Someday in the not-too-distant future, you might take a bike ride with a couple of drones—one flying in front, one in back—to protect you from nearby cars. As you ride around tight corners, the "Cyclodrone" will shine a beacon of light to warn drivers that you’re there, hosting a tiny camera to record any accidents.
The design is one of several concepts from a team at frog design that wanted to rework the current evil image of the drone. "Drones are taking a beating in the press, being characterized as spies and assassins," says Cormac Eubanks, who developed the Cyclodrone. "At frog, we are more fascinated by the design potential at the leading edge of technology. We believe now is the time to explore how drones could be a force for good."
Along with the Cyclodrone, the designers suggested that drones could be used to help firefighters find victims in burning buildings (and even automatically lead those victims to safety). Another variation could help find victims in avalanches or deliver rescue packages to lost hikers. A final design could help farm remote, difficult-to reach areas, doing everything from scouting out locations to fertilizing the soil and harvesting crops.
It might take a little while before all of the ideas could actually be produced. "Some of the ideas are workable today, while others are a little more visionary and will require advances in battery, sensor, and materials technology to be feasible," Eubanks says.
The Cyclodrone could be made today, but would be tricky for longer rides, since the battery would need frequent recharging. The designers considered the possibility of using a generator on the rear sprocket of the bike to keep the battery charged.
In its current form, it also might not be as convenient for a simple ride around town, since you would need to pre-program your route into the device so the drone in front knows where to go. The drone in back, however, could follow the bike by using the GPS in the cyclist’s phone as a guide.
Why not just use stronger lights attached to the bike itself? "Lights work great at night, but during the day they need to be unbelievably bright to be visible in sunlight. During the day, our visual systems are more sensitive to moving physical objects," Eubanks explains. On a blind curve, the milliseconds of extra warning that the drones provide might be enough to save a life.
As drone designs rapidly evolve, Eubanks predicts that it won’t be long before more positive drones are on the market. Already, drones are being used to protect endangered wildlife.
The public image of the drone might take a little longer to catch up. "Here’s an analogy: When the automobile first appeared people were wary of the technology and not sure how it would integrate into a world that had evolved without it," he says. "It took decades before it became fully ingrained in our social fabric. Drones will probably need a similar acclimation period."