In the last decade, national media and those who consume it have been starkly divided on how the technology of the future will affect our lives. The advancements of Google’s driverless cars, 3D printing machines capable of potential firearm production and Amazon’s commercial drone plans have left many with a feeling that this may be a step too far. Such changes would impose themselves considerably on a more traditional way of life for us all (regardless of how implicit we would be in this process) and have left many viewing them as undesirable. Alternatively, one can picture a world in which the average consumer feels that the speed of their delivery may be of more pressing concern than the wider impacts that such changes may have on our daily lives. For many, the question remains, is this merely hysteria or a sign of the times? Has S.T.E.M. finally gone mad?
Firstly, it is not to be understated that it is the advancements in the field of Electronics that has catapulted us into an age where convenience is the new necessity. The question one will soon ponder will not be “shall I walk or drive to my destination?”, but “shall I drive or be driven by my very own 4×4 computer?” These ideas – as unthinkable as they would have been a generation ago – will soon be of real concern to those in the developed world and has created an environment in which electronics has slowly begun to impose itself on many aspects of our lives. From an engineering perspective, I myself find this incredibly exciting although ethical questions surrounding these developments will forever be at the forefront of my mind.
Before this idea is taken any further, it’s worth understanding that commercial package delivery is presently way off into the future. As a leader in the field, Amazon’s Prime Air team have stated that they “will not launch until [they] are able to demonstrate safe operations” [http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/inside-amazons-prime-air-secret-12038662]. As vague as this statement may appear, mass producing 45 kilogram quadcopters on the scale that Amazon are suggesting will have its time constraints. Such productions will need to minimise mechanical failure – the likelihood that the machine will break – to a level which the typical enthusiast’s favourite play thing may not reach. On top of this, many of those who are against air deliveries and are perhaps less technically minded than the typical Millennial may take particular issue with the infringement on personal space and privacy. Chris Korody, the principal and founder of DroneBusiness.center and award-winning market strategist writes that “Utilizing a system that delivers actionable information rather than data is what they’re all asking to see” [https://dronebusiness.center/technology/] referring to the drone industry and its advancements into 2017. Clearly, the advancements of drones and many other areas of technology come with a huge requirement for a massive data retrieval from the environment so that such technology can be made safe. In short, it’s not unthinkable to assume that through this data retrieval, a day will come where privacy outside of the own home is merely a distant memory.
“Amazon’s Prime Air’s current delivery drone model on an initial commercial landing pad” https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Prime-Air/b?node=8037720011
With this encroachment of consumer technology on several aspects of our lives, one may wonder whether there is any necessity at all that even the sceptical among us could see the benefits from. One example of such an improvement can be seen in the introduction of driverless cars which could offer a genuine solution to minimising the 3287 average deaths due to car crashes which occur per day, globally, according to the Association for Safe International Road Travel [http://asirt.org/initiatives/informing-road-users/road-safety-facts/road-crash-statistics]. Similar benefits can be seen in optimising traffic control and minimising human errors which are all too present on the roads today. In regards to drones however, the benefits of their introduction to society have a certain subtlety as the advantages that they bring are primarily for convenience and CCTV applications. Although not many would approve of their own actions being constantly scrutinized, this may be indeed be a necessity in the future if the ultimate goal was to make society a safer place for all. As no concrete decision has been made about many of these issues, it is therefore understandable that there isn’t a distinctive buzzing in the great outdoors today.
Sam Biggs is an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham in his second year of a master’s degree in Electronics and a UKESF Scholar. His interests lie in Computing, Maths and Physics as well as writing his own music.