From Terminator to Toy Story: drones for a better tomorrow

Until recently, drones only meant one thing to me. They were the flying killing machines favoured by Obama, brought vividly to life – ironically – by the central plot of the president’s favourite TV show, Homeland. They were the cutting-edge technology that pushed public concerns about automated warfare to the limit.

A UN inquiry into military drone attacks will report this Autumn. And the Ministry of Defence has just bought an extra 160 miniature flying surveillance vehicles for use in Afghanistan. Drones felt like the first dangerous step towards real robot armies.

Remote-controlled aeroplanes and helicopters were something different. They were like outdoor Scalectrix – the kind of toy that I forgot about 10 years ago.