I recently wrote a blog about the new technology of 2020, determining if the latest offerings to the gadgetry market were genuinely useful and worth the price tag (AKA “good”) or gimmicky and over-priced (AKA “fad”).
One such gadget is Ring’s Always Home Cam security drone.
“What’s better than a home security camera that stays put? The Ring Always Home Cam security drone, which patrols your entire property. In its design, this security cam is actually a Ring camera mounted on an autonomous drone. The great part about this security drone is that it can move about and record images around your home. In effect, this autonomous camera replaces multiple outdoor cams that you might mount in different spots on your house.
“When you have it set to Away mode, the Ring Always Home Cam will fly around when something triggers its sensors. In that case, you can watch its recordings live through the Ring app. Made with collision-avoidant technology, it can reach tight spaces without hitting anything. Plus, it flies only on predetermined paths—even when you’re controlling it.”
My view? Not quite so optimistic. I wrote in my blog:
“On the basis that Ring is already a household name – thanks in part to their acquisition by global giant Amazon in 2018 – it’s not hard to envisage their latest gadget will be a success. Providing it works, that is. The cynic in me expects the buzzing noise overhead is bound to cause issues. Not least taunting the family pets as it zooms around recording the interior of your home. A pricey mistake? Time will tell…”
Smart home devices have fast attained “must-have” status. Video doorbells are no longer limited to the rich and famous. Most streets in the UK will showcase at least one, often more. Smart speakers are another example. With many of Amazon’s Alexa devices available for under £50, they are an affordable option for modernising your home.
But a drone that flies around your home? Is that really necessary?
The resounding feedback so far is “no”.
In a hilariously scathing article on Debugger sub-titled “A Ridiculous Way for Amazon to Map Your House”, Faine Greenwood wrote:
“As if late 2020 wasn’t exhausting enough, Amazon has announced the Ring Always Home Cam, a flying camera drone for your house. It is sublimely dumb, a supposedly innovative tool that is neither innovative nor useful. It is a home-security device that can easily be defeated by a cat. It may also be a not-very-sneaky way for Amazon to map out the interior of your house so they can gaze ever more deeply into your personal desires and insecurities.”
And Greenwood’s buzzing concern?
“The drone does go BRRR, or perhaps BZZZ. Amazon claims that this totally bog-standard aspect of multirotor drone design is a special feature called “privacy you can hear,” a supposedly comforting catchphrase I find fascinating because it makes no sense if you think about it for more than the 0.1 seconds required to read it. The world’s greatest legal, ethical, and technological scholars have strived for generations to define what “privacy” is and what it consists of - without success. And now, Amazon has come along to inform us that whatever the hell privacy is, it’s something you can hear.”
Lauren Goode at Wired took a *slightly* less angry stance, considering the implications of the latest internet-connected product that’s “shoved in our faces”:
“Drones use rotors, or fans, for propulsion. These are noisy. Whether it’s flying towards someone entering your house from the outside, or someone inside the home who would prefer not to be surveilled, the drone will announce itself. It’s a somewhat bizarre explanation when part of the drone’s pitch is to be a flying substitute for the multitude of cameras that would sit silently on your windowsills. If the rummaging racoon, the intruder, or the erosion of civil liberties doesn’t wake you up at night, the drone will.
“A surveillance drone that flies around your home- in your home! - is the stuff we could only have imagined 30 years ago, or even just a few years ago. To hear Amazon tell it, it was designed to be a problem solver, a solution for wanting a camera in every corner of your home. A techno-utopian vision of safety. Look at this freaking drone. If only someone could have imagined that our 2020 problems would be much greater than this- and in fact, tangled right up in it.”
So, it’s noisy, invasive, impractical and unnecessary. Doesn’t make for a great slogan, does it?
The question is, then, can drones ever be more than gimmicky solutions to non-existent problems?
In creative circles, absolutely! High-definition drones have been used in the film and television industry for some years now, and to great effect. In a May 2018 article for Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote:
"In the early days of drone use, filmmakers quickly realized how useful these nimble devices were for close-up action shots. Drones proved especially handy for filming chase scenes, like the opening motorcycle sequence of the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall. In Martin Scorsese’s 2013 The Wolf of Wall Street, drones were used to shoot a raucous party scene from above, allowing audiences to peer voyeuristically into characters’ lives. Cinematographers are finding increasingly creative ways to use drone technology: in the 2015 Jurassic World, a drone-mounted camera swoops low over a crowd of people who are being attacked by pterosaurs to mimic the movement of the flying reptiles."
But it’s not only photography and videography that could benefit, as Drew Turney’s May 2019 article for Variety explains:
“Drones have been greeted enthusiastically not only by DPs, who deploy them to secure those hard-to-get shots and angles, but also by location managers, who are responsible for handling filming sites, permitting fees, logistics and safety.
“Mike Fantasia, a supervising location manager on a long list of high-profile films — including “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick” — has used drones for scouting and planning the details of shoots.
“In fact, Fantasia, who is president of the Location Managers Guild Intl., believes in applications beyond just filming. “I can see a drone hoisting a light into the night sky, replacing a crane or manlift, or holding a silk to block or temper the light on a sunny day,” he says. The location pro adds that drones could “even deliver equipment to distant locations.”
“But drones are not taking to the skies as much as some would like. One limiting factor, says Fantasia, is the ongoing discussion around public safety, which may preclude their use in many areas. Despite the FAA ruling, Fantasia explains, drone users face a lot of red tape and must coordinate with additional government agencies to secure permits. And when it comes to the fast-paced needs of TV production, one location manager says, waiting for drone approvals just isn’t feasible.”
As drone technology advances over time – and processes are ironed out - we’ll undoubtedly see more and more creative uses in professional capacities. But drones in the home? Will they ever take off in a mainstream way? I’ll put money on Babe the Sheep-Pig soaring overhead first.