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    Drones Over South By Southwest

    Written by

    Alex Pasternack

    Founding Editor

    Not in a literal sense. I'm talking about drones in the abstract, which is to say, killer drones, the kind that neutralize terrorists in other countries (and possibly this one), or that fly too close to commercial airplanes, or that patrol the borders, and spy on people from five hundred feet up. But also non-killer drones, the ones that fight fires or inspect bridges, that rescue people, that make amazing video, and that, in theory at least, drop tacos. (Just think about all the precious time wasted waiting around on taco lines at SXSW.) This is the problem with drones--they're designed to do things that humans shouldn't have to do and can't do, and even if they don't take humans out of the equation, they raise the specter of a dangerous technology that is simply getting out of control.

    To get our heads around the topic, and really the very word, it helps to look at what humans are doing with them everyday in the U.S. and what they'll soon do, and to think precisely about the kind of control we'd like to have. So on Monday, Motherboard is throwing a Droneday at our VICELAND space, which we'll refer to as a happening--it's not a panel, it's not a film, it's not a chance to see and touch and fly quadcopters. It's all of those things. (It's also a place to touch the spaceship that Tom Cruise flies in Oblivion, that upcoming sci-fi movie in which he plays a drone repairman. Yes, you read that right. If you thought a Predator looked scary, wait until you see this thing.) 

    DRONEDAY / by Motherboard and Oblivion (Monday, March 11, 2013, at VICELAND -- 401 East Cesar Chavez Street, Austin, Texas)

    Hacks, a roundtable on the ups and downs of flying robots, and indoor air shows. Plus a screening of Motherboard's new documentary about UAV over the US, "DroneOn." Set to autopilot and come party with VICE + OBLIVION. All humans welcome.

    Presented by Oblivion, the upcoming futuristic action-adventure film starring Tom Cruise, in theaters April 19.

    3-5pm: Demos and a roundtable with

    • Justin Edwards -- DroneAbove
    • Trevor Timm -- Electronic Frontier Foundation
    • Gene Robinson -- RP Search Services
    • Chris Sanz -- Drone Games
    • Nabiha Syed -- The New York Times

    5-7pm: Airtime: hands-on demos, workshops, displays, films, and partying

    7pm-8pm: Oblivion Soundtrack Listening Party featuring new original music by M83


    RSVP here.

    On Saturday teams of hackers will vie for the top prize at DroneGames (drones correspondent Brian Anderson is a judge!), while Justin Edwards, founder of aerial photography company DroneAbove.com, leads a meet-up for hobbyists. On Sunday, a panel of savvy droneheads, including Chris Anderson and law professor Ryan Calo, will ask "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Drone." And who knows? Considering the growth of the hobby and the spread of toy drones over the past year (like the Phantom, a new prosumer system made by DJI Innovations, which has an office here in Austin) all sorts of these things could be popping up around town. And there's the @VICEDrone, which will be buzzing around, helping us keep an eye on the whole thing via its Twitter stream, allowing us, we hope, ample bar time.  #dronejournalism

    Drone footage of Rep. Lance Gooden, the author of a new bill about drones, outside the state capitol building. (Video by Justin Edwards, DroneAbove.com, for the Texas Tribune.)

    The biggest show of all however might be happening at the State Capitol, where new legislation proposes to limit the use of photography by a drone over any private property. It's an especially contentious issue in a place that, famously, values its personal freedoms and its right to privacy. And it's the kind of legislation that drone enthusiasts say could stifle business and innovation--not to mention kill their buzz. Until national regulations come down from the FAA, and even after they do, the same debate is likely to play out in states across the country. In the meantime, there will be no official drone flights over Austin, according to Lt. Patrick Cochran of the Austin Police Dept, which explored procuring its own drone last year. "Right now there are so many restrictions, it doesn't make sense to even have one," he says.

    The best way to attack the drone discussion head-on isn't with a drone. But a whole party of them can't hurt. After demos, Droneday will turn into a conversation about the present and future of unmanned machines in the Lone Star state and around the country. With the help of the Radionavigation Lab at UT Austin, we'll demonstrate how a drone can be hacked and hijacked. And we'll be showing our documentary about drones over America, "Drone On." Afterwards, we're unwinding with a listening party for M83's new record and then a dance party, d.j.'d by the Hood Internet, Breakbot, Brenmar, and Peace. Now, about those tacos...

    Drone repairman Tom Cruise in Oblivion.

    Follow our flying eye @VICEdrone