Future uses of drones

Chris: Oh my drone it’s DRONE WEEK! Wait…what’s drone week?

Recently I was invited to the InfoCamp unConference at Berkeley where among the awesome and inspiring presentations, I sat in on Peter Swigert’s workshop on drones. Since the blog was deep in Oblivion, Pete and I agreed to coauthor a series of posts on this phenomenon, and also to set the record a little more straight for sci-fi fans and authors on the real-world state of drones.

Today, a post on some cool and totally not evil speculative uses of drones.


While drones are being used for positive purposes already, there will undoubtedly be myriad new applications as the technology develops and more people engage with its possibilities and implications. A few options include:

Voting drones

While purely online voting seems a long way off in the United States, drones could provide a physical link to voters but remove the logistical challenges of getting time off to travel to a polling station (a tactic that suppresses voting turnout and wastes time and resources.) Drones could go from house to house, authenticate by taking a photo of an individual’s face, their ID, and even their thumbprint, and a citizen could place their vote directly into the drone.

…much to the suppressors’ night terrors.

…much to the suppressors’ night terrors.

Weather management drones

With climate change likely to cause increasing challenges in weather, drones could be used as safe, effective tools for weather management. For instance, drones could seed clouds to promote rain. Drones equipped with weather sensors searching for the exact right place to release their payload could be more accurate and effective than current rocket based solutions. A cloud of drones with small parabolic lenses could cool an area by reflecting light away or warm one by concentrating it.

Biological replacement drones

Could drones replace certain species in the ecosystem? The collapse of bee communities in many parts of the world has been a major threat for agriculture and, if it needs to be said, most of human life on the planet. Should the worst happen to our bee friends in the future, could micro-drones serve the some pollination function as bees? In places where keystone species have gone extinct or can’t be maintained, could a drone be developed to automatically serve the same function? For instance, elephants knock down trees and create clearings in certain patterns, facilitating the transition from jungle to grassland. A drone could fly continuously, looking for patterns in the landscape or specific trees that an elephant would normally knock down, and either mark the trees for human removal or be constructed to damage the tree itself. Could these patterns and behaviors be used in terraforming new planets as well?

Little Johnny, it’s time you knew about the birds and the drones.

Little Johnny, it’s time you knew about the birds and the drones.

Avalanche prevention drones

Drones could scout avalanche prone areas and use computer vision and snow sampling to identify possible avalanches, and bring their own explosive payload to detonate preventative avalanches. (A practice done—dangerously—by humans today.) Backcountry skiers could rent time on a resort or park management’s drone to get a first person view of the terrain in real time before hitting the slopes.

Amber alert drones

Drones could be trained in facial recognition or even smell tracking (wouldn’t a bloodhound be more effective if it could fly and smell from the air?) to search for missing children. They could also serve as a notification system as they search for the child, broadcasting real time information to both investigators and citizens in the area.

Musical performance drones

Drones could provide on demand musical performances. No bandshell in a park? Just fly in some drones with speakers; the drones could align themselves appropriately to get the best acoustics for the setting.

“Well, mayhaps something a little less…dubsteppy?”

“Well, mayhaps something a little less…dubsteppy?”

While some ideas may seem absurd (and Chris’ comps up there turn that up to 11), science fiction can provide an interesting testing ground for what these systems might look like if implemented. What are the implications of these ideas? What impact would they have on society? On our last Drone Week post tomorrow we’ll discuss some of the ethical considerations underneath all of this.

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