Changing Planet

How Long Until a Drone of Your Own?

By Donta Jackson

I met my first drone playing Call Of Duty: Black Ops. In the game, you can control one of these unmanned flying vehicles to hover and fire missiles to destroy enemy territory. In real life we also associate drones with death from above. The news constantly reminds us of their destructive power, but at a recent Brains and Beakers, Youth Radio’s science-speaker series, Chris Anderson demonstrated how drones can be constructive too.

Anderson was a journalist for nearly two decades, as an editor for The Economist, then as editor-in-chief for WIRED magazine, where he was until last year. He left journalism to start 3D Robotics, a robotic manufacturing company, where he is building the next generation of user-friendly drones.

At the Brains and Beakers event, Anderson showed us video footage of a drone in action in downtown Oakland. It carried a high-resolution video camera that captured a bird’s-eye view of the city. In the near future, drones could be programmed by skateboarders to follow them on rides, or by pharmacists to deliver over-the-counter drugs to your doorstep. People will think up lots of ways to use drones when they become available to everyone. My first thought for how I’d use my own drone: pranks. Imagine attaching a water balloon to your own drone and flying it high over your friend’s head and letting it drop! No drone water balloons yet, though. Under current laws, the Federal Flight Administration controls the air space and prohibits most drone-use in urban areas, and any changes are probably a couple years away.

Which is OK, because based on my first test drive of a drone-like quadcopter, I might need a few years to practice.

More from Youth Radio’s science desk, including past Brains and Beakers: Gamifying Air Pollution and the Science of Taste.

Youth Radio Investigates is an NSF-supported science reporting series in which young journalists collect and analyze original data with professional scientists, and then tell unexpected stories about what they discover. National Geographic News Watch partners with Youth Radio to share the work of the young journalists with the National Geographic audience. Check out more from Youth Radio’s science desk at
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