Promotional films: drone manufacturers’ fictions

As part of our research, Project Daedalus analysed 37 promotional films from some of the leading drone manufacturers, to find out what they imagined about what kinds of people might use them, and for what purposes. These films raise a number of questions about how technology is developed. Observed carefully, they reveal who is absent from the initial user groups, and suggest what space there is for artists to imagine a different demographic in the production of drone experiences.

Some common themes quickly emerge. Foremost among these is the elevation of the natural world. A stark contrast to the manmade, futuristic UAV, the natural world in its breathtaking beauty is the site for experiences, adventure and wonder. As often the case in commercial settings, nature is a backdrop, but in this story, it becomes a participant. Many of the people are depicted skiing, surfing, snowboarding, or otherwise interacting with the natural world.

A corollary to this is that the films are almost exclusively targeted to healthy, able-bodied people. This exclusion goes further: most feature white men and, more rarely, women of around 20-30 years old. There is, however, some evidence that this may be changing, as the recent Lily ‘selfie’ drone shows the drone as the centre of a family experience. The drone’s intended use seemed relatable to the demographic targeted, and selfie pitches were more likely to feature groups of women than those with extreme sports photography as their focus.

A few of the videos featured playful interaction – dancing drones or drones playing instruments – while most cut between FPV and scenes of the drone flying. Many had an aspirational lifestyle aspect. We’ve collected the videos here for you to draw your own conclusions about what these imagined scenarios say, and to whom they are speaking.