The Missing Open Standard: How can we unlock the drone's social potential?

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Chris Anderson has famously compared the nascent drone market to the early days of PCs, comparing it with the Homebrew Computer Club, the Bay Area hobbyist meetup where the Apple I was first unveiled. It may seem an odd comparison—the drone is thought of as military technology and (more recently) luxury plaything, while the Homebrew Computer Club is remembered for its utopian beliefs about putting technology into the hands of the people. But while Apple's forays into personal computers were groundbreaking, the "PC" abbreviation historically referred to its greatest threat, the IBM PC standard, a revolutionary form of computer architecture that was easily licensed and copied, and which shaped the personal computer market for over a decade. Drones do not yet have a "PC standard," but if they did, it might be the tipping point that could catapult drones into the mainstream and unlock their social utility.

We have yet to see what this social utility will be. Militarized drone technology has a well-established place among the many tools of the surveillance state. Looking at the history of the computer's shift from an awkward, heavy, military and commercial engineering project to something we carry in our pockets, one wonders how drones might make a similar transition. Some of the first ideas for non-military drones, such as catching poachers, have some way to go in development before they will actually be useful. So far, one of the best uses for drone technology is in the field of cartography. Drones like senseFly's eBee can map a large area very quickly, and rectify imagery to GPS maps. But drones like these cost thousands of dollars and run proprietary software in order to work so seamlessly. What if drone technology were to be transformed in a similar manner to computers, so that standard architecture and operating systems allowed cheaper, more universal hardware and software?

In the late 1970s, desk-sized computers were typically terminals linked to mainframes where the real processing was done. But with the miniaturization of transistor functions into integrated circuits, desktop computers became possible.These early personal computers were sold as kits, and required a hefty investment as well as technical know-how to assemble and operate. When the Apple II was introduced in 1977, it was one of the first "out of the box" personal computers; BYTE magazine called it the first "appliance computer". But the Apple II was still expensive, and with an operating system and architecture limited to this machine only, all compatible software had to be designed specifically for this system. In 1980, less than 10% of 14 million small businesses in the US had personal computers, and of large corporations, less than 3% used personal computers on a regular basis.1 Investing in a limited hobby system was not a priority for most companies.

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Successful Apps Fill Gaps

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Jon Nash and Michael Petruzzo, Slight 1.0 (2014), screenshot of iOS app.

A smartphone app feels special when, upon first being opened, one has no clue what one is supposed to be doing with it. If life is a series of bricks or whatever, then a successful app can be a kind of mortar, filling gaps that you never knew were there (thats where the title of this essay came from). I don't mean *invented* gaps, or *fake* gaps, the type that boring Menlo Park chads cook up after one too many rails, apps with such a specific purpose that they end up sitting in the back of your phone somewhere, sad and utterly useless. I'm talking about apps that come out of the gate with no purpose, or a purpose so open-ended that the original creators could never have dreamed how it would end up being used. This is DUH but twitter: you write text! and look at all this malarkey we have to deal with now! Sad Twitter, Weird Twitter, Talking Tower Bridge Twitter, Commuter Express 437 Updates Twitter, Will Smith's Kid's Twitter, JEFF BAIJ TWITTER!

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Ulrich Fischer: Walking the Edit: Innovative System to "Walk a Movie" / Interview on VernissageTV

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VernissageTV interviews artist Ulrich Fischer on the occasion of the presentation of Walking the Edit as part of Image-Mouvement at the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève. More on the project below from VernissageTV:

Conceived by Ulrich Fischer, the system allows the user to create an individual video using already existing images that are connected to a certain place via geotagging. Depending on which route one takes and how fast the user walks, an individual movie is created.

Technically, “Walking the Edit” is based on GPS, geotagging, iPhone app and iPhone. By walking through the streets, the iPhone reveals and collects the audiovisual memory of the place. While walking you hear the movie that you are just editing. Once the movie is finished, you can watch it online on the website and share it with other people.

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The Most Boring Places in the World (2009) - Angie Waller

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“The Most Boring Places in the World” is a Google Earth tour that pinpoints the location of bloggers, live journal-ers, and chat room commentators. These authors all claim that the city they live in or vacationed in is more boring than any other place they can imagine, at least during the time of their post. Most locations do not repeat (with the exception of North Carolina, Ohio, Zurich and Singapore). What these destinations share in common is their ability to inspire existential crises, home-from-college woes, and the suffering specific to beautiful scenery, suburban sprawl and shopping malls.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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The Satellite Collection (2010) - Jenny Odell

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The Satellite Collection is a series of six digital prints that I made by collaging cut-out imagery from Google Satellite.

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Approximately 1,326 Grain Silos, Water Towers, and Other Cylindrical-Industrial Buildings

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125 American Swimming Pools

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195 Cargo Ships, Barges, Motorboats, Yachts, Tankers, Cruise Ships, Riverboats, Sailboats and Hospital Ships

Originally via Valentina Tanni

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You, the World and I (2010) - Jon Rafman

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When Orpheus’ beloved Eurydice dies, he cajoles his way into the underworld with his musical charms and his lyre. Wanting her but not her shade, he cannot forbear looking back to physically see her and so loses her forever. In this modern day Orphean tale, an anonymous narrator also desperately searches for a lost love. Rather than the charms of the lyre, contemporary technological tools, Google Street View and Google Earth, beckon as the pathway for our narrator to regain memories and recapture traces of his lost love. In the film, they are as captivating and enthralling as charming as any lyre in retrieving the other: at first they might seem an open retort to critics of new technology who bemoan the lack of the tangible presence of the other in our interactions on the Internet.

Our narrator remembers that once, with her back turned while facing the Adriatic Sea, a Google Street View car drove by and took a picture of his beloved, who detested being photographed, without her realizing it. Our narrator cherishes this photograph and the entire relationship becomes encapsulated in the screen capture replacing all other experiences and memories. Soon it is not enough. Our narrator cannot imagine that, in a world where everything is recorded, that someone could completely disappear. In daily systematic searches for photographs of the nameless other, Google Street View and Google Earth allow him to move seamlessly through vast detailed three-dimensional space. This extraordinary geographical and social exploration is favored by Google satellite images, user-created 3D renderings of Stonehenge and Machu Picchu and Street View panoramas of favorite vacation spots. As an undifferentiated series of cultural, historical and contemporary symbols float together or follow one another in rapid succession, in a world where Dutch anthropologists discover pre-Socratic fragments on Turkish islands ...

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Interview with Zach Blas

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Zach Blas is an artist and writer working at the intersections of networked media, queerness, and politics. His work includes video, sculpture, installation, and design, among other things. He is also a PhD Student in the Program in Literature at Duke University, and writes extensively on the question of art, activism, and sexuality. Zach and I discussed the question of a queer technology and just what queer theory might contribute to the fields of art and technology.

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Fata Morgana (2010) - Damon Zucconi

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FM Radio Map (2006) - Simon Elvins

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Site-specific map plotting the location of FM commercial and pirate radio stations within London. Power lines are drawn in pencil on the back of the map which conduct the electricity from the radio to the front of poster. Placing a metal pushpin onto each station then allows us to listen to the sound broadcast live from that location.

-- FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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Following the Lines

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Jeremy Wood's "Mowing the Lawn" Installation View at Tenderpixel

In an era of Google Maps, our first engagements with places are often anticipated by technology. That is, our experience with a place often comes with pre-emptive associations from aerial pictures -- our possible routes predetermined and mapped; personal narratives and exploration are displaced for utility. So, what happens to our individualized explorations in time and space when GPS technology intervenes? This is the inquiry of GPS artist Jeremy Wood’s body of work and his current show “Mowing the Lawn” at Tenderpixel in London.

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Jeremy Wood, Lawn 2005 Scale 1:300, 2010

Treating his body like a “geodesic” pencil, his daily routines are documented as lines in space via GPS technology. In turn, Wood’s performative rituals are data visualized as densely packed line drawings and animations. Having spent ten years developing a system for tracking and translating his everyday movements, the resulting pieces are one part drawing, one part diary and one part critique of the technological system’s accuracy/inaccuracy and how that intervention enables/limits our perception of the spatio-temporal.

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Jeremy Wood, Nine Years of Mowing, 2010

While his work ranges from tracking large-scale transatlantic flights (Star Flights, 2008) to tracing and superimposing quotes from Melville onto two meridians in London (Meridians, 2005), in his latest show, Wood focuses on documenting the simple act of mowing the lawn in different intervals of time. Here, Wood emphasizes how banal repetition offers “individual narratives that express a freedom of movement generated from an act of garden maintenance”.

What may be more compelling, though, is how a digital trace can bring to the fore the problems of technology. Looking at Lawn 2005 Scale 1:300, we see multiple lines drawn where a house already exists. In Nine Years of Mowing ...

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