Thursday, August 2, 2007

The iFly: You Will Be Assimilated

Imagine a future where the air is thick with robotic insects, gathering not food, but information. They're everywhere, following patterns of human interest: sparse where there's nothing to be seen, but swarming like locusts where there is.

I'm going to call them iFlies, for no other reason than I think it sounds catchy (though I refuse to copyright or trademark the term, because I think it would be very cool if Apple picked it up....) They're working on the prototypes now. Not too long before they're out of the labs and into the hands of the military, the police, emergency services ... put a camera and a mic on them, and you've got a swarm of little flying cameras, great for gathering intelligence for assault, arrest, or search-and-rescue. Journalists would love the things, too, for obvious reasons.

It won't be long between being issued to the military and being available to private citizens, probably a handful of years, and when they come out I predict massive popularity. Who wouldn't want a little flying camera (at this point in its history becoming the iFly, perhaps rolled out as a peripheral for your third generation iPhone, which, face it, you're going to have in a couple of years anyway) that could dart up much closer to something than you can get yourself, either practically or safely? Combine it with wearable displays, and it would be like having a roving eye. Great for spectating at sports events, live music, or for any of a hundred other uses where it might be nice to get a direct look at something 200 meters away.

Of course, these things would require pretty ubiquitous wireless in order to really shine. Instead of just buying one of these little iFlies, you could rent time on them from a company owning iFlies all over the world. You'd have your own, of course, that you carry with you (for those times when you want to see something close by), but you could also access units anywhere else. I'd imagine this would be the killer ap. You could be present at breaking news as soon as it breaks, typing the location into your phone and grabbing an available iFly (or piggybacking on someone else's, if all the local units are already taken.) Newsgathering would be changed almost beyond recognition; journalism would cease to be a profession so much as just something people do.

The iFly would lend itself to social viewing quite readily. Just as people now share music, they would be able to share video feeds, not just sequentially but simultaneously. This would be pointless right now: watching multiple screens at once is too taxing. But with a multitude of viewpoints all focused on essentially the same thing, it could work. The interface is simple to envision: in the center of your screen, you see the view from the iFly you're operating; surrounding it like a halo are shrunken views from others, the nearer the larger, fading off into a haze as they get farther away. A really seemless interface would simply track the direction of a persons attention, so that one could seemlessly slide one's viewpoint from one iFly to another. In effect, it would be as though humans have taken not just one idea from the insect kingdom (the mechanics of flight at their size scale), but through it another: viewing the world through compound eyes. Although this update of the compound eye is distributed across a vast area, in effect the entire surface of the earth; characteristically, technology has imitated nature, and improved on it.

Whoever gets the iFly out there, not necessarily first or best, but right, will change the world (and make an absolute killing, to boot.)

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