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Drones for the masses: New possibilities in personal aerial vehicles


Copter technology is now close to mass market; over 300,000 units of an iPhone-controlled quadrocopter have been sold to private users around the world. The opportunities for future applications of UAV technologies seem to be limited only by our imagination (and by national air space regulation).

We usually think of drones as hostile military vehicles striking targets in distant conflict zones, but civilian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have also been developing rapidly right over our heads. There is a long history of passionate enthusiasts for aerial vehicle development, and engineering laboratories have increasingly sophisticated methods for controlling groups of small UAVs. Combined with easy access to GPS trackers, video cameras and portable computing, there has been an explosion of ingenious new uses for these technologies, from disaster and traffic monitoring to new forms of journalism or aerial artistry. One day soon they might be as common as garden gnomes.

This exciting new area throws up some bigger questions too – what happens to the data collected? Should we need licenses to fly these drones? In the UK, recent flooding damage was reported to the BBC by a local resident’s quadrocopter; in the US, a father follows his son to the school bus stop every morning tracking a sensor in his child’s backpack via a UAV; but in New Zealand, a quadrocopter recently flew into a skyscraper and set on fire.

Please join us and our specialist panel on 31 January including Noel Sharkey (Professor of Artificial Intelligence at University of Sheffield), Liam Young (designer, futurist and critic at Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today) and Steven Hailes (Professor of Wireless Systems at UCL and the SUAAVE project) as we push ourselves to imagine what we can do with UAVs in the future.

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