Just one reporter had the unconstrained ability to get a bird’s-eye view on police action during the height of the Occupy protests. Tim Pool, a 26-year-old independent video journalist, began sending a customized two-foot-wide robot–made by French company Parrot–whirring over the police’s and protestors’ heads. The camera-equipped ‘bot streamed live video to Pool’s smartphone, which relayed the footage to a public Internet stream.
If the police ever noticed the diminutive, all-seeing automaton–and there’s no evidence they did–they never did anything to stop it. Unlike CBS and NBC, the boyish Pool, forever recognizable in his signature black knit cap, understood the law. He knew his pioneering drone flights were legal–just barely.
Pool’s robot coup was a preview of the future, as rapid advances in cheap drone technology dovetail with a loosening legal regime that, combined, could allow pretty much anybody to deploy their own flying robot–and all within the next three years. The spread of do-it-yourself robotics could radically change the news, the police, business and politics. And it could spark a sort of drone arms race as competing robot users seek to balance out their rivals.