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Motherboard TV Preview: Drone On

They are overhead, far way, buzzing in the distance, doing their thing. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are "cruising over Benghazi": in the wake of attack on the...

They are overhead, far away, buzzing in the distance, doing their thing. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are cruising over Benghazi in the wake of an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya, and sniffing out jungle-coke labs from high above Bolivia. And on and on. You’ve maybe been hearing a lot about these and other flying robots under their onomatopoetic nom de presse: Drones.

These are the new armaments of warfare abroad. But drones are coming to the States. They’re actually already here. And if there’s one nagging public misconception with the domestic aerial dronescape it’s that these things are all-seeing, airliner-sized kill machines raining Hellfire missiles with all the cold, unfeeling precision of a HAL-Terminator love child. They aren’t, at least not yet; much of the coming drone fleet will be medium- to small-sized, non-lethal robots of limited range. Spy toys, in other words. Over the next decade they will become increasingly common as surveillance tools for government and local law enforcement agencies. Or, for the DIY set, as alternates to Google Maps, or as the next-generation in pizza delivery.


In that spirit, enjoy this teaser for “Drone On,” our forthcoming documentary on the unmanned revolution. From the world’s largest, gnarliest weapons expo in Jordan to southern California, long a hub of military aerospace R&D, we caught up some of the top players in American aerial spy tech to check out some of their leading-edge micro drones and pet projects, to gauge privacy concerns, chat about the myriad differences between the open-source, hobbyist drones movement and traditional, military-contracted spy ‘bots, and to somehow convince them all to let us fly their drones over the greater San Diego area. It’s a story about the most overlooked component of the American Drone Age – small-fry aerial craft, not big, scary, missile-toting things – as the Federal Aviation Administration speeds up its authorization process for domestic drones. This is not doomist speculation on near futures, but rather a good, hard, even fun look out the window at the some of the sky spies already whirring above our heads.

Stay tuned. The film premieres next month on Motherboard.

Until then, get your drone fix at Motherboard Presents: Droneworld, an evening we’re curating as part of the Et Cetera ideas festival. (And be sure to check out Where’s My Robot Girlfriend, Motherboarder Kelly Bourdet’s presentation exploring the world of sexual robotics, teledildonics, pornography and carnal technology.) We’ll be diving into the uncanny and exciting world of the robotic vehicle to understand how it’s transforming our world, from how we how we waste an afternoon to how we kill. Hear a late night chat with about our robot past, present and future, with detours into Peruvian archeology, Marilyn Monroe, remote taco delivery and more. With surprise unmanned cameos and the whir of new software, all set to luscious drone from DJ /rupture and MEGAFORTRESS. With more sounds, dancing, drinking, and human-to-human interaction to follow.

It’s all going down this Thursday, September 20, at Public Assembly in Brooklyn beginning 9pm. RSVP here. See you there. No cover. Bring drones.

by Brian A. Anderson and Alex Pasternack

Reach Brian at and Alex at Follow them @thebanderson and @pasternack, and Motherboard @motherboard and on Facebook.