Twinkle, Twinkle, Little…Nanocopter?

The rapid advance of microcopters is one of those trends that I watch with a certain amount of curiosity and envy. I find them interesting is because, despite their small size, folks are doing interesting things to make them increasingly capable and versatile. As with a lot of the technologies that we look here at Domestitech, the very near future is likely to be an interesting convergence of ancillary and complementary technologies as well as a morass of policy and security concerns.

My curiosity in quadcopters started in early 2012 when a group of MIT researchers demonstrated how they made it possible for a group of small quadcopters to fly in formation:

In August of 2012, Ars Electronica (an organization that looks at the intersection of art, technology, and society) posted a video that started to demonstrate what was possible with small quadcopters flying in formation:

Now, one could argue that the Ars Electronica demonstration has a long way to go before it approaches the neon-driven magic that is the Las Vegas strip or the Ginza District in Japan…but that journey is now measurable rather than impossible. The question will be if, when, and under what conditions a major advertising or public relations firm picks up on nanocopters as a medium for delivering a message or a really amazing experience (I am thinking of something analogous to the human LCDs one sees in some Korean high schools; a word to the wise, turn the volume on your speakers down).

The story gets more interesting with Hex, who is in the early stages of an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign. Here is their video:


A couple things stick out about what they are doing and where they are going:

  • The use the smart phone as the controller. Brilliant! By letting me use the phone, I don’t need to keep track of (or buy batteries for) another piece of gear.
  • The shells are made 3D printers.
  • The main thing, though, was that Hex wants their drones to become “more and more autonomous.”

When I heard this last bit, I thought two things: first, using code to maybe make it a little more difficult to crash  a couple hundred dollar investment is always a good thing and, two, does the “more and more autonomous” that Arnab Bhadury refers to something analogous to the video from MIT? What’s it going to be like when, for couple hundred dollars, any of us can have a small swarm of autonomous nanocopters shooting in high definition?

As exciting as the technology is, personal, commercial, and governmental use of drones is still a contentious and unresolved issue: Tom Loftus, writing an article that got picked up by USA Today this past July, reports that “…privacy concerns are shared across the political spectrum.” The ability to regulate or legislate the use of the technology seems doubtful as that it is already in the consumer space. Likewise, Brian Palmer, in a fascinating article over at Slate, asked, “How much of the airspace above your home do you own?” (spoiler alert: “…somewhere between 80 and 500 feet above the ground.”). The important thing is that definition is changing, local, state, and federal governments are struggling with it. It will be interesting to see how our concepts of property evolve (or are defined) as we have the opportunity to employ more of it. I mean, what happens when a small squad of nanocopters with thermal imaging come as part of your home security service, replacing the motion-sensitive floodlights?

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