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Twitter Imagines a Drone Controlled by Tweets, a Great Idea That Can Only End Well

Photo: Brendan Hunter/Getty Images

In the middle of 2014, Twitter filed a patent application, No. 20150362917, for a “messaging-enabled unmanned aerial vehicle.” Published last week, the application credits Ya-Ting Wang and Wayne Robins with inventing the device, which sounds like definitely a good idea and not at all like a bad idea that could lead to grievous injury.

Here’s part of the patent’s abstract, describing the drone:

Account holders of the messaging platform may control the UAV with commands embedded in messages and directed towards an account associated with the UAV. Controllable elements of the UAV include UAV location, camera orientation, camera subject, UAV-mounted lighting, a UAV-mounted display, a UAV-mounted projector, UAV-mounted speakers, and a detachable payload.

A central idea here is that this sort of thing would be cool at live events, giving social-media users control over their viewing perspective. As the application states:

Followers of an event may also have access to an officially distributed feed of the event through a television, radio, or Internet stream of an event that provides more access or structure. However, these too can be lacking from a social media perspective as resource and cost constraints prevent wider coverage so that even an officially distributed feed lacks the multifaceted perspective that social media provides.

One example is “different selectable options [which] correspond to different celebrities at an awards show. If the goal for the UAV is a camera subject rather than a UAV position, then the pilot directs the UAV to capture the subject from multiple perspectives and to track the subject if the subject moves.”

Controlling a drone via tweets is exactly the kind of tight drone-piloting that people love. And sure, one person in charge of one drone would probably be fine.

Here is another terrifying, hypothetical scenario, though: many people controlling one drone. Consider the social experiment that was Twitch Plays Pokémon, in which thousands of users issued commands to a single game of Pokémon via a chat room. Completing the game required more than 16 days and 122 million chat messages. It was a wonderful mess.

Imagine applying the same concept to a drone, however; maybe a drone controlled by a hashtag or something. That would be chaos. Imagine watching the VMAs in 2037 and Justin Bieber’s hologram says, “Tweet #VMADrone and then a direction and the drone will go that way,” and the drone collides with an adult North West riding a hoverboard? Jeez louise.

Twitter Imagines a Drone Controlled by Tweets