The Drone Age

At this point, it has been at least 12 hours since Jeff Bezos unveiled, on “60 Minutes,” his plan for drone delivery of packages to your doorstep (up to 5 pounds, within 10 miles of a “fulfillment center,” pending FAA approval), and so I’m catastrophically late to the commentary and probably should move on to something more timely. But in looking at the comments about the coming Drone Age on The Verge and Gawker what strikes me is how many people instantly reject the idea on the grounds that the octocopters will be stolen, or perhaps shot down. [See also the Achenblog.]

This causes a light bulb (incandescent — I’m old school) to appear magically above my head.

The reason people think that chicanery will ruin the efflorescence of the Drone Age is that they intuitively understand that these drones are nifty and would be fun to possess — because they’re toys. People like toys. People like games. When they say someone will shoot at a drone, they are intuiting that humans like to aim projectiles at moving objects (insert reference to wildebeest, the savannah, etc.). And so my thought is: Why not leverage this fleet of octocopters into a real game that would involve the whole community a la The Post Hunt?

The hunt is a treasure hunt that requires the ability to decipher clues and to understand and navigate geography. If you used octocopter drones you could put clues in motion and reward teams that knew how to anticipate the destination of certain drones based on previous clues. The hunt organizers (Weingarten, Barry, Shroder, Gibson, Manteuffel et al) would use something like 10 octocopters and the event could be spread out over a 40-square mile area in the suburbs (I’m just thinking downtown D.C. is not going to be drone-friendly for a while, for security reasons).

A general truth about any new technology is that one should never overlook its entertainment potential. Worthy, practical, society-approved applications (ship-to-shore radio, for example) are often quickly overwhelmed by the applications that are just for fun (music on your radio!).

It’s possible that I’m over-thinking this, but if you’re not going to over-think something, why think at all? [I guess I should note that Bezos is the new owner of The Washington Post, something that went unmentioned by "60 Minutes."]

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · November 27, 2013