Drones: from past to future!

Today was already the final day of the European Summer Academy which meant we had our presentation. In this last blog post we want to take you through our journey this week by describing our presentation.


We started our presentation with Daniel giving an introduction of the topic by briefly discussing the history of drones. Then Yash took us through the different use cases of drone technology during this corona crisis. The rest of our presentation resembles our process this week, we explored learnings and insights from the different lectures and the feedback sessions from the professors. This brought us complete new insights and underlying behavioural aspects associated with the use of drones in our current society. So it really was an iterative process for us as a team both in regards to content as well as working together and this is also how we would like to present our project in this presentation. We discuss the panopticon view, deep dive into the drone’s gaze and its impact on architecture. And then to end of our presentation we found a cool way to let everyone have a live drone experience.


We will now continue this blog post by describing what we discussed during our presentation, starting with

The history of drones

Drones have various synonyms that are widely used to describe the same concept. A general consensus is that any aerial vehicle that is controlled remotely or works autonomously and has no on board pilot is considered a drone. The concept of an unmanned aircraft has been around for centuries, dating back as far as 450 B.C. 

during which unmanned aircrafts were used by the Ming Dynasty in China. There are records of a wooden hawk and a crow shaped kite used for reconnaissance and bombing. Similarly, the emergence of modern drones as we know it stems from warfare. Research on the history of drone technology focuses on periods such as World Wars I and II as well as the Cold War, because during these times Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance were increasingly important. Furthermore, researchers argue that one of the most significant developments coming from the War on Terror by the United States is actually drone technology.


Nowadays, drone technology has far more use cases than just military applications. In our presentation we focus mostly on the emergence of commercial drones in the corona crisis.


Drone technology and Use cases

The main use cases for drones during the Covid Crisis have been:

  1. Surveillance and Awareness 

Use of drones as to ensure social distancing norms are being followed 

  1. Delivery

Delivery of essential goods such as test kits and medicinal supplies with minimum human contact

  1. Disinfection

Spraying disinfectants on essential cargo and at crowds of people by modifying agricultural drones 

  1. Virtual Travel

Creating a travel experience that people can enjoy while staying indoors, allowing them to experience their favorite locations in a more complete manner


Impact on Architecture

Surveillance is possible even without using a drone. In the field of architecture, high-rise buildings become potential for surveillance in the public space. Living in such a building gives the spectator a power to observe and gaze at people in the street. In contrast to the usage of a drone, people in the street can hardly notice that they are being watched because there is no technology involving sound which would suggest that there is something unexpected happening around them. On the other hand, when you see a drone flying on the outer side of your window, you probably draw a curtain, but is that a sufficient solution? As any other technology, usage of drones raises many new social issues. 


Indeed, having a drone gives people the power to observe and survey spots which were out of reach before. The verticality of a drone offers great sceneries and views of roofs which used to be visually unattractive and are often hidden. But some buildings even seem like they were designed to be seen from above. Some say that the rise of drones will change how buildings are constructed in order to be attractive from all sorts of angles.


But another aspect to be considered is the building transparency. The buildings should be redesigned not for human patterns of vision but for how drones are able to see, because nobody wants the drones to crash into buildings like birds do. With the growing emergence of drones and their development, the top view will matter more and more. The prediction states that eventually we’ll be entering buildings differently and maybe from their roofs since we might be using drones as means of transportation. 


People Reactions at drones’ flying

People wanted to make sure that the technology was being well regulated. So the drones regulation is a sort of resistance form for the people.

A drone that flies by sufficiently far away and has a clear and legitimate purpose does not cause people to interrupt their activities, and is not seen as problematic.(positive aspect)

Low-flying drones often interrupt social activities, and that current designs and regulations make it difficult to assess purpose and legitimacy, causing uncertainty and disturbance.(negative aspect)

Problems of spatial privacy become particularly acute when large drones overfly private gardens or houses at lower altitudes.


Ant experiment

Because Florian told us to think and act like drones, I spent some time outside taking pictures about the gaze of a drone. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to reach a very high place where I could take those pictures, so I decided to switch the perspective, and instead of trying to record people, I used insects, ants in particular.  I found out that ants, like many human people, haven’t tried to get away from me, to hide from me, to get away from the drone who was flying above them. I think that you can use drones to study in detail animals or other natural creatures or events without disturbing them.


Drones as a modern Panopticon 


  • Omnipresence of surveillance 


  • Imbalance of power 


We finished our presentation by giving everyone the opportunity to have a live drone experience, enabling people to have the drone’s gaze themselves through a live stream of Daniel operating his DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone.

We want to thank everyone who participated in the European Summer Academy for making this a memorable learning experience, especially the professors and guest lecturers!