10 Most Interesting Digital Trends: #7

The possibility of hovering GPS drones housing unique Internet servers in the sky has begun to generate debate and growing concern among content owners who thought the threat of Napster-like piracy was manageable. But technology has a way of staying several steps ahead of legacy laws and regulations.

File sharing sites like MegaUpload and The Pirate Bay have taken a significant amount of heat since authorities began fiercely cracking down on online piracy. The serious issue of finding new ways to avoid detection of users by authorities has taken the forefront for these and other popular websites that exist for the sole purpose of enabling users to upload music, movies and other files to be shared with millions of people across the globe. When The Pirate Bay recently announced they were considering the option of building GPS server drones, thousands of people within the torrent community praised the site for its creativity and imagination.

The Pirate Bay claims that these servers are well beyond the legal jurisdiction of law enforcementserver+drones agencies, mostly due to a lack of legislation that sanctions the governing of free airspace. GPS drones being considered by the torrent site will utilize modern radio signals that are capable of transmitting up to 100Mbit/s at a safe altitude of up to 50 km. A fully-autonomous Multicopter and Heli UAV' system will keep the small drones stationary and new drones can be deployed to allow units that have been in the sky for too long to rest.

The economics surrounding sophisticated drones are currently untenable for any mass or even limited deployment, but they are certain to improve. Many DIY companies sell all of the parts needed for the construction of small solar-powered drones ranging anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending upon required features, not including the server and communications costs. Torrent sites and other small companies that operate without obvious revenue streams will rely heavily on donations to pay for the floating drones. Aside from the costs involved, the other major issue is that The Pirate Bay may never actually implement the project. They've introduced disruptive plans in the past that were ultimately never to see the light of day.

But the technology already exists and has been tested with great success, claims a London-based organization. Liam Young, one of the founders of Tomorrow's Thoughts Today, has been building floating file-sharing drones for some time now. He found himself taken aback by The Pirate Bay's recent announcement and claims that the torrent site is actually playing catch-up with his organization. "I thought, hold on, we are already doing that," Young said in an interview with TorrentFreak.

Young's project, Electronic Countermeasures, began as an innovative way to create a sort of 'sky-bound Napster,' before morphing into something much more important to the Internet community. Countermeasures has become an alluring mixture of nomadic infrastructure and futuristic robotic swarm. Young states that his company has reprogrammed the server drones to broadcast a proprietary Wi-Fi network instead. The small robots swarm directly into bits of information, broadcasting their special network, and then retreat before they can be detected. They then swarm back together in a completely new location to repeat the process.

While hovering GPS servers are widely seen as new methods to promote piracy, there are in fact many other potential uses for the technology. For instance, there have been talks for years in the United States about implementation of free wireless Internet service for consumers and students who are unable to afford the exorbitant fees charged by many Internet service providers. Current server drones are powered by tiny, but effective solar panels placed on the tops of the low-flying robots. The inclusion of solar power means that the costs of operation for the servers are relatively low. Maintenance and replacement costs should begin to drop dramatically as the technology enters into mass production. GPS server drones could be implemented throughout low-income neighborhoods and colleges to allow for open access Wi-Fi networks with the capability of delivering Internet connections at reliable speeds. As for possibly disrupting existing service being offered by traditional data companies, there seems to be no worries. The technology is currently being touted as a complementary tool, rather than a total alternative.

Social media networks could also make incredible use of low-flying drones. Google, Facebook, Zynga, Amazon, Twitter and other giants will be able to find new ways to connect to even more users around the world and build their own dedicated servers to maximize speed, security and data access. Gaming mega-company Blizzard could create their own network for World of Warcraft integration. Netflix could utilize hovering servers to deliver wireless movie streams more effectively. Other countries that are currently without reliable public Internet access could potentially use hovering GPS servers to bring cheap connections to the general population. More third-world countries would be able to experience social media and other perks enjoyed by so people in developed nations. Hovering GPS server technology could remain in its infancy, never being deployed except for a few small file sharing uses. But it appears that these futuristic robotic web servers are here to stay. Currently, they are poised to explode unto the scene in a very major way. If developers at the Pirate Bay or the staff behind Liam Young's 'Electronics Countermeasures' project have it their way, more and more drones will begin taking to the skies in an attempt to allude the authorities. Torrent users will gain access to new ways to share files with the entire world and less controversial uses will be found for these amazing, innovative little gadgets. For now, unless content owners and organizations begin preparing for another onslaught of piracy initiatives, they will once again be unprepared as their content flies all about freely and without legal recourse.

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