At Conference on Drones, Talk of Morals and Toys

The people came for the technology, certainly, and for the flying demonstrations they were promised. They came to find the hobbyists and dreamers who shared their vision of drones as a force for good — or at least good business.

hey did not come for this.

“Find a partner,” a philosophy professor instructed on Friday from the stage at the Drones and Aerial Robotics Conference, held at New York University. “I would like you to look him or her in the eyes for just five seconds.”

Most of the dozens in attendance initially refused. The teacher pleaded until the partnering was complete. Then the counting began, and never seemed to end. At least one attendee appeared to surrender midway, looking away to compose a Twitter message after about three seconds.

“You feel that little quiver in your stomach?” the professor, John Kaag of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, asked when it was over. “It’s called a sign of being human. Drones don’t feel that.”

It has been a trying period for defenders of the drone. Public perception has been shaped in large part by the Obama administration’s use of drones in counterterrorism efforts, and civil liberties advocates have long decried the drone’s seemingly boundless capacity to restrict privacy.

Then there was the blemish for local hobbyists last week, when a drone was said to have crashed near Grand Central Terminal, narrowly missing a pedestrian.

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