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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