DIY Drones

Some people take visibility for granted. As a capsuleer I am always under constant scrutiny. It doesn’t matter if you operate out of highsec, lowsec, or nullsec – someone is watching your every move. It could be Concord, or your corporation/alliance commanding officer – someone is watching you.

Capsuleers are a high risk investment. We are costly to make, and even more costly to maintain. Ships aren’t cheap. Clones aren’t cheap. You hope that every operation will be successful, that every mission will be profitable, but that isn’t always the case.

In stations, we’re required to be observed at all times “for our own protection”. There had been a recent series of attacks on pod pilots within stations, and as such, even outside of our extended perceptions within our ships via camera drones, we were monitored by station security drones no matter where we went. There were exceptions, of course, like the private bedroom and bathroom of our captain’s quarters, but other than that, you were never truly alone.

I didn’t even mention rogue drone hives, though I could, nor drones I often purchase for a variety of purposes during missions. I simply have never trusted drones. Even though none of us knew to what extent the Jovian technology that empowered us to be Capsuleers was self aware, I preferred to think it was a non-thinking machine setup.

I like machines. I didn’t like thinking machines. Call me racist.

I say all of this simply to get this point. I may be changing my mind about drones. Perhaps it was lack of understanding of their inner workings, and that ignorance turned to fear and hatred, I’m not sure. What I know is that during my forced downtime, I came to tinkering in my workshop with what was the latest consumer trend – micro drones.

I managed to assemble a quad rotor powered drone no more than ten centimeters in diameter. It was small and simplistic, but it was something I understood in its entirety. The workings were very basic, but I was very pleased with myself. The small control plug I had created that easily slid into my neural port made the drone very easy to control – no artificial intelligence here. At least not yet. One hurdle at a time.

Learning to fly the drone successfully was a challenge at first. Yes, it had basic stabilization algorithms programmed into it, but the finesse required for a static hover was astounding. I quickly learned it was easier to control the drone during full freedom movements, then the precision movements often associated with them. It was an interesting learning experience for me, giving me a new appreciation for those that constructed the drones I employed, and often lost, during my agent contracts.

After smashing my small drone into the walls of my quarters a few times, I quickly realized that a bigger space would be beneficial to my learning so went to a nearby turf park in the station to give myself some space to play. The domed station ceiling was at least three hundred feet above, and there was plenty of space to go full throttle with the little guy. Geez, I had already attributed human characteristics to a simple machine. Not good.

What’s worse is I swear to this day that once I gave the drone the freedom to move, that regardless of the fact that it had no external sensors or camera, the damned thing seemed happy to be zipping around, free from obstacles. It was a very disconcerting moment in my mind. The familiarity of emotion within our connection unsettled me, yet I continued.

I willed the drone upwards, wanting to test the limits of our connection, to understand the range of the transmitter, to test our limits. I figured the grass turf was soft, and I had built the drone to be fairly sturdy, or at least that is what I thought in my blissful ignorance.

The drone climbed and climbed until I couldn’t no longer see it or hear it. I felt strangely disconnected from it, from the soothing buzzing of its motors. I felt a moment of anxiety when I lost sight of it, like my infant baby was lost and in need of its father. I dismissed that emotion immediately.

A moment later, the drone re-appeared, tumbling out of control, falling from the sky. I ran towards it, willing our connection to re-establish, but something was wrong and the drone was unresponsive. I could feel panic rising within me, not thinking to dismiss the idiocy of that thought.

Of all the places the drone could tumble, it crashed into a small square of ferrocrete on the far side of the turf park – definitely not a soft landing.

I picked it up as it sat there buzzing, still unresponsive to my control interface, and manually turned it off. It looked in pain, and I felt horrible.

I took the drone back to my workshop and carefully diagnosed it. One motor arm was no longer responsive. I unplugged its control interface and swapped it with another arm port to further isolate whether the issue was the arm motor, or perhaps the controller board itself. The motor still didn’t spin.

My baby drone had a broken arm. My heart sank.

At that moment, the realization hit. I had stopped seeing the drone as a simple machine and had developed a familiarity with it. That was definitely not acceptable.

I removed the neural controller from my neck, powered it down, and packed up everything, broken drone included, into a small box to be dealt with at a later time.

I needed to research this technology more. I had read about people becoming addicted with this type of technology, falling in love with artificial creations, becoming more obsessed with robotic interactions than human ones, and the thought of myself becoming like that disgusted me.

Maybe there was something inherent in this type of tech that provoked such a response? I didn’t know. For the time being, I was better off remaining detached. In some ways, it reinforced my previous hatred for drone technology, but as the days passed, I found myself missing my little drone, found myself constantly having to fight the urge to repair him, just so the two of us could get back to enjoying a nice day in the freedom of turf park.

There was clearly something wrong with me.

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