Today’s Next Big Thing is about the convergence of three technologies, each of which is in service today, either in the military or in office toys for the Uber-Geek (or Geekette). Here’s what the tea-leaves say lies in our future, when small, electrically-powered flying vehicles, mini navigation systems and affordable Infra-Red imaging are combined…


There’s always one. The rescue team found his SUV on a fire trail. Inside, his mobile phone and satellite beacon were still transmitting its plaintive call for assistance, and still asking for its owner to press the ‘I’m OK’ button that would have called off the search. The MISPER — missing person — hadn’t acknowledged in the six hours alloted since the phone started nagging and was somewhere in the wilderness — a wilderness that was now damp with rain and the light was fading fast.

A call to the helicopter base produced a promise that they’d get a chopper out there ‘as soon as possible’ but its ETA was well after nightfall and conditions were poor. If the MISPER was injured, he’d likely not survive the night.

The rescue team pulled the tarpaulin off the trailer and started the five minute pre-flight checks of half a dozen objects, all painted a bright yellow, that looked rather like chunky trash can lids. Then, with a throaty whir of electric motors driving rotors, one by one the Eye Spies lifted off to their assigned areas.

Each of them carried a TI — Thermal Imager — that transmitted a picture back to base. Each Imager had on board just enough ‘intelligence’ to know where it was, where it was going, what to do if its self-tests found a fault during flight — and to transmit a picture of anything that ‘looked interesting’. The fading light made no difference and the driving rain only slightly degraded performance. Even thick fog could not stop these spies-in-the-sky.

They found dozens of examples of native wildlife, which showed up even more clearly as the temperature dropped, their warm bodies providing excellent contrast against the cooling forest floor. And, eventually, an hour later, an Eye Spy located the missing person at the bottom of a nearby ravine.

It took the rescue team two hours to get to him, even using active Infra Red goggles to navigate through the rain and darkness. He had compound fractures of both legs, severe hypothermia and was suffering from severe blood loss — but he’d survive.

The MISPER was a celebrity though, a Tri-V Rock artist, and by the time they got him to the hospital, the word had gotten out. A Flash Crowd of bloggers with personal Webcams was there, some recording, some giving off live feeds that the networks were paying Big Bucks for. The local TV station even had its own version of Eye Spies, ‘Paperazzi Sparrows’ the size of their namesake. These flitted over the crowd, recording in every wavelength of the visible spectrum and some well beyond, as the night was pitch black and it was still raining. Sound quality was poor, but next year’s versions of the Sparrows promised better performance by integrating their audio feeds.

Some of the bloggers carried umbrellas — and not just to keep off the rain. Anyone who wanted privacy in these days, in the 2030’s, carried one, lined with Infra-Red absorbent material. Some towns had passed ordnances banning Sparrows — the intrusive nuisances — but the laws were difficult to enforce. Most were anonymous, autonomous and couldn’t be jammed. An over-sized tennis racket was sometimes employed by professional bodyguards but, then, there was a danger that someone in the crowd would be hit by a disintegrating sparrow as it got volleyed away and the courts had been inconsistent in ruling where the fault lay in such cases. Already, some manufacturers were making over-sized butterfly-nets to catch Sparrows, instead.

Umbrellas were less likely to provoke litigation. And besides, as here [in Australia], they could even be used for keeping off the rain.

Leave a Reply