Most of the public discussion around drones has focused on their military presence—their use in spying and performing invisible, X-Acto knife assassinations on enemies. And as the Federal Aviation Administration opens U.S. airspace to private sector drones—planes repurposed to deliver packages or even pizzas—it's all to easy to imagine a dystopian future ruled by flying-robot overlords.
But maybe it's not so bleak—at least not through the eyes of City of Drones, an interactive, online art project by composer John Cale, artist and futurist Liam Young, and interactive studio FIELD that you can try through BBC’s online gallery, The Space, now.
City of Drones is a designed to be a serene experience. It places you in the cockpit of a drone, allowing you to explore the polygonal skyscrapers of a digital city—a constructivist world where there is no good or bad, wrong or right. It’s just a beautiful urban environment seen through the eyes of a robot.
"If we bring the drones out from behind the scenes, and present them in a new and intimate relationship to the public, we can begin to imagine the new possibilities they might present and the new cultural responses they might generate," Young tells Co.Design.
Flying around will move you to a borderline meditative state, as Cale’s ephemeral soundtrack lulls you to simply experience the world rather than try to somehow beat it or destroy it—an important distinction, as the software has no end goal the way a video game might, and it’s nearly impossible to crash.
In this sense, City of Drones isn’t just an first-person drone simulator, nor is it a meaningless geometric abstraction. It’s actually an engine to create empathy toward our all-seeing flying robots. If your anything like me, five minutes flying through the City of Drones will give you a sort of Stockholm syndrome for Skynet. It will make you envy the god-like gaze of these robots. And it will make you pity their detachment from the vibrant world living below.