If you get off the train from work late at night and have to walk or bike down dark streets, a U.K. insurance company wants you to be able to call up a small fleet of drones to accompany you—acting as lights that fly with you to illuminate your path home.
Fleetlights, a prototype service, is designed to be summoned with a mobile app, and uses someone's phone to go wherever they go. One drone flies ahead, and two fly to the side, each equipped with lightweight, high-powered lights (though they also can send just a single drone for less heavy-duty escorting).
"There are many parts of the U.K. that are not well-illuminated, which leads to more accidents, more pedestrian injuries," says Mark Evans, director of marketing from Direct Line, the insurer. "The simple fact is that more people die on our roads in the darker months."
The company has tested the drones, though the service isn't available yet; there are still legal, commercial, and technical details to sort out. "There are still some ambiguities in the law, particularly in towns," says Evans. "This has its most use in rural areas that aren't built up, so to some extent it fixes itself."
The code for the system is available open-source, so others can work on developing the technology. While the insurance company will likely use the drones themselves, they also may partner with other companies. The technology can also be used in other applications, like search-and-rescue after a disaster.
For Direct Line, the project is an example of how the insurance industry is changing. "We believe that the notion of insurance will move from restitution—i.e. fixing things that are broken—to prevention, and actually stop bad things happening in the first place," says Evans.