The technology of unmanned aerial vehicles may soon be used to deliver snacks to your front door.
The Drone Lab, a group-directed study composed of nine students in the UC Berkeley School of Information, is currently working with consumer-grade drones to extend the possibilities for their application in everyday life. The students meet regularly to test the drones’ capabilities, write codes to make the drones more user-friendly and brainstorm possible future applications for the machines.
“We want to understand the affordances of this technology and how we can apply (it) in various contexts to some real-world problems,” said Dave Lester, a member of the Drone Lab. “We’re trying to think of how these drones could be used by people in their everyday lives.”
The Drone Lab has received much attention due to the prevalent negative implications of the word “drone” and its associations with military use and surveillance. According to the group, however, these associations present a limited view of the possible applications of drones.
“The term ‘drone’ has a pretty bad connotation right now, largely due to the association with controversial military use as well as surveillance and privacy concerns,” said Coye Cheshire, faculty sponsor of the Drone Lab and an associate professor at the School of Information. “But if we only focus on these limited military/surveillance applications, we run the risk of only seeing the technology as something to fear.”
The Drone Lab has theorized uses for the drones extending from retrieval of books in libraries to the convenient delivery of snack foods, according to the group. The group has also experimented with programming different ways of controlling the drones, including voice-command activation and arm-motion signaling.
“We certainly started off with the grander ideas and then focused on what we could actually implement,” said Elliot Nahman, another member of the Drone Lab.
A community of members of the Drone Lab and people from different departments on campus discussing the implications of the drones has emerged, according to the group.
“Everyone wants to give you their opinions on what these things can and should and could do, which is interesting,” Lester said. “It’s a fertile ground for creativity.”
The group’s members said they hope the drone research will continue after some graduate this spring. According to Lester, drones are going to play a larger role in society in a coming years, and it is crucial that groups like the Drone Lab plan for the future.
“I do think that what makes drones so interesting and different from many other technologies is that they are unmanned and often autonomous flying devices,” Cheshire said. “Of course, so are many scientific weather balloons — but the sophistication and fidelity of computer-controlled quad-copters opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”