• Ambivalence about Drones

    My brother-in-law, Ed, is a firefighter in Manhattan and a lieutenant in the NYPD. He’s a gem of a guy who puts himself and the crew he leads in harm’s way to save lives everyday. He told me recently that when he needs eyes-in-the-sky over a fire, “the chief has to drive to the ass-end of Brooklyn to get in a police chopper.” It can take twenty-five minutes or more to get a critical point of view. No one could argue that a fire drone, deployed from a ladder truck to help Ed and his crew do their job and reduce risk, is a great use of an un-manned aerial vehicle. It’s a classic case of an appropriate use of new technology.

    Why are we so freaked by drones?
    The source of our particular reaction to drones comes from the fact that their omnipresence threatens our own dominance. Sprinkling cameras around our shopping malls, traffic overpasses, and city stoplights somehow seems more benign than floating them around the sky with the ability to be anywhere at anytime. Think about bees and hornets—our unease around them is due to their mobility and their ability to overwhelm us with swarms. Hitchcock’s creepiest movie “The Birds” played on the vulnerability we feel towards a threat from above. Drones seem to trigger that same emotional reaction.

    Equal potential for good and evil
    As we all know, the very same technology can, and is, being used for a myriad of jobs which range from heroic to sinister. Let’s study the spectrum related to Drones specifically…mq-8c-fire-scout-500-14


    • Helping firefighters
    • Surveying archeological sites
    • Finding lost hikers/skiiers/climbers


    • Shooting real-estate from the sky
    • Dronies (selfies from the sky)
    • Recreational horsing around
    • Patrolling national boarders
    • Surveying traffic for congestion and accidents
    • Automatically identifying and ticketing speeders and reckless drivers
    • Delivering time-sensitive medications in mountainous terrain


    • Spying on innocents
    • Profiling and pre-crime
    • Police drones with tasers
    • Military drones with guns/missiles within 1000 miles of me

    And the unintended consequences
    Amazon’s vision for delivering text books, golf clubs, and gallons of milk by drone is ridiculous. The cost and risk of delivering most UPS packages by drone is like sending your suburban kids to school in their own helicopter. But, if you analyze the dimensions of the perfect product fit for drones, you will conclude, that the skies will soon be filled with drones bearing crystal meth.3-axis

    Here is my logic: Drones have the highest differential value when…

    1. Other forms of transportation are expensive.
    2. The risk of discovery is high—a.k.a. being caught in possession.
    3. Cargo value to weight ratio is very high. Diamonds, drugs, and state secrets fit that bill. And since you can’t send drugs over the Internet… yet…

    Avoid the luddite reaction
    The lesson of savvy technologists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders is to temper your initial reaction, either euphoric or allergic, to the novelty of technologies like drones. Acknowledge the spectrum of uses and project forward about its impact, both good and evil. Study the macro-forces that will drive their adoption by various industries and review the changes that must occur before widespread deployment. What new jobs will drones create? What business categories will be threatened and how quickly? How many different ways can this technology be adapted?

2 Responsesso far.

  1. Tom McKinnon says:

    Is there any reason that agriculture was left off the list of jobs? Maybe it’s not “heroic” but serving ag is definitely more than “ambivalent” in this age where we need to be as efficient on the farm as possible.

  2. Enchanted Objects says:

    Absolutely agriculture demonstrates a highly constructive and beneficial use of drones. The list of jobs was not intended to be obsolete–just to simply illustrate the wide array of uses of a technology like this.