POB Today


DRONES … There. I said it!

March 18, 2014
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Drones. Drones. Drones. There! I said it. DRONES. As a member of the remote sensing and geospatial community I'm not to use this “bad” word.  It arouses terrible images in peoples’ minds. Supposedly, when people hear drone, they picture missile-laden, all-knowing, killing machines blasting innocents from their chairs at Starbucks. Or, that privacy-sucking techno-aphids are sucking the life out of our society by recording everything we do and everywhere we go. Our privacy has been (or soon will be) sacrificed on the altar to the drones.

Well, it’s time we take back this word. Drone … It’s beautiful. It rolls off the tongue easily. It’s easy to spell. It has a long, storied history with our culture from science fiction and movies. It’s like Kodak. Memorable. Easy to remember. Impossible to misspell. It communicates effortlessly. Our culture has always loved this word because of the romance and wonder associated with the technology that would be so cool someday.

Well, that day is here. The tech is real. We have planes, trains, and automobiles (and boats) capable of driving themselves …. And they promise to bring a boat-load of social, economic, and individual good around the planet. Drones (I said it again) will bring life-saving help and medicines to people hurt by disasters and crime. Drones will bring life to road-less areas around the planet. Drones will help farmers use less fertilizer and pesticides. Our environment will call back “Thank you, drones”. Our forests, roads, rails, and power lines will be better maintained and protected at less cost using Drones. Instead of getting aerial imagery every 3-5 years for your city or county, they will get them inexpensively whenever they want, as often as they want. Thank you, drones.

Drones are beautiful. They are a monument to inventiveness. Today they look and move like insects, bugs, fish, humans, cars, helicopters, planes, Frisbees, balls. They come in all sizes and shapes. They have a wide variety of specializations. Ag drones. Home drones. Personal drones. Amazon drones. Journalist drones. Mapping drones. Game drones. Beer drones. They see, smell, hear, measure, morph, and tell. All this sci-fi stuff is only just getting started!

Are there down sides to drones? The short answer is: No. The more nuanced answer is: Yes … there are certainly down sides to how some humans may choose to use, misuse, and abuse drone. But how does this differ from any other technology: think the internet, the mobile phone, the camera, the satellite, the microphone? There will always be nefarious people, organizations, and governments that use great tech for bad stuff. Is our privacy threatened by the wrongful use of drones? Yes. But it is threatened far more by the Internet, the mobile device, and (you name it). If concerned about privacy, don’t look up for drones, look in your pocket at your cell phone. Go ahead and don your stupid anti-drone clothing.  If worried about the loss of confidentiality, look to your computer for email taps. If worried about Big Brother, look to our government for excessive NSA spying. But the fact that privacy could be compromised by drones should not detract from the amazing good that has come from this tech and will come from the application of drones to commercial and social pursuits. It is up to us in this nation of laws with constitutional protections of liberty to ensure that great tech is used for great good and its improper application is marginalized.

So, drone on. I fly drones. Drones are great! Let’s reclaim this term and restore its place in our nation’s vocabulary and ethos to one of benefit, wonder, and great good.

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