Watch This Drone Follow Around Chris Anderson Like a 'Pet Robot Bird'

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Drones may not be delivering tacos through your window or following around your kids just yet. But this is one of the building blocks of that future, for good or for ill.

On a recent day, not so far from where I'm typing, Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of Wired, current CEO of 3D Robotics, took a little drone copter down to the Berkeley Marina and told it to follow him around. It worked.

"That's me walking around with a laptop (with a USB GPS dongle), and the copter follows me around like a pet robot bird. Then at the end I tell it to land itself, which it does," Anderson wrote on his Google Plus page. "Note that there's no RC control at all. This is all autonomous flight, with mission command issued with a point-and-click interface on a laptop. And in some serious wind, too!"

I'm not even going to take a stab at what the widespread deployment of these kinds of flying robots could mean. And there are still some really big questions. The battery life on a lot of these devices is not so good, as in you'd measure it in minutes. (At least the ones I've seen: can't comment specifically on Anderson's model here.)

But bigger than the technology issues are the social ones: why would anyone want a flying follow bot? And will what they want to do with it infringe on the rights of other citizens? And how will those disputes be adjudicated. I've been thinking a lot about these things for months and I still don't even have the beginnings of answers.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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