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Romancing the Drone
February 18, 2013 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Romancing the drone: how America's flying robots are invading pop culture. Both real and unreal, drones are spreading silently through art and culture.
posted by homunculus (80 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
seagulls
posted by homunculus at 5:36 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other news, fedora and other wide-brimmed hat futures just skyrocketed.
posted by The White Hat at 5:40 PM on February 18, 2013


No pun intended.
posted by The White Hat at 5:40 PM on February 18, 2013


This is worthy of a medal!
posted by Burhanistan at 5:47 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Drones are a very democratic technology. For a few hundred bucks you can own your own. It might not shoot missiles at wedding parties but they're great for surveillance and documentation, and only getting cheaper and more capable.
posted by localroger at 5:57 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think a size limit has to be enacted on these things.
Nothing small and persistent enough to become an earworm, and nothing that can blow your mind, shall be flown as a drone or nor ferally operated nor targeted nor used for SEO.

Otherwise at the rate of change we might expect, we'll have sub-mosquito-sized drones mining our earwax in a few years.
posted by hank at 5:57 PM on February 18, 2013


they're great for surveillance and documentation, and only getting cheaper and more capable.

Yeah, that's fine and dandy until you're the one being surveilled and documented.
posted by goethean at 5:59 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's like David Brin says in The Transparent Society. If surveillance is inevitable and ubiquitous, then the best possible outcome is for everybody to be surveilled. The cops can peek inside our windows with drones, but we can have clouds of little drones following their police cars, filming every interaction they have with the public. The worst possible outcome is a world where one party has surveillance and the rest of society has none.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:05 PM on February 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


Not drones, but Person Of Interest is the best fiction of the surveillance state.

How Person Of Interest captures the national post-post-9/11 mood
Person Of Interest and the Apocalypse of Five Minutes Ago
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:06 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


until you're the one being surveilled and documented

I keep waiting for the cops and the militaries that are so salivating over these things to figure this part out.

As a practical matter they can't be regulated. A teenager who's buit a couple of kits can do another one from scratch with spare and commodity parts that absolutely can't be controlled. Everything about them gets easier and cheaper by the year. Hell, in a couple of years I'll probably get one just to play with.
posted by localroger at 6:06 PM on February 18, 2013


Somebody's sarcasmometer requires re calibration but it could be me.
posted by lordaych at 6:07 PM on February 18, 2013


I have a friend who is into basic circuit stuff, some microcontroller programming in C, etc and he's built a surveillance drone. Surveillance drones are pretty easy especially if they needn't be autonomous. And by easy I mean it can be one dude's hobby in between working and call of duty and weed.
posted by lordaych at 6:09 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did I mention his is autonomous? Mostly. Landing is probably out of his league. Last rapid fire manic brain comment, carry on.
posted by lordaych at 6:12 PM on February 18, 2013


Sheckley wrote Watchbird in '53 (audio).

Also, all the "surveillance" in Person of Interest is handwavey magic and more of an afterthought as far as the story goes.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:17 PM on February 18, 2013


The worst possible outcome is a world where one party has surveillance and the rest of society has none.

Does anyone seriously believe this nonsense? It will be made outright illegal, and if you haven't noticed, the military drones are a completely different class of craft. Understandably hobbyists can accomplish a great deal, but you've got to be joking if you're talking about these high-altitude long-range devices being "accessible" to regular people, both legally and technically.
posted by odinsdream at 6:18 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Drones are a very democratic technology. For a few hundred bucks you can own your own. It might not shoot missiles at wedding parties but they're great for surveillance and documentation, and only getting cheaper and more capable.

Yeah, turns out even Australia, which I thought would be behind, was the first country to allow private ownership of drones. They're apparently used by the fire services and stuff. And they've even got their own band.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:20 PM on February 18, 2013


Nothing in the article about the drone in Eureka, the drone murder in Numbers, the drones players control in Call of Duty and Saints Row, and a few others.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:21 PM on February 18, 2013


i donno about these examples. In terms of artistic merit, I think they are more about drawing attention to drones themselves, rather than an example of drones as such being incorporated into our artistic culture.
posted by rebent at 6:25 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've recently gotten into the RC / drone world as a hobby. This technology is cheap and accessible. The gyro stabilized multi-rotor copters and planes are really easy to fly. Autonomous flight paths by GPS are not difficult to program or setup. Cameras with live video or recorded video is at higher quality than many cctv setups. These are going to be everywhere soon.

I fully expect Google to have a fleet of these flying over most major metropolitan areas as soon as the regs clear.
posted by humanfont at 6:27 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


but you've got to be joking if you're talking about these high-altitude long-range devices being "accessible" to regular people

Well of course they aren't, but as regular people our targets are much less numerous and more identifiable than the government's. It's also arguably for the best that we don't have the means to launch lethal attacks from our toys. (Cue Wayne LaPierre disagreeing in 3..2.. )

The thing is, toy level drones can go places Predators can't. Toy drones are the surveillance equivalent of the stealth helicopter from Blue Thunder. In any first world place where they're outlawed I can imagine a nifty arms race as countermeasures are countered and escalated and re-countered, but the thing is you can't realistically eliminate something that can almost literally be built out of junk and surplus. And when that thing can hover silently overhead as you use a little extralegal force to extract a confession, you might have what some people would consider a problem.
posted by localroger at 6:27 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do those cool remote control RC Bomb Cars from RAGE and one of the GTA games count as drones? Are they real?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:32 PM on February 18, 2013


If surveillance is inevitable and ubiquitous, then the best possible outcome is for everybody to be surveilled.
but that's fucking wrong
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:34 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Crowds of dazzle drones covered in mirrors and flashing infrared bursts that will be picked up by the drone cameras, and programmed to cluster above you like an umbrella. Or with upward facing screens that display swiftly and erratically moving shapes that look like people walking as seen from above.
posted by idiopath at 6:35 PM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, idiopath, if you have that many drones, why not just have them project blank pavement? The drones ahead of you can see what the sidewalk looks like, and then they can just project that as you walk underneath. No sense calling extra overhead attention to yourself.
posted by Malor at 6:39 PM on February 18, 2013


Silent is an issue, no? How to make props silent?
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:40 PM on February 18, 2013


And they've even got their own band.

America has a drone band too.
posted by homunculus at 6:41 PM on February 18, 2013


How to make props silent?

Electric multiprop copters are pretty quiet by their nature. The sound they do make is high frequency and very hard to discern at more than a few meters distance. And since the props are fixed pitch the job of making them even quieter is a lot easier than it is for the designers of helicopters.
posted by localroger at 6:46 PM on February 18, 2013


In the future, every city will have an Iron Dome (video) protecting it from asynchronous drone warfare. South Korea already. Successful intercept.
posted by stbalbach at 7:01 PM on February 18, 2013


Here's a great piece of short speculative fiction addressing a worst-case scenario: terrorist hackers gaining control of networked domestic drones. Chilling. (Thanks homunculus at Monkeyfilter, surprised you didn't link that here)
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:02 PM on February 18, 2013


"but that's fucking wrong"

I know, we should have the right to privacy. But that may not be possible anymore, and if that's the case, then complete transparency is the next best way to live.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:04 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am totally deleting my accounts on FaceDrone, Drone+, and DroneIn.
posted by localroger at 7:13 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the shared artistic project that is Amazon reviews, I submit those of the Maisto Fresh Metal Tailwinds 1:97 Scale Die Cast United States Military Aircraft reviews.

Reminds me of the binder that ended up full of women or the Playmobil security checkpoint playset.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:17 PM on February 18, 2013


It's interesting to wonder how architecture and public spaces might change in reaction to this. We might see an upsurge in covered walkways, a shifting of public/private social interaction indoors/underground, the development of new and cheap forms of one-way glass (you can see outside, but the drones can't see in) on public and private buildings, or as a default for cars (rather than an expensive add-on, as it is these days). A tendency towards very drab/uniform dress patterns in public.

High-level drone activity (straight-down from hundreds of feet up) always struck me as easily foiled, because it's relatively easy to simply walk indoors/under an overhang or something. Whereas any drone low enough to get a sufficiently horizontal visual on you while you're under something is a drone that's low enough to be hit by a well-thrown rock, let alone something more sophisticated. I'm not sure if miniaturization will solve that problem, since you'd be in a race between cheap/numerous vs. the ability of the target to easily destroy your drones.

In the future, slapping mini-drones is as much of an unconscious and automatic gesture as slapping mosquitoes is today...there's a story idea in there, maybe.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:30 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The worst possible outcome is a world where one party has surveillance and the rest of society has none.

I don't know, I think the worst possible outcome is a world where one party's surveillance doesn't actually count for anything, which it seems to me is pretty close to the world we have now.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:34 PM on February 18, 2013


We're pretty far from practical mosquito-size drones. Outfitting the ones six inches to a foot across with more wicked attachments, though...
posted by localroger at 7:35 PM on February 18, 2013


The thing is, toy level drones can go places Predators can't.

And of course, not all military drones are Predators - the Army uses man-portable drones in the field already, like the Raven and (soon) the Switchblade.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:53 PM on February 18, 2013


I'm using my drone to fly down streams and rivers to identify potential fishing spots. I setup at the top of a stream to get line of sight. Setup a wifi repeater and then fly down the middle of the creek. When the battery gets low, turn and land by the trail. I find I can get quite a ways down the creek with this approach. Though I have also broken a lot of bits on my drone as creeks with branches and odd winds can really lead to frequent crashing. Still when it works you end up with video you can use as a reference for an entire section of stream. It also adds a whole new dimension to the aspect of fishing that involves breaking some expensive thing on a tree. First your drone goes into the creek when you fail to spot a branch in the flight path. Then you break your graphite rod when you slip on a rock. Ahh fishing....
posted by humanfont at 7:55 PM on February 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


humanfont, you almost make me interested in taking up fishing.
posted by localroger at 7:58 PM on February 18, 2013


I'm using my drone to fly down streams and rivers to identify potential fishing spots.

Keep an eye out for Rivers of Meat Blood.
posted by homunculus at 8:05 PM on February 18, 2013


the Army uses man-portable drones in the field already, like the Raven and (soon) the Switchblade.

See also the Black Hornet Nano the British army is using, which is disturbingly small. Not mozzie-scale, but definitely part of the trend.
posted by pompomtom at 8:10 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


A tendency towards very drab/uniform dress patterns in public.

This is the kind of insightful commentary that I come to Metafilter for. I've been thinking A LOT about drones lately; or, UAV's, as they are more properly known. The tech is already incredible. I predict in the next couple of years, I will have the cash to buy something that I can connect to on my iPhone with an app as easy to use as, say, Vine -and only spend around $500, all-in.

I think the natural enemy of UAV's is shotguns. Or, if not, maybe a new technology of "air mines"... That is, a system of linked drones that fly tightly-patterned patrols of an area and 'tag out' one another as their batteries drain.

Anyway, like it or not, drones are here to stay and they are already being used to by protesters for sousveillance...

The main limitation of UAV's, especially quadcopters is the max. 20-minute flight time. Someone has come up with a solution...

Personally, with regard to privacy, the only counter we have now to pervasive surveillance is ubiquitous sousveillance.
posted by Bartonius at 8:12 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


the thing is you can't realistically eliminate something that can almost literally be built out of junk and surplus.

Sure you can. Simple motion-tracking and shape recognition software rigged up to an automated gun and you can easily have something that shoots plastic bullets or bean-bag shot at anything roughly drone-shaped that's in the air. Mount it on the police cruiser roof, between the lights. Easy enough. You'll kill a couple of birds and the occasional frisbee but you'll also definitely take down all the little junkyard-drones the hackerpunk types built.

There are very few things in the world that are cheaper or easier to destroy than build. Drones are not one of those few things.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:14 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still waiting for 'being slap-droned' to be a punishment for serious crimes.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:15 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are very few things in the world that are cheaper or easier to destroy than build. Drones are not one of those few things.

Of course, I meant to write "are not cheaper..." Please edit your sensory inputs accordingly.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:20 PM on February 18, 2013


And when that thing can hover silently

hahaha you almost had me up until this point and then I totally lost it
posted by indubitable at 8:45 PM on February 18, 2013


I predict in the next couple of years, I will have the cash to buy something that I can connect to on my iPhone with an app as easy to use as, say, Vine -and only spend around $500, all-in.


I think Radio Shack already has them, with a 1GHZ ARM processor and HD streaming video, for $299.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:54 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I predict in the next couple of years, I will have the cash to buy something that I can connect to on my iPhone with an app as easy to use as, say, Vine -and only spend around $500, all-in.

Australia's technology prices are so high our Parliament has launched an inquiry. You can still buy remote control drones with cameras for $350.

The article also mentions people who make them custom-made; my friend knows one. He lives on a mountain and grows odd plants.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:57 PM on February 18, 2013


I think the natural enemy of UAV's is shotguns.
good thing you have those, then
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:04 PM on February 18, 2013


This footage was shot last summer. The RC plane with video recorder was home-made and cost about $400.

The technology isn't particularly new, it just got way less expensive. I worked with some guys who had designed and built an RC helicopter with live video around 1991. It cost several thousand dollars.

It's interesting to watch the social drama evolve around drones and UAV's. The street finds its own uses for tech. There is a lot of projection of identity politics onto the public discourse. It seems to me that a lot of what people have to say about UAVs is more about how they view their social and political environment than about the technology itself.

It's sort of like reading the science fiction of the late 1960's and 1970's trying to predict the future of robots, computers and networks. I'm thinking more of John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider than I am of the much later work by William Gibson.
posted by warbaby at 10:09 PM on February 18, 2013


I shot a short film with one last year. If you want to see it, memail me.
posted by victory_laser at 10:32 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


My drone can astral project.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:37 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everyone seems to assume that surveillance (or assassinations) is the only thing they're good for.

Not that it would qualify as a "drone" in my book but this afternoon I velcroed a keychain video camera to one of my RC planes and took off from a local schoolyard. As I was flying around in circles and doing some basic aerobatics, a bald eagle flew in to see what the strange blue and white bird was. I thought he would keep going but he kept circling back, fascinated. So he would follow me around for a while, and then I would follow him for a bit. This went on for two and a half minutes or so. Eventually he got bored and flew away. So I went home and enjoyed the video footage.

Surveillance? Meh. Most people are boring. Playing tag with an eagle? Much more interesting.
posted by smoothvirus at 12:42 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think drones will have any impact on UK streets - we're already covered several times over with fixed cameras.
posted by Segundus at 2:40 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I miss the old days when drones were dildos that you could remotely control.
posted by Sailormom at 5:01 AM on February 19, 2013


Now I'm imagining the military flying remote controlled dildos at the enemy. More demoralizing to some than missiles, perhaps?
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:22 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Second Life griefing made flesh!
posted by Burhanistan at 5:31 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now I'm imagining the military flying remote controlled dildos at the enemy. More demoralizing to some than missiles, perhaps?

Brody all clutching a lifeless body. "Aisa!" he wails, frantically shifting aside a mound of bright pink rubber shafts.

Later...

Sweat rolling down his face, Brody hits the concealed trigger in his sleeve again and again.
The bomb in his butt refuses to go off.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:24 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Efforts by our courageous lawmakers are already afoot to make surveillance drones - anything that flies with a camera attached - illegal. As in, a year in the slammer illegal.

Of course, these laws do not apply to the police or government agencies.

The enforcer class...is paid in large part by practical immunity to many laws and a license to abuse ordinary people.-Ian Welsh
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:54 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Drones Come Home: Unmanned aircraft have proved their prowess against al Qaeda. Now they’re poised to take off on the home front. Possible missions: patrolling borders, tracking perps, dusting crops. And maybe watching us all?
posted by homunculus at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2013


Like a Swarm of Lethal Bugs: The Most Terrifying Drone Video Yet
posted by homunculus at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2013


A tendency towards very drab/uniform dress patterns in public.

Gait Analysis and Other Biometrics, a Collection of Horror Tales
posted by adamdschneider at 1:53 PM on February 19, 2013


Good news! The Australian government know has stealth robots for observing wildlife! There's no way this will be used badly!
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:25 PM on February 19, 2013


Of course, these laws do not apply to the police or government agencies.
hahahahaha of course

why would they
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:41 PM on February 19, 2013


Report: US drone attacks rapidly increasing in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 12:53 PM on February 20, 2013


Drones still face major communications challenges getting onto US airspace: GAO unmanned aircraft update show continued network, software challenges
posted by homunculus at 4:13 PM on February 20, 2013


The NYPD’s Spying Program: Coming Soon to a City or Corporation Near You
posted by homunculus at 2:04 PM on February 21, 2013


DIY Drone-Proofing: Militants Use Carpet, Grass Mats, Mud to Hide From Robots
posted by homunculus at 3:42 PM on February 21, 2013


Not drones, but Person Of Interest yt is the best fiction of the surveillance state.

I've been disappointed in the latest season, until tonight. Tonight it got interesting again.
posted by homunculus at 8:53 PM on February 21, 2013


Jon Stewart Eviscerates Obama For Withholding Drone Memos: What Happened To ‘Promise Of Transparency’?
posted by homunculus at 10:33 PM on February 21, 2013


Person of Interest delivers one of the best hours of TV you’ll ever see
posted by homunculus at 7:04 PM on February 22, 2013


"Jon Stewart Eviscerates Obama For Withholding Drone Memos: What Happened To ‘Promise Of Transparency’?"

I saw a clip of this today, and it's really on the nose. After he gets a look at the memos Aasif Mandvi seems pretty frightened, but he denies everything.

"If you think the President can kill anyone anywhere with a specially modified X-box controller in his office YOU"D BE CRAZY!"

*nervous laughter*
posted by Kevin Street at 8:25 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Drone Pilots Are Found to Get Stress Disorders Much as Those in Combat Do

Previously.
posted by homunculus at 11:11 AM on February 24, 2013


Brace Yourselves, Drone Journalism Is Coming
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on March 2, 2013


Get ready for drone paparazzi, you know it is going to happen.
posted by idiopath at 10:33 AM on March 3, 2013


Maybe not!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:37 AM on March 3, 2013


Drones: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Always Afraid to Ask. Which other nations have them? Did they exist during the Civil War? What do they have to do with tacos and rhinos?
posted by homunculus at 12:14 PM on March 5, 2013


White House Trades Targeted-Killing Memos for a New CIA Director
posted by homunculus at 1:59 PM on March 5, 2013


Obama Administration Says President Can Use Lethal Force Against Americans on US Soil
posted by homunculus at 2:02 PM on March 5, 2013


Teju Cole on the "Empathy Gap" and Tweeting Drone Strikes

Previously
posted by homunculus at 1:32 PM on March 7, 2013


The Canon Drone
posted by homunculus at 7:46 PM on March 8, 2013


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