I Fly with my Little Spy! New Stealth Techno-Toys.

On: September 12, 2010
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About Isobel Gorman
Isobel Gorman is an alumni of the MA in New Media at the University of Amsterdam. She also studied at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD) in Dublin, Ireland where she graduated with a BA in Visual Communications and History of Art and Design in 2001. She received a First Class Honours for her graduating thesis ‘Second Skins’ which dealt with the rising phenomena of Multi-player online gaming. An extract of this thesis was published in the NCAD anthology ‘Thought Lines 6‘. Isobel currently runs a digital design studio and lectures at the Dublin Institute of Design.


Ever wonder if your webcam was transmitting or had the capability of transmitting live after you turned it off? Earlier this year, a parent sued a high school in Philadelphia for spying on a student through a laptop the school had issued. It seems we are living in an age where technology is providing us with new means to gather information and invade our privacy in increasingly innovative and clandestine ways. This year sees the launch of a number of extremely sophisticated high-tech image capture/playback toys.

The recent debate about the proposed use of military-style surveillance drones in the United Kingdom, and further afield, has fuelled fears and given rise to concern over the continual erosion of the individual’s right to privacy and safety. The very name ‘drone’ seems to evoke a particularly menacing connotation, especially given the current use of drones in conflict. So when the French company Parrot launched their new augmented reality (AR) gaming device called AR.Drone the immediate association was surveillance related.

There is no doubt that AR.Drone is an exciting development for video gamers and radio controlled (R/C) aircraft enthusiasts. It allows a player to wage an augmented or virtual battle in a live environment, which is pretty amazing. This blending of real and virtual creates a hybrid form of immersive entertainment bringing video gaming out of the living room and into the streets.

The drone relies on two cameras to navigate and give live feedback to the player. Unlike other R/C aircraft (which also can have cameras attached) the drone is stable while hovering and in flight and according to all reports, it is much easier to pilot than traditional R/C aircraft. While it is Wi-Fi dependent (range of only 20m) and has a relatively short battery life, this may be all the range a person needs to spy in or around someone’s property or stalking. This toy puts tremendous spying capabilities in the hands of the individual, especially when the software is open source and can be modified for various ends.

Another toy which launched last month was the Spy Video TRAKR, a miniature tank which can be programmed to hide while capturing video or sound onto a memory card. It also has a night vision function and can be used both indoors and outside. While this toy in particular is aimed at children, the notion that a child can be given a tool which condones spying, whether consciously or not, is disturbing.

Whether we like it or not, our security and privacy is continually being eroded through technology. In the virtual realm we leave ourselves open to security threats as a consequence of giving away too much information. Increasingly, in the real world this intrusion of our personal space may come from the development of increasingly sophisticated and unmanned digital devices ready to record without our knowledge. Right …. the neighbour’s back, have to go.

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