Drones are unmanned, aerial vehicles that are playing an increasingly important role in digital cities, and other spaces globally. Floreano and Wood believe drones could majorly impact civilian tasks, such as “transportation, communication, agriculture, disaster mitigation and environment preservation.” (Floreano and Wood, 2015: 460). Jensen echoes this, stating drones could affect power and mobility. (Jensen, 2016:.73). An example is seen across Africa, where drones are being used to deliver medical aid and supplies, as well as allowing access where roads cannot. (Flood, 2016). Here robotics company, Zipline have designed a drone to deliver parachutes of medical essentials without having to land (Flood, 2016), which has the potential to save lives. This is not the first time drones have been used like this. They were also utilised in search and rescue missions after Nepal’s 2015 earthquake (Sharma, 2016). Mbwana Alliy, founder of Savannah Fund, believes drones bring “exciting potential to marry the real and vast physical challenges of Africa with the digital revolution.” (Alliy in Flood, 2016).
However, it is simplistic to view drones in a purely utopian sense. The ethical issues do not disappear because we domesticate their use in spaces that are not war-torn. (Jensen, 2016: 68).
According to Bergen and Rothenberg, drones “involve new ways of projecting lethal force that challenge accepted rules, norms and moral understandings.”(Bergen and Rothenberg, 2014: 1). Drones are not always carrying aid. The use of drones as weapons in warzones, with people “killing at a distance” and attacking others while being in a different physical space, is very concerning. (Jenson, 2016: 68). Where drones have been used in warzones, to suddenly change their purpose and start using them for aid could alarm citizens, fearing it is another attack.
There are also concerns regarding surveillance, with Jensen describing drone cities are being difficult to regulate and drones themselves as having potential to “end public space as we know it” (Jensen, 2016: 67-73), and issues of airspace ownership. (Jain, 2015 in Jensen, 2016: 70).
Flood, Z. 2016. From killing machines to agents of hope: the future of drones in Africa. 27 July 2016. The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/27/africas-drone-rwanda-zipline-kenya-kruger (Accessed 06/04/17).
Floreano, D. and Wood, R.J., 2015. Science, technology and the future of small autonomous drones. Nature. 521(7553). Pp.460-466.
Jensen, O., B. 2016. Drone city – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of “smart cities.” Geographica Helvetica. 71(67-75). Pp.67-73.
Sharma, G. 2016. Armed with drones, aid workers seek faster response to earthquakes. 15 May 2016. Reuters. Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-humanitarian-summit-nepal-drones-idUSKCN0Y7003 (Accessed 06/04/17).
Bergen, P., & Rothenberg, D. (2014). Introduction. Drone Wars: Transforming Conflict, Law and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp.1.