Way more drones than I’m comfortable with

This week, I came across a pair of videos that left me feeling a little uneasy. First there was this one, which currently holds a world record for most drones in a single display:

Then there’s this one which arguably seems more impressive, even though there aren’t as many drones.

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking about some recent movies with these drone displays, but this is reality.

When drones get tired of doing tricks

The first thing that’s really impressive is how all these drones work together. We’ve reached the point where they can locate themselves in space so well, and take coordinated commands from the ground, that they begin to act like one big thing instead of a lot of small ones.  That’s a little scary.

What happens when the coders who created this technology get tired of making pretty nighttime displays. A coordinated group of 3,000 drones could really cause some damage, especially if they go on suicide runs.

See, drones use tiny little propellers to get around. In most drones, there’s a guard so that a person or thing isn’t hurt by a spinning propeller. Take those guards off and you have four spinning death machines attached to every drone. It becomes pretty easy to see how that can go horribly wrong.

We also think of drones as being pretty light, but some of the larger ones have enough mass to really make a dent when they slam into something.

And we’re putting more and more artificial intelligence into these things.

The pushback against drones

For about five years, we’ve heard of plans to use drones for commercial deliveries. Everything from amazon packages to pizzas was going to come to our doors via drone. And then people complained about privacy, and that talk sort of stopped.

But maybe we shouldn’t be worried about corporate use of drones. What happens when some group of bored internet trolls decides to take 3,000 drones into midtown Manhattan and crash through some buildings? What happens when a group of disaffected citizens wants to use them to create social change? That’s the sort of thing I’m worried about.

And let’s not even get into

There’s a lot of autonomy built into these drones. For years, drones have been able to autonomously follow people. They’ve had the ability to execute programs and adapt to circumstances. Those displays of coordinated drones are great, of course. But each one of those drones is compensating for windspeed and wind direction, as well as other unexpected factors like the proximity of other drones.

What happens when the next level of technology allows a flock of drones to wander into an airport and block the runways? What about a drone with a long lens, staring down at you from 5,000 feet where you would neither see it or hear it?

Seems to me we really need to have some real discussions about this technology before we go much further with it. And, we have to hope that it’s not already too late.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.