Time Magazine cover (with invited piece by me)


The cover story, by Lev Grossman, is here and discusses DIY Drones. The editors of Time also invited me to write a companion piece in the issue, which is below (they wrote the headline, not me!)

Why We Shouldn’t Fear Personal Drones

By Chris Anderson

Drones, like most robots, are designed for jobs that are “dull, dirty or dangerous.” We know what that means in a military context — everything from endless “loitering” over combat zones to remote-controlled warfare with the pilots safely in a trailer in Nevada — but soon civilian drones will be flying commonly overhead here at home. What will they be doing?


The usual assumption is that it will be police surveillance and general snooping. Interestingly, that’s just what people feared when the computer, which had also been introduced as a military technology, started to be used commercially in the 1960s. The worry then was that computers would be used primarily to spy on us, as an arm of Big Brother. Only decades later, once we all had one, did we figure out that they were better at work and entertainment, communicating with each other and generally being welcome additions to our lives. That’s because we could control them and tailor their use to our own needs, which we did amazingly well.


This change is already underway with drones. Personal versions are small, cheap and easy to use. They cost as little as $300 and are GPS-guided fully-autonomous flying robots (my company, 3D Robotics, is one of many making them). They fly themselves, from takeoff to landing, and can even follow the terrain for miles. There are already more in the hands of amateurs than the military, and some of the uses may surprise you. Civilian drones don’t just do the “dull, dirty and dangerous” jobs better; they can also make the expensive ones cheaper. In a world of Google maps, the advantage of aerial views of the world are clear, but satellites and manned aircraft are expensive and the pictures they take are often too far away or too infrequent to be useful. Drones can get better views, more often. And those shots can be of exactly what you want to see — an anytime, anywhere eye in the sky, controlled by you, not The Man.


Take sports videos. If you’re a windsurfer and want a great YouTube video of your exploits, you’re not going to get that from the shore, and hiring a manned helicopter and camera crew to follow you offshore isn’t cheap. But if you’ve got a “FollowMe” box on your belt, you can just press a button and a quadcopter drone with a camera can take off from the shore, position itself 30 feet up and 30 feet away from you and automatically follow you as you skim the waves, camera trained on you the whole way (when its battery gets low, it can return to the shore and land itself). Fast forward a year or so, and that same FollowMe box will become a FollowMe sticker, which you can put on soccer ball. Now that copter can follow the action of your kid’s soccer game, bringing NFL-quality aerial video to PeeWee sports.


One father has already set his personal drone to follow his kid to the school bus stop. Another team configured a drone to be a personal “periscope”; it flies above your head, giving you a video view from ten feet up. Yet another programmed a drone to fly in front of a runner, like a mock rabbit to a greyhound, encouraging them to pick up the pace.


Commercially, the potential is even greater. Farmers are already using drones to monitor their crops; a weekly overhead picture of a field can give them the information they need to use less chemicals and water on the plants, saving money and the environment. Scientists use drones for wildlife conservation, mapping the nests of endangered species without disturbing them. And energy companies use drones to monitor electric pylons and gas pipelines.


What was once military technology can now be used by children and I’m sure a generation growing up with drones — my kids launch them in the park on weekends — will find better uses than I could ever think of. What we, the technologists, know is that they will soon be cheap and easy enough to be commonplace; what we don’t know is what application will emerge as result. Tomorrow you may think nothing of driving by a farm swarming with robot cropdusters. Or see film sets with hovering cameras. Or skiers followed by personal videodroids. Or, more likely, something I can’t imagine at all that’s better than any of those. That’s what happens when you add “personal” to a technology. It evolves into something new, often more powerful in the hands of regular people than it ever was in the hands of the few.





Views: 4953

Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 1, 2013 at 9:13am

You must be in demand at the moment UA have the media going nuts.

Comment by StamusContra on February 1, 2013 at 9:17am

Hi Chris,

Great piece. Its great to see the forward thinking thought that a company like 3DR has. Your introduction was my favorite portion of the piece, detailing the largely unfounded frightened thought about drone use domestically. Hope to see more op-eds in the future.

Comment by Carl La France on February 1, 2013 at 9:25am

"Thumbs up Chris" ,You are Right Gary, the Future is only going to get more Exciting!

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on February 1, 2013 at 9:38am

Unfortunately, this article, with its ominous header, "What happens when they are unleashed at home?", will probably cause unnecessary panic in the streets with the average citizen. The typical American will not read any deeper than the cover of the magazine before panicking.

Just a thought.



Comment by ArileyS on February 1, 2013 at 9:41am

Really well done Chris.  Bravo.

Comment by LanMark on February 1, 2013 at 10:26am

Very nice piece Chris.   Hopefully we can also reduce the safety risk as well since drones right now are flying weed wackers... and a 5-10 lbs object falling at -9.8m^2 could be a serious problem.  But I like the forward thinking of 3DR..  as your article points out ..  Drones are just a tool to be wielded however we need and there are endless uses for them that we are only starting to discover.

Comment by Szabó József on February 1, 2013 at 10:28am

you're right, persuasive speech

Comment by Joshua Ott on February 1, 2013 at 10:31am

I like this line especially-

"That’s what happens when you add “personal” to a technology. It evolves into something new, often more powerful in the hands of regular people than it ever was in the hands of the few."

Favorite quote from the cover story-

"Flying a drone, even just a Parrot, makes you realize what a radically new and deeply strange technology drones are. A drone isn't just a tool; when you use it you see and act through it — you inhabit it. It expands the reach of your body and senses in much the same way that the Internet expands your mind. The Net extends our virtual presence; drones extend our physical presence."

Comment by Szabó József on February 1, 2013 at 10:41am

stupidity larger weapons

Comment by Gary McCray on February 1, 2013 at 11:21am

Unfortunately with government funding the way it is the military generally get dibs on all the newest and most interesting technology as was clearly the case here.

I say unfortunately, because, of course, the military promptly uses it to scare the bejesus out of everybody and kill people.

After All it's what they do.

Now we are going to have an uphill battle convincing the public and even that same government that funded the military research that we can have civilian UAVs provide a positive influence on our world and our culture.

Thank God for Chris Anderson and others with the vision to see what can be and not just what is and even more so for their determination to make it so.


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