Moreso than any other personal device, smartphones taught us to interact intimately with technology. They act as lifelines to the Web and to our loved ones, maps that guide us through unfamiliar environments, lenses through which to capture and share our experiences, readily accessible catalogs of our favorite books and music, and even medical assistants that monitor and elucidate our bodies’ needs.
In essence, smartphones eliminate any obstacles that stand between us and the information we need.
These beloved devices, however, can only go so far–which is not very far at all, considering they can’t actually move. According to some futurists, we may be on the cusp of a “post-smartphone era” in which personal computing enters the next logical stage in its evolution: mobile devices with true mobility.
From the innovators at Frog Design, a global design and strategy firm, comes the concept of personal wearable drones whose capabilities will build upon those already mastered by our hand-held devices.
Adam Pruden, a Senior Interaction Designer and researcher at Frog Design, predicts that these wearable drones will play a role in our day-to-day lives by 2030.
“Unlike the stationary smart devices of today that only support us digitally and live in our pockets or strapped to our wrists,” Pruden explained, “these smart devices of the future incorporate autonomous flying technologies to reach beyond the limitations of the human body in order to enhance our everyday interactions with the city.”
The team at Frog Design has conceptualized 16 different types of drones, some of which would be indiscernible from an article of clothing, while others could be donned like jewelry.
“Clothing, jewelry, watches, arm-bands, leg-bands, hats, [and] helmets will be powered by flight to expand the current capabilities of body-confined wearable technology,” Pruden said.
For example, one device called Breathe would rest on the wearer’s shoulder and silently monitor air pollution. When it senses that pollution levels are high, it deploys and hovers in front of the owner’s mouth, providing a constant flow of filtered air.
Another concept called Flare would be used for navigation in unfamiliar urban areas. Users could clip it into a strap on their palm and launch it with a flick of the wrist, sending it ahead to scout out the best routes. Once it returns, the drone flies several meters ahead and guides the owner to his or her destination, all the while pointing out interesting sights along the way.
Perhaps most impressive is Parasol, a sleek, golden, needle-shaped personal weather shield equipped with humidity sensors and a thermometer. As soon as it detects rain, snow, or intense ultraviolet radiation, Parasol deploys and hovers above its owner, spreading its propellers into a large disk that it continually adjusts to best block out the elements.
Pruden notes that as these flying bots become more ubiquitous, a need for new infrastructures such as public charging stations and overhead highways will arise.
“We can anticipate that more technology and devices will be taking to the sky,” Pruden said. “We must carefully plan and design these objects to improve our lives rather than disrupting them.”
Understandably, not everyone will be thrilled about the idea of our airspace filling up with drones, or of adding any more chaos to already over-crowded urban settings. It seems unlikely that these little personal assistants will establish themselves within our daily lives until, as a culture, we can overcome the “fear factor” that accompanies the introduction of radical new technologies.
“As designers,” Pruden said, “we will have to steer the technology towards the good and away from the bad.”