The Game of Drones

Time’s Lev Grossman imagines a time when drones become part of our everyday life.

Bottom line: the U.S. seems to be struggling to adapt its 20th century moral code of warfare to the 21st century practice of sending flying robots into other countries to kill people. It appears that drones are evolving faster than Americans’ ability to understand how, legally and ethically, to use them.

Five years ago the Parrot couldn’t have existed; it’s an anthology of fresh-off-the-vine technologies. Five years ago there weren’t cameras as tiny and sharp or chips as tiny and fast. Batteries weren’t as light and didn’t last as long. Smart phones and tablets still had a long way to go, as did the hyperminiaturized sensors with which the Parrot is studded: an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer and a pair of ultrasound altimeters. A few weeks ago, Parrot announced an add-on GPS widget that will be available later this year.

In a way, drones represent the much delayed coming of age of a field that has experienced a prolonged adolescence, namely robotics. For decades robots stumbled along on the ground, slowly and clumsily, rarely achieving even bipedal locomotion. Right now the apex of consumer robotics is that humble domestic trilobite, the Roomba. But it turns out that the earth’s surface is simply not the robot’s natural domain. When robots take to the air, they’re faster and nimbler and more graceful than humans will ever be. All along, robots just wanted to be drones.

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