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Dean Burnett @garwboy
, 22 tweets, 5 min read Read on Twitter

Today's events at #Gatwick reminded me of my own favourite story concerning a Drone. So here it is for you all

It should provide a cautionary tale of reliance on technology, as well an insight into how UK academia functions

I won't be sharing any identifying details, just so you know. I shouldn't do that anyway, but luckily I can't remember the specifics in any case. I just know it was a UK university, and the source was one I trusted who worked there, so I assume this is a true story


This was many years ago, in the *early days* of #drones, so they weren't quite on the shelf items yet, but they were known about as a *thing*, if that made sense? They'd entered the mainstream as something cool and cutting edge by this point, but weren't that common yet

In view of this, a UK university department decides they need a Drone, to help with fieldwork. Could have been geography department, geology, zoology, biology, archaeology even? I just know it wasn't computing or engineering, for reasons that will become obvious

So, some department big shot decides they need a drone to help with their studies. There are valid ways in which one would be useful, but it would also show the department is cool and cutting edge, which is bleakly important in modern higher education

As a result, the department orders this top-of-the-line scientific camera drone and have it shipped over from Japan. Lord knows how much it cost, was at least 5 figures, possibly 6? All worth it if you want to show potential students how slick and cool you are

So, surprisingly-massive super-advanced pricey drone arrives at UK university department. And, as you do, the hotshot academic who ordered gathers his students and they take it out to the nearby wilderness to do some fieldwork. That's what it's for, after all

However, in a turn of events that will only surprise those who've never worked in a University, once they arrive at the desired spot to begin their research, it turns out nobody present actually knows how to operate the smegging hi-tech Drone they've lugged out there

Proper Jurassic Park-style moment, in that they all spent so long deciding they should, nobody stopped to ask if they *could*. So all these highly-educated people are staring at this ludicrously pricey tool they've no idea how to use

The impression I got was that, classic UK academia mindset that I've known it to be, it was just assumed they'd 'figure it out' once they had a play around with it. How hard could it be, after all? Just a flying camera. No big deal.

Except that's not it at all, is it. This is a precision-engineered top-of-the-line scientific instrument. A Japanese one at that, and they know what they're doing. Those present expected it to be like setting up a DVD player. It's more like setting up an electron microscope

Even the control panel is terrifying, apparently. It's not some remote control plane up-down-left-right thing, it's no Playstation controller; bit complex but you can figure it out pretty quick. No, this control panel has about 50 buttons and sticks, none of it's intuitive

Presumably they didn't bring the instructions (or they were all in Japanese which nobody present understood). So, they go for the classic British approach to working complicated things out; just mess around with it, see what happens, and hope for the best [See also; Brexit]

Given that these are actually educated types, they somehow manage to get it to take off and hover, and get some camera feed onto the screen (also on the control panel? I don't know). Everyone's happy, in a "we got this" sort of way.

Not wanting to push their luck, they consider the test flight a success and decide to head home. Just one problem though; it turns out nobody can figure out how to make the drone land. There's no obvious down button, whoever got it to take off is starting to panic

So they've got this hugely-expensive, camera-riddled, GPS-enabled, telemetry-infused cutting-edge scientific-assessment drone... just hovering there, in the middle of a field. And nobody has any idea how to bring it down.

Things are getting desperate now. Nobody wants to use the 'press random buttons and hope for the best' method in case it does the inevitable 'send it hurtling into a tree' thing

But boss academic who thought to buy the thing in the first place is fretting, because if the drone runs out of battery it'll come down of it's own accord, but not at a survivable speed. There is an 'off' button on the controller, but that'll give the same result

Finally, one bright spark takes a look at the controller and spots a button that says 'Home', thinks 'Ah, there we go, and presses it'. Problem solved

Of course, given they've never used it before and don't even knows how to land it, nobody's changed the factory settings on this fabulously expensive GPS-enabled drone yet

It seems unlikely that it had enough power to make it from the UK to Japan, but you never know

Either way, that Uni department never saw their prize possession again. But if a massive drone randomly fell out of the sky near you in Denmark or thereabouts several years ago, now you know what that happened

From last night. Made me laugh all over again while typing it, which is usually a good sign
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