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Explore A City Through The Eyes Of A Drone

Created by a former Velvet Underground member, this dystopian vision shows how drones could one day reshape urban landscapes–and their soundscapes.

Drones might not be delivering us pizza or weed quite yet–and the FAA’s new proposed rules won’t make that easy. But whatever roadblocks may happen now, the industry is quickly growing, and city skies may eventually be filled with buzzing aircraft.

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The architect Liam Young is working with former Velvet Underground band member John Cale and the digital artists Field to imagine what that would look like. In their City of Drones, you can fly around a city from the perspective of a drone, seeing what a drone would see.

“You can start to see glimpses of what a future will look like when drones become as ubiquitous as pigeons, and they exist everywhere in our cities,” says Young.

Instead of typical city sounds, Cale has created a soundscape built from the whirring engines and rotors of the drones. And instead of seeing recognizable neighborhoods, buildings turn into the abstracted geometric shapes a drone would use to navigate.

“The visual language of City of Drones is based on the mechanics of machine vision,” says Young. “It works based on simple algorithms that can reduce the complexity of our city–that we think of as being full of life, and people, and complexity–into geometries. The city becomes reduced into planes and surfaces, and patterns of light and dark pixels.”


As an architect, Young is also interested in how buildings may evolve based on the needs of drones. “I can see a new form of city that’s based not on our own perceptions and visions but on machine visions,” he says. “That means things like buildings being planned around satellite sight lines, and architectural form not on a human aesthetic sensibility, but on what can be read well through the eyes of the drone.”

New “stealth” buildings might emerge, designed with shapes and materials that can hide from drones. Building surfaces might be covered in patterns that drones can read, instead of paint. The height of buildings, and spaces between them, might change based on flight patterns. Roofs might become charging stations.

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“I think seeing a city as a space that not just people occupy, but organized for non-human systems, is a fundamental change,” says Young. As people explore the website, he hopes that they will consider the implications of a drone-filled future.


“Part of our work with drones has been this idea to kind of demystify the drone, move away from its military applications, and start to present it in forms that people can start to relate to it,” says Young. “Through that process, hopefully they can become more active in discussions of what the future of these technologies should be–whether or not we should have drones in our cities, whether or not we should regulate this space or if it should be a free-for-all.”

“We’re at an interesting point with drone technology where they’re just as the edge of being cheap enough to become democratized,” he adds. “We want to try and stop and ask the question: What do we want of these things?”

The interactive site is part of a larger, ongoing project. Young and Cale also collaborated on a live performance with a “drone orchestra” at the Barbican Theater in London. Check out the video above.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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