From the Predator Era (2003-present) to the Phantom Era (2013-present)

I recently set out to discover the who, what, when, where, and why of nonviolent drone use. My colleagues and I plowed through a sampling of reported drone use in newspapers and blogs from around the world—15,000 stories in all. In the end, we had generated the first audit of contemporary drone use, stretching from 2009 through 2015. (You can download the full report and data set here.)

What we found surprised us. While a host of individuals and institutions were tinkering with drones in the years leading up to 2012, the sheer volume of use took off in that year.

At a basic level, the technology is most often used to explore and create. Technologists focused on public good rather than the bottom line—or a desire to balance both—have turned their attention to issues like delivering aid in Syria, finding survivors in the aftermath of the Nepali and Ecuadorian earthquakes, or monitoring pro-democracy protests.

All of these uses—from humanitarian interventions to state surveillance—are expected to increase in the next decade as the technology proliferates. Public opinions will slowly change, safety issues will start to get sorted out, and a furious round of trial and error will settle into a smaller but more stable stream of developments. The data all points to a sea change in how this platform fits into our economies, our culture, and our lives.

A fascinating and beautifully done piece of work. From the Key Findings in
the report:
  • We report on 1,145 discrete cases of drone use.
  • Drones are being used in more than half of the world’s countries (108).
  • Governments are the largest users of drones, even when excluding military use
    in conflict.
  • There is no consensus policy on non-military drone use.
Perhaps this chart should be entitled “the democratization of disruption,” something the authors have a good deal to say about. The authors make the point that governments around the world are struggling to keep up with UAV technology – so I find it fascinating that the team found more government use cases than any
other kind.



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