A few metres above the ground, a drone glides through London’s streets. It sees a man, scans his face, and quickly looks up his criminal record. Elsewhere, a traffic drone spies on vans and cars, checking their emissions and identifying illegal drivers. Another hovers in a living room, sees a little girl has a cat on her T-shirt, makes an algorithmic decision, and feeds a cat-related advert to her parent’s phone.
This is a near-future vision of the life of the urban drone, imagined by design agency Superflux. As part of an exhibition at the V&A Museum in London, a team led by Jon Ardern and Anab Jain designed and built a series of drones to explore how these flying machines will soon populate our cities.
The video they created, above, depicts how these machines will perceive an invisible world of information within our cities. They scan buildings, vehicles and people, track faces and geolocation, and look up personal data on distant databases somewhere in the cloud. And all this is done with existing technologies.
The tour begins with the eerie point-of-view of a surveillance drone called the “Nightwatchman”, tracking its subjects on the streets below. It’s an intriguing and mildly unsettling vision. Next we shift to a more positive view, a child playing with their “FlyCam Instadrone”, the must-have self-tracking toy for the post-selfie generation, hooked up to social networks and recording continually. We also see the world through a variety of other flying cameras: traffic-monitoring, advertising and news-gathering.
All along, the secrets of the city are revealed – on walls, streets and people – and it’s all seen and processed by a hovering, buzzing pair of eyes.
The drones, created by Superflux, are on show at the V&A Museum until 19 July 2015. Read more about the project.