Imagine police drones patrolling at treetop level down city streets, their cameras scanning crowds for weapons or suspicious activity. “Newsbots” might follow in their wake, streaming live video of the goings-on. Drones belonging to protest groups hover over both, watching the watchers. In nearby zip codes, drones belonging to real estate agents scope out hot properties. Robots deliver pizzas by following the signal from customers’ cell phones. Meanwhile, anti-drone “freedom fighters,” alarmed by the spread of cheap, easy overhead surveillance, take potshots at the robots with rifles and shotguns.
When the pilotless, wing-shaped warplane lifted off a runway at California’s Edwards Air Force Base for the first time on the morning of April 27, it was like the resurrection of the dead. The Boeing Phantom Ray — one of the most advanced drones ever built — came close to never flying at all.