Here Come The Drones: A ‘Drone Design Jam’ with Urban Assembly Maker Academy


From playing Pokemon Go to hailing a cab using a smartphone, technology is creating new ways for us to interact with each other and the built environment. Within our Fourth Regional Plan, we highlight recommendations on internet infrastructure and data policy. The potential impact of autonomous vehicles is integrated throughout its land use and transportation recommendations.  

One technological advance the plan did not tackle, however, was drones. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to connect with students at the Urban Assembly Maker Academy, where they discussed the utopian and dystopian futures of drones.

What was once considered futuristic technology, is now increasingly available.  You can buy a camera drone for $79.99 on BestBuy, and Amazon is planning to use drones for home delivery.  And this is likely just the beginning. To help RPA think through these issues, we summoned a group of digital natives – sophomores from the Urban Assembly Maker Academy, who together with the help of the drone experts at Nova Concepts got together to think through the challenges and opportunities of drones.

One team thought through the social and economic impacts of drones.  The conclusion was that efficiency and services that drones would bring would be overall really beneficial, but that there was a real concern that drones could take away jobs from people.

Another team tackled the tricky issue of environmental impacts of drones. They identified a number of concerns: materials used to make drones and drone batteries would create more waste, the energy required  to power drones would contribute to carbon emissions and that drones would create light and noise pollution. They decided to tackle the issue by creating a prototype of a solar powered drone made out of photovoltaic cells.

The third team created the HoneyComb drone system – a network of drones sent out across the city in organized swarms to be used as a first responder system, performing emergency tasks such as providing structural support to collapsing building and dropping off medical supplies.

This, of course, is just the beginning of this discussion.  Last year New York City saw a spike in illegal drone flights.  New York State recently announced a drone test corridor in Central New York. It remains to be seen how advances in drone technology will play out in dense places like New York City.  What is certain is that decisions we make today will shape the future of UA Maker Academy students and the rest of their generation – so they should have a say in them.

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