Christopher Newport University Center for American Studies

The Opportunities and Challenges of the Coming Domestic Drone Boom

Editor's Note: In his January 28, 2013 Alexander Hamilton Society Keynote Lecture at Christopher Newport University, Peter Singer spoke about the revolutionary effects of drones and the issues policymakers will face as such robotics become more prevalent. A portion of the speech is below; the entire speech is available via Vimeo.

In 1899, a strange thing appeared on the streets of Norfolk – it was loud, ungainly, and ugly. It was also the first of its kind. It was the first quote “horseless carriage” to appear on the streets of Virginia – a steam-powered car. It was also called a “loco-mobile.” Now, within a decade after that, there were more than 2,705 of these strange things. This strange new technology registered with the Commonwealth of Virginia, and by 1915 there were more than 37,000 of these now what we call automobiles in Virginia.

Now this new technology brought all sorts of new opportunity to the area. The first Virginia-made car called the “Dawson car” was built in Basic City, what is now called Waynesboro, in 1901. And the Piedmont and Klein car were manufactured in Lynchburg and Richmond respectively. Virginia manufacturers would make over 2,500 horseless carriages before Henry Ford shifted to the assembly line and basically moved the industry to Michigan.

Now this strange new technology didn’t just bring opportunity, it brought all sorts of new questions that nobody was ready for in Virginia – especially the state government. There were no real roads, there were no maps to the paths that existed, and indeed as late as 1921 the Automobile Club of America recommended that motorists driving from New England to Florida bypass the state of Virginia.

As with revolutionary inventions of the past, like the horseless carriage and manned airplanes, no amount of handwringing by pundits late to the game will see a technology of such great promise banned. That said, new technologies bring with them the need for revising old laws. Early cars and planes, for instance, led to the creation of newfangled things like "traffic laws" and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Watch Peter Singer's speech on the CNU Center for American Studies Vimeo page »