What Is Our Fascination with Drones All About? (Thoughts On UAVs and Lily)

I can’t understand the current love affair between photographers and drones. Like all kids I made paper airplanes which I anonymously launched toward unsuspecting substitute homeroom teachers, sure. Sometimes with uncanny accuracy. Is the current drone rage the ultimate technological evolution of the balsawood P-51 Mustang? Or are we channeling our inner Wright brothers?

At the always enjoyable PhotoPlus Expo show last week in New York City, you couldn’t look up without seeing a drone. Most were confined to wide vertical tunnels made of airy mesh net. They ranged in size from hummingbird to Huey (Bell UH-1H Iroquois) helicopter and performed aerobatic tricks at the hands of trained operators who made them look like children’s toys. Which up until a few months ago, they were.

It looked like a 747 had laid a million eggs and each had flown off in a different direction.

Perhaps if I could paint one to look like a seagull and maneuver it to steal French fries from children at a McDonald’s Playland—or better yet, paint it like a New York City pigeon and make it drop its load on the windshield of that jerk who cut me off on the Thruway last night.

Maybe it’s the name I dislike: drone. Isn’t that what they call stud bees? Bees that service the queen but can’t sting? I’m not sure I want to identify with an insect whose life reflects the typical husband on an American television sitcom. (Drones are also referred to as UAVs -- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- by the geekier set.)

I like Lily, the "smart" drone that automatically flies, follows, and captures you from the air. Though sometimes I think this flying selfie machine has her head in the clouds. Lily is billed as “Camera. Reinvented.” If Samuel Johnson had owned a Lily, Boswell’s famous biography would have been a movie, not a book. 

Lily tracks you from the sky and records your actions, like an airborne Magnum PI. Place the transponder on your person; toss Lily into the air, and Lily climbs and hovers. Bicycle down main street and Lily tracks you from above. Ski down the slope and she follows right along. (I guess it’s a “she.” It’s more exciting to think I’m being hounded and pursued by a female, even if she does have four propellers and a cold, mechanical heart.) 

I’m dreaming about the Lily-type flying camera of the future. In my dream it has laser cannons, an echolocation guidance system for midnight missions, radar jamming transmitters, stealth cloaking and a 15-pound pigeon dung payload.

You can play with your radio controlled motorboat in the pond at the park; I’ll be playing Red Baron with the fleet of Amazon delivery drones. I’ll paint a tiny smiley face “A” on the fuselage for every drone I melt out of the sky.

Warning to Wal-Mart’s fleet—you’re next. Watch out for falling prices.

—Jon Sienkiewicz

azsaowens's picture

Jon Sienkiewicz’s article on Lily and drones is filled with insightful information and wit that doesn’t quit. Enjoyed every line.