Drones and Satellites for Good – How Many Drones Can a City Handle?

Drones as police tools - calming or threatening? Image copyright: Julian Braun

The day when drones become part of our daily lives seems to be awhile off. However, Amazon and the like are working fervently on this scenario. It is therefore time to ask: to what extent are we willing to accept drones as part of our urban surroundings? The project "Unter Drohnen" (Under Drones) takes a closer look at this question.

Autor*in Laura Holzäpfel, 08.12.15

The day when drones become part of our daily lives seems to be awhile off. However, Amazon and the like are working fervently on this scenario. It is therefore time to ask: to what extent are we willing to accept drones as part of our urban surroundings? The project “Unter Drohnen” (Under Drones) takes a closer look at this question. As part of our RESET Special ‘Drones and Satellites for Good, we spoke with the project initiator, Julian Braun, about advertising drones and police quadcopters.

The topic of drones is ubiquitous – and not just here at RESET. Be it drones for military purposes or for (rapidly expanding) civil use, drones are a hot topic and the latter in particular raises many questions. Apart from any technical hurdles that still need to be overcome, so-called quadricopter/quadcopters have a wide range of applications.

Using pictorial representations of various scenarios, student Julian Brown and the team from the Urban Complexity Lab at the FH Potsdam, are putting forward the question to what extent are we willing to integrate drones into our everyday lives. His project “Under Drones” is a survey, which will initiate a discourse on the potential and the danger of drones. We inquired about what we can expect in the future from urban drones.

You and your team from the Urban Complexity Lab at the FH Potsdam have devoted yourselves to the subject of drones in the city with this survey. Why drones?

Drone technology is becoming an explosive topic in the field of urban development. Technically speaking, drones are highly complex flying objects that sometimes fly direct over our heads. In this instance, there is a lot that could go wrong. Firstly, there have been a number of accidents involving drones in the last few months and secondly the technology itself is a hot topic. Alongside the practical and economic potential, a number of questions about security and and privacy are popping up.

You never know what might be recorded and who has access to the data and recordings. Drones have cameras, necessary for navigation. But who ensures that the shots get deleted?! I find the logic of ”but-if-you-have-nothing-to-hide” extremely problematic.

How many people have you already surveyed and what exactly do you want to know?

At the last evaluation, there were about 300 participants. The aim was to gather opinions based on scenarios in the form of montages. The participants had to declare whether they found particular scenarios realistic/unrealistic, useful/unnecessary and calming/threatening.

Licensed under: All Rights reserved Julian Braun The security drone. Realistic or not?

You already have the first results. What did you find the most surprising?

There weren’t any big surprises. The goal is less about conducting a strict, scientific survey of opinions and more about stimulating a discourse. I’m just a designer who deals more with the power of images so the whole subject therefore works out rather medially. I think that using such striking images are key to making people aware of upcoming problems. Keywords: Design for Debate.

That people would rather have police drones than drones that are used to display ads was a surprise to me. While I can do without advertising flying around, this would, for me, still be much better than having the eyes of the police peeking in to my front living room window.

Licensed under: All Rights reserved Julian Braun Drones as flying ads – useful or unnecessary?

Drones as flying ad banners, as shown in your survey, are not very desirable. Where does the potential for application of the technology in the fields of environmental protection and sustainable development lie?

The topic of environmental protection was not something I looked very deeply into in the context of this project. Not out of disinterest but more that it is not so good for a survey with emotional images because you mostly have to explain the application. I do however think that drones can be very useful in this sector. They are good at observing and measuring in low airspace whereas balloons, in comparison, are not so flexible and satellites are far away and comparably much more expensive.

What are your favourite projects in the field of ‘Drones for Good‘?

Despite all the enthusiasm about the advancements in this technology, I am sceptical of many concepts given the current status of the technology. There are many great projects but without rigourous testing and proven reliability, they won’t work. Explaining nice concepts with cool videos these days is not hard. But whether or not these devices will work under harsh conditions is another story. I think that factors such as rain, strong winds and so on are being disregarded. Other than that, it must also be noted that countries with strict regulations and bureacratic procedures in place could slow down some of these projects.

Unregulated observation is one of the biggest dangers associated with this technology. How can legal frameworks be structured so that they still allow drones to be used for good causes?

In this area, I am at a loss. What gets recorded and where this data ends up is hard to get a grip on. Ultimately, it’s about trust. With the current scandals involving the NSA, this trust is practically non-existent.

What do you plan to do with your survey results?

After the final evaluation, we will publish the results of the survey on our institute’s website and see what comes from that.

One more (personal) thing: would you like to protect elephants in the Serengeti using drones?

Definitely! Seals, too! I love seals and I think using drones to save baby seals would be great!

If you’d like to take part in the “Under Drones” survey, head to this page.

From the bottom of the ocean to the outer reaches of the galaxy – the possibilities offered by drones and satellites are practically unlimited. Unmanned aerial vehicles are no longer only used in war zones. Equipped with cutting-edge technology, they are also valuable aids in the fight against pollution and social injustice. They can expose polluters and even locate people buried under rubble. In our RESET Special ‘Drones and Satellites for Good‘, we will introduce projects that use satellites and drones towards sustainable development.

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