Drones … There I said it!

(This article was originally published in 2014 online for POB Magazine. It has been revised for republication here in October 2017.)

Drones. Drones. Drones.

There! I said it. DRONES! As a member of the geospatial community, I’m not to use this word.  It’s “bad”. It arouses terrible images in people’s mind. Supposedly, when folks hear “drone”, they picture missile-laden, all-knowing, killing machines blasting innocents from their chairs at Starbucks. Or, that aphid-drones are sucking the privacy out of our society by recording everything we do and everywhere we go and that our privacy will soon be sacrificed on the altar of 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. Plus, our culture has always loved this word because of the romance and wonder associated with this technology that would be so cool someday.

The Tech is Real!

That fantastical day is here. We have robot planes, trains, and automobiles (and boats). They promise to bring scores 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 out “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, it will be acquired inexpensively whenever needed, as often as needed. “Thank you, drones.”

Drones are beautiful.

They are a monument to inventiveness. They look and move like insects, bugs, fish, humans, cars, helicopters, planes, Frisbees, balls. They come in all shapes and sizes. 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 downsides to drones?

The short answer is: No. The more nuanced answer is: Yes. There are certainly downsides to how the villainous and inept may choose to use, misuse, and abuse drones. But how does this differ from any other technology: think the internet, the mobile phone, the camera, the satellite, the microphone, or the airplane? There will always be sinister 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 you’re 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. The fact that privacy could be compromised by drones should not detract from the amazing good that has come from this tech and the H-bombs of social good that will come from the responsible 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 that its improper application is marginalized.

Let’s reclaim this term and restore its place in our nation’s vocabulary and heritage to one of benefit, wonder, and great good. Drones are great! Drone on!