigating drones arrive at their destination, descend, suspend in the air and parachute down their medical supplies with such delicacy and accuracy that they literally float down into the arms of the waiting medical staff.
This could herald an era in which drones could save countless lives around the world by virtue of the speed and efficiency with which they can deliver urgently required medical materials to rural and remote parts.
Also in Rwanda, the drone is responsible for something even the most deviant of minds couldn’t have anticipated: the distribution of bull sperm to cattle farms in inaccessible parts of the country.
The envy of cattle worldwide, the Rwandan bull is massively outnumbered by its female counterpart. Over-sexed to within a few carnal cattle sessions of their lives, the bulls are nonetheless required to provide sperm samples which drones then deliver for the fertilisation of rural cattle.
And it is of course human beings responsible for procuring the sperm samples the drones fly out.
There aren’t many people willing or able to put “Bull Hand-Reliever” on their CV. They are quite literally making money hand over fist.
Drone Home Delivery
The prospect of drone home delivery services has been receiving increasing media attention of late, whether it be for Amazon, Ocado or Argos. And there has been a fair amount of scepticism that greeted the news of drone fast food home delivery services, in particular Dominoes.
But I ask myself: why?
You would actually get to watch a miniature aeroplane fly to your house, descend from the sky and land in your driveway. All this invention and ingenuity. Just to provide you with a slab of dough.
What kind of ashen-faced nihilist must you be not to be enthralled by that?
And on top of that, you are getting an aircraft privately chartered for the delivery of your food that you don’t even have to tip!
And if it gets the order wrong, take it inside. Keep it there.* If you have children, show it to them and tell them if they spend the rest of the year being unwaveringly disciplined, they can have one for Christmas.
And then after the second drone arrives with the correct order, watch the two of them – now a mini- squadron devoted to providing you junk food – fly nobly away in unison.
More seriously, there are of course legitimate concerns that drones in the non-public sphere should be strictly licensed. Just as a drone can provide intricate 3D mapping and help detect weather patterns, so too can it be used to violate privacy.
And so as drones become cheaper and cheaper, they can be used by the bunny boiler of average means to film and monitor loved ones or coveted strangers. You could actually have a drone stalker which you can take out a restraining order against!
And even more seriously still, there has very recently been an attempt to use drones to launch a terrorist attack against a military base in Russia that was ultimately thwarted.
In a strange kind of symmetry, drones may eventually be used to attack “rogue” drones in a kind of cyber war.
But it’s more pleasant instead, I think, to end on the thought that one day, you might get to join the mile high club in the back of a self-flying Uber.
* It’s wrong to kidnap and/or harm drones.