Saturday, November 7, 2015
Heading to the train Thursday afternoon, I noticed a white drone hovering about 15 feet above the center greenery of Wacker Drive, just south of Lake Street. A DJI Phantom drone, operated by a young man who toggled a joystick on a remote control box.
I shot a brief video of its flight.
Drones are buzzing around the public imagination, and not in a good way. Much in the news, and worrisome to people who assume they'll be peering through our windows and killing us randomly. Though as a student of the history of technology, if I know one thing, it is that every new advance is greeted as an unacceptable threat. As if we have this deep well of terror in our souls and grab out a handful to smear on every new thing that comes along.
Electric light, the telegraph, the telephone, TV, computers, all were the opening gong of doom. Yet each was woven into the daily tapestry of our lives, no longer unacceptable, because each did change us, in ways great and small. What we didn't realize was, being changed, we were not the same people who fretted at their arrival. Even that most perilous of advances, nuclear energy, proved tamable in the long run, or at least didn't kill us all, as we once expected, and not without good reason.
Right now drones are little more than expensive toys. The drone I saw costs about $1,000. I know that'll change, and soon. I can't imagine the air will someday be thick of them, hurrying on their business. But then I couldn't imagine we'd all carry cell phones either.
I know this. Yet every time I hear about Amazon wanting to deliver packages by drone, I still think, "Huh? How is that going to work?" A drone is going to take off from the roof of an enormous facility in Des Plaines, motor over to my place, to drop off a book? That can't be. They still seem like their cousins, jet packs, as one of the will-0-the-wisps of the future that we pine for but never achieve. They'll be good for taking arial shots of real estate and not much else.
Said the guy who hasn't ordered a ride on Uber yet.
When the young man brought his drone down, I asked him what it was for. School perhaps?
"We're doing a project right now, for something called Radpat," he said. I should have quizzed him more, but I had a train to catch, so thanked him and hurried to Union Station, assuming I'd be able to figure out what "Radpat" was.
All I could find is a project measuring background radiation, which makes sense, I suppose. That might be something a drone could be helpful with, though I'm not sure how. Maybe he meant "Radpad," a service for finding apartments. That could work too.
Anyway, Nov. 5, 2015 I saw my first drone hovering above Chicago. I figure, I might as well make a note of it, to look back on when they crowd the sky like migrating geese.