How can drones be used as creative tools?

Artists have a long tradition of co-opting the latest technology, creating works that inspire and also interrogate the very tools with which they are made. The excitement and controversy surrounding drones make them ideal subjects for such explorations, as exhibited by artists such as Trevor Paglen and James Bridle, who use drones and the distinctive visual language of the drone to highlight concerns around ethical use, warfare and privacy.

Other artists are keen to harness the drone’s unique creative offer in the creation of immersive new experiences. FPV (first person view) gives us the possibility of seeing the world with a new set of eyes. Flying quadrotors are being used to explore everything from volcanoes to war zones. Their multisensory capabilities extend our perception and free us from our geographical constraints, engendering new opportunities for both journalism and creative narration.

In addition to breaking down geographical barriers, drones can help dissolve the barrier between art and audience, and create new opportunities for performance art through precision control of objects, lights and cameras. The latest developments, combining Virtual Reality (VR) with FPV, will enable artists to truly test and redefine the immersive experience. Audiences can participate in flying or controlling aspects of the drone, creating a new form of participatory art.

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How do I get started using drones in my creative practice / organisation?

This toolkit aims to inspire your interest in the creative potential of UAVs and give you the tools you need to get started with your own drone projects. If you’re just beginning to think about using UAVs, we encourage you to visit the INSPIRE ME area for outstanding examples of creative drone use. There’s also a section on out of the box: brainstorming drone uses that aims to jump start your brainstorming session.

If you’re interested, but not yet ready to embark on a project, the HISTORY & CONTEXT area may help get you thinking about the nature of unmanned aerial aircraft and the purposes they serve, whether historically, as applied tools, or figuratively, as vehicles of the imagination. This area also provides insights into how drone developers are currently targeting audiences. Drones have the potential to engage – we also want to look at ways in which they may be used to include, and consider groups who might be left out of these imagined futures.

The legislation and guidance around drones is changing all the time, as are the technical capabilities of new models and methods, and we can’t provide comprehensive information for all situations. Our CREATIVE PRODUCTION area has technological information and links to help you find out where to go for the latest guidance for your project. Here you’ll also find practical tips on creating a team to implement your project, and some of the challenges others have faced and overcome in theirs.

The time after the project’s completion is just as important. How can we evaluate a project’s success? How can we pass on the knowledge we’ve gained, while learning from others around the world? The creative drone network is a new but growing one, and the larger drone community has a strong tradition of DIY and open-source sharing. We hope that you can share your projects with us, so that others may be inspired by your example.

Next page in toolkit: Out of the box: Brainstorming drone uses