How can you connect digital media, digital cities and specifically drone technology to development and aid?
This is how: the case study in Rwanda where unmanned aerial vehicles, infamously known as killing drones, are being used to transport medical equipment and essentials within a country lacking the infrastructure assets and systems needed to ensure proper healthcare. This seems to address Ole B. Jensen’s question on whether or not the emergence of drone technologies “will also hold empowering potential for institutions other than states, government bodies, commercial enterprises and organised crime.” (Jensen 2016, page 67)
The potential is enormous, as drones can support many other needs as evidenced in the pilots taking place in Malawi. According to UNICEF, the emergence of the first humanitarian drone test corridor will allow organizations and individuals the chance to explore the possibilities of unmanned aerial vehicles in the fields of development and aid. The project explores Jensen’s “six dimensions of surveillance” (Jensen 2016, page 71) through the use of drones for capturing aerial imagery, but goes beyond this as it focuses on the transport and delivery of medical supplies, vaccines and laboratory samples.
As usual, with every innovation and the excitement that it brings, there are risks and challenges to look into, not only to do with design constraints but with lack of proper regulation. The UNICEF project addresses this by establishing a corridor in consultation with the Malawi Department of Civil Aviation, abiding to their the government’s regulatory framework.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect with regards to the overuse of unmanned vehicles when facing development and humanitarian issues is the fact that we are not addressing the root issues which are inadequate healthcare systems and road infrastructures. The use of drones might very well support the targets of sustainable development goals such as number 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. But what about number 9, Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation? Aside from the last component of innovation, the use of drones might not doing number SDG 9 any favours. UNICEF would argue that their mandate is to protect children, and that they are doing just that. As long as the outputs and outcomes are clear, the use if innovative technologies like unmanned aerial vehicles has incredible potential in the development and humanitarian fields.
- Flood, Z., 2016. From killing machines to agents of hope: the future of drones in Africa. Guardian Online. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/27/africas-drone-rwanda-zipline-kenya-kruger
- Africa’s first humanitarian drone testing corridor launched in Malawi by Government and UNICEF. UNICEF website. Available on: https://www.unicef.org/media/media_96560.html
- Jensen, O.B., 2016. Drone city – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of “smart cities.” Geographica Helvetica, 71(67–75), pp.66–75. Available at: http://www.geogr-helv.net/71/67/2016/.
- Sustainable Development Goals. Available in: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs
There is a natural socio-cultural pessimism surrounding unmanned drones. The idea of a horizon filled with independently operated or completely unmanned devices, flitting absently from place to place while loaded with recording and communications devices (Graham, 2010, in Jensen, 2016, pg.69), hasn’t proved palatable enough amongst consumers, organisations, or governments to warrant becoming widespread.
Or at least not yet.
Links to surveillance (Jensen, 2016, pp.71-72) and targeted attacks in modern warfare, in particular, have created an atmosphere of distrust around these machines that seem to distance human action, and sometimes error, from reason and forethought (Gregory, 2011, pg.192).
However, the potential for drone technology stretches far beyond this limited, and often distorted outlook (as Gregory highlights, it often actually takes entire teams of service personnel to operate a single drone (2011, pg.194)).
Jensen states that: “one key issue when looking at the emergence of drone technologies is whether they will also hold empowering potential for institutions other than states, government bodies, commercial enterprises and organised crime,” (2016, pg.67), and here is where we will look at drones from a more everyday, practical perspective.
Large organisations such as Facebook and Amazon have been piloting (pun intended) the use of drone technology for social good (Facebook, which seems ironic, in the current climate surrounding the company) and to enhance the experience of consumers (Amazon). for some time. With individuals also having the access to purchase and deploy these machines, this creates: “a scenario of little attractiveness,” (Jensen, 2016, pg.67), whereby cities could become swarmed by hordes of remotely operated, or programmed machines, zipping around the skies with unregulated freedom and increasing social tension (see clips from an episode of South Park, below).
Many other small startups and scaleup businesses are also deploying the technology in ways that bridge the gap between consumerism and improving quality-of-life. Zipline, for instance, delivers medical supplies across the vast and often unnavigable terrain of Rwanda – the: “land of one thousand hills,” and soon-to-be home to the world’s first drone port (Flood, 2016).
In countries where terrain is usually easier to travel through and over, however, the same concept is being used. Developed by Cambridge Consultants, DelivAir is a drone delivery concept that puts products and services, directly into the hands of customers – wherever they are. Rather than deliver to an address, it delivers to people – including medical aides such as Epi-pens. In the words of Nathan Wrench, from Cambridge Consultants, DelivAir: “has the potential to revolutionise the delivery process, by removing the address restriction that other drone technologies are limited by. We are taking cloud retail to the next level, delivering out of the clouds and into your hand,” (Press Release, 2017).
So with the potential for drones as practical, even essential devices, transferred from war-zone / no-go zone, to hard-to-reach areas – into the lives of western consumers, will any of the pessimism fade?
Unfortunately not, according to Jensen: “Needless to say, the ethical issues connected to drone technology do not go away simply because we turn to domestication and naturalisation within cities that are not in war-like conflicts.” (2016, pg.68). As we see in South Park, albeit a parody, above: “The use of drones in non-combat settings may symbolically transform those sites to areas of agnostic engagement and further militarise domestic police departments and government agencies,” (Wall and Monahan, in Jensen, 2016, pg.69).
Jain (in Jensen, 2016, pg.70) suggests that the mixed feelings surrounding drone technology represent a wider school of thought, about how society could live with and amongst these and similar technologies in the future. While the opportunities afforded the everyday could be significant, so could the opportunities afforded corporate and governmental agencies, and the question remains as to whether such affordances will ever outweigh fears. While drone technology may currently thrive in ‘the land of a thousand hills’, there’s no guarantee, yet, that this will transfer to lands of several-thousand buildings.
Cambridge Consultants: press release (2017). The future of drone delivery. Cambridge Consultants [online resource]. Available at: https://www.cambridgeconsultants.com/press-releases/future-drone-delivery [accessed April 2018].
Flood, Z., (2016). From killing machines to agents of hope: the future of drones in Africa. The Guardian [online resource]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/27/africas-drone-rwanda-zipline-kenya-kruger [Accessed April 2018].
Gregory, D., (2011). From a View to a Kill. Theory, Culture & Society. 28, 7-8. pp.188-215.
Jensen, O., (2016). Drone city – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of “smart cities”. Geographica Helvetica. 71. pp.67-75.
The speed of the IoT is truly astonishing. I remember the first time I heard about Pokémon GO and finding the whole concept mind-blowing, having even trouble wrapping my head around the fact that little monsters were coexisting with us, in a digital world that was invisible to the naked eye, unless we used an app to make them come to life. “But who put them there? Why is one in my bathroom!?”
Everyone was into it. It was everywhere. Even Maroon 5 made a ridiculous video about it:
I never joined in on the fun, but enjoyed living vicariously through others.
After a few months of seeing kids and adults alike walk around the city battling with invisible monsters, running into cafes hoping they’re the first to catch the hipster Pokémon enjoying a cup of tea, I realized, this is a fad, it will go away soon. More importantly, I realized, I am clearly getting old.
I believe both statements are somehow true. Yes, I am getting old. i even call these things monsters. But also, everyone I knew who was hooked to Pokémon GO was no longer into it. Kids seemed to grow out of it, adults decided to pick up the next new thing. However, it was and is revolutionary and my small sample of people is not scientifically representative of this augmented reality gaming craze. Pokémon Go is still very much alive and kicking. But there was a sharp decline in interest amongst my friends. I asked one of my “younger” colleagues to answer a few questions about her experience with Pokémon GO. I wanted to know why she got so hooked on the game and why she suddenly decided to drop it altogether. Let’s call her Cece. She is 28 years old, works as a Project Analyst and is always on trend. Be it the latest Netflix show, the latest fashion or the latest digital media phenomenon, she knows what it is and she gets involved. Want to know more about Cece? This image tells the story of her DNA. This is how in-tune she is with everything digital:Cece captured many-a-Pokemonster in my office. Apparently my desk was a hot spot for virtual buggies.
“It did change the way I walked around the city. I walked through more parks than I would usually do because I could see that there were Pokemon around and I wanted to collect some of the cool ones that were around, because they would pop up on my phone. I would not go to the park just to play, like some people did, like my sister. She would literally leave the apartment when she was visiting to go catch Pokemons, and go somewhere specific to play. Me, I would maybe just do a small detour to catch one, but I would not go so out of my way to do it”
What Cece is saying coincides with what Hjord and Ricardson refer to as the positive and even subversive side of games like Pokemon GO: “players can use such games to activate communities of interest in local contexts, organise urban events and public demonstrations of play.” (2016, pg 10).
“I though it was interesting how you could sit in places and battle other people because they were mostly around areas where a lot of people gathered. Interesting to see other people in these battle stations on the phones, and you could, if you wanted to, start a conversation with someone also doing it. I never did that, but I saw people do it. It kind of built this sense of community of people who were into the same thing. That was kind of nice”
Also, Forth et al recognize additional potential benefits, specifically those that result in an increased civic capital of players. “Civic capital is a measure of a citizen’s actual and potential impact on contributing, participating and engaging in their civic surrounds, from right outside their home, to their street, neighbourhood, suburb, and city level.” (2016, pg 15)It is also true that by local business can benefit from having this increase in players walking around the city, and perhaps going places they would have not gone before. The “increased footfall” as Forth et al refer to, as well as “The aggregated usage data can aid decisions about how citizens move through, use and feel about their urban environment.” (2016, pg 22).
But there is a negative side as well, one that has to do with data privacy and security breaches, especially in the case of children. But before getting into this, Cece shared why she finally called it quits on Pokémon GO. “I stopped playing Pokemon GO when the app started to crash too much, so that was annoying. And also when I literally crashed because I was playing it while riding on my new my bike. I got too distracted playing and hit a bump. Fell of my bike and really scraped my leg. I thought to mysef – this is stupid – and I even stopped to see if I had caught the Evee. That’s when I realized I had to cut it out”. The fall from her bike is one literal way to look at the digital spilling over into the physical (Forte et al, 2016). The app crashing, another example of a user behaviour being constrained, according to Ritchie (2014).
With regards to the negative outcomes related to data privacy, I recognize the risks involved but I see this as learning curves, and growing pains that come with innovation. It is easy to blame technology for these issues, but apparently people who are harnessing the power of technology for wrong-doings are never really the ones that make it to the headlines. This might be changing now with what we are seeing on the news with regards to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
However, as I mentioned before, I am getting old, and true to my apparent demographic, I’ll close with a somewhat negative comment on technology. My cousin’s 15 year old daughter was hooked on this augmented reality game. She couldn’t get her attention away from her mobile phone to begin with, and now it was all about catching monsters. My cousin was relieved that even though she was on her phone all the time, at least now she wanted to step out of the house and actually engage with the outdoors. I didn’t want to burst her bubble when I saw the girl in action, walking down the street with her mother pulling her out of traffic and onto the sidewalk as if she was hypnotized by Japanese cartoons. Perhaps it’s a matter of maturity and the teen was not ready to engage with the community and embrace the many affordances of the game. Perhaps I am just getting old and simply not getting it.
Forth, M., Hudson-Smith, A. & Gifford, D., 2016. Smart cities, social capital, and citizens at play: A critique and a way forward. In Research Handbook on Digital Transformations. Cheltenham,: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 203–221.
Hjorth, L. & Richardson, I., 2017. Pokémon GO : Mobile media play, place-making, and the digital wayfarer. Mobile Media & Communication, 5(1), pp.3–14. Available at:http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2050157916680015.
In July 2016, I was one of those people.
Head down, mesmerised by my mobile, and trotting all over town hunting for animals from Niantic’s augmented menagerie.
At the time, I was working evening shifts, and usually spent my mornings and / or afternoons studying, or in the gym – sadly, a Pokémon-free area.
While the game didn’t disrupt any of my usual routines (other than my unusual state of alertness to the potential presence of said Pokémon), it did lead me to a range of areas I didn’t usually frequent.
Curiously, one of the most active Pokémon gyms in my home town, a churchyard near the town centre, was already one of the most popular areas for daytime drinking. This resulted in an unexpected combination of the young, the young professionals, and the seasoned alcoholics arranging themselves in individual congregations around the churchyard. These people became my “familiar strangers”, in the sense of Hjorth and Richardson (2017, pg.5).
One of the most fascinating aspects of being part of this ‘phenomenon’ was actually observing how people interacted with one another; schoolchildren on summer break challenging battles to office staff taking a prolonged lunch, and people going through a routine of waiting patiently, leaving solemnly, and suddenly rushing excitedly back to locations to catch who or whatever had appeared. It was akin to watching a band who’ve been around for decades; everybody was there for a different ‘affectation’, with various levels of emotional engagement, or ‘nostalgia’ (Hjorth and Richardson, pg.9).
I can’t honestly say I was any more or less aware of what was going on around me, in what admittedly was a very short time, while playing the game. However, I certainly experienced my urban environment differently. If I was early for work, I’d spend time with a colleague hunting in nearby fields, or one of the many automobile showrooms near our office, pretending to look at cars while we were secretly routing out digital animals. It could be said that I was ‘reinvesting’ otherwise ‘wasted minutes’ with something active, and (at the time) productive (Foth, et al., 2016, pg.17). I communicated with people I would usually have no reason to, met new people I probably would have never encountered, and even bumped into an old friend at ‘the gym’.
However, as Horta and Richardson pointed out, there were also negatives to my experience. Break times at work were spent training Pokemon, and talking about training Pokemon. This is where I understand their analogy of the Internet as a playground and a factory, when related to the game. Many of us, myself included were so consumed that our free time became thinking and planning for our extra-free time, when we could roam and collect (2017, pg.7). I found it interesting that the game had more of a hobby quality, than other online, multiplayer games I’d become involved in. I believe this was because the game was more of a talking point, rather than an experience of interacting with others. De Souza e Silva alludes to the actual lack of social connection within the game itself (2017, pg.22), and my own experience of this was that the game became a talking-point, as opposed to something I used to interact with other gamers. I did interact with people because of it, but not through it – even in the sense of talking to people who didn’t play it, about what it was and why I was so engaged by it. This is what Humphreys would call the ‘indirect facilitation’ of social interaction the game produced (2017, pg.16).
Despite this, however, I would disagree with Foth, et al’s argument that it becomes easier to ‘stop partaking’ in one’s immediate surroundings, due to mobile games and technology (2016, pg.17). In the instance of Pokemon Go, at least, I found myself looking at my surroundings in new ways, and was more attuned to the world around me than I would have been were immersed in a Podcast or iTunes playlist. This is certainly a subjective, and intrinsic perspective, but my experience nonetheless.
Similarly, and even though I received the odd curious glance from Darlington’s local drunks when I was hanging around their own ‘gym’, I didn’t encounter any of the ‘risks’ that Hjorth and Richardson describe (2017, pg. 9). Darlington is largely white-British community, and a small town in comparison to nearby Newcastle or Leeds. It is a place where one doesn’t feel out of place or particularly threatened in any one area (although, again, this could be subjective – I might feel different about his were I still the young teenager who partook in Pokemon for the 2nd generation Gameboy).
I also don’t believe that a great deal of gamification, as described by Hjorth and Richardson (2017, pg.9) occurred within Pokemon Go. The game had no sinister qualities (other than the odd Psyduck materialising in my parent’s bedroom while they slept), and felt more like an opportunity to combine a forgotten childhood imaginary with modern technology. I prefer to look on the positive side of the game, and know that I spent one summer as a Pokemon-obsessed adult, more engaged with my urban environment, than I ever did as a Pokemon-obsessed child, for several summers and winters before.
De Souza e Silva, A., (2017). Pokemon GO as an HRG: Mobility, sociability, and surveillance in hybrid spaces. Mobile Media & Communications. 5, 1, pp.20-23.
Foth, M., Hudson-Smith, A., & Gifford, D., (2016). Smart cities, social capital, and citizens at play: A critique and a way forward. Research Handbook on Digital Transformations. Edward Elgar Publishing, UK. Pp.203-221.
Hjorth, L., & Richardson, I., (2017). Pokemon GO: Mobile media play, place-making, and the digital wayfarer. Mobile Media & Communications. 5, 1, pp.3-14.
Humphreys, L., (2017). Involvement shield or social catalyst: Thoughts on sociospatial practise of Pokemon GO. Mobile Media & Communications. 5, 1, pp.15-19.