Gaining (Remote) Control

Drones are on the mind this month at Calit2. As user-friendly robotics and teleoperated technology have become staples of modern warfronts, films, hospitals and households, the domestication of what was once science fiction is now a point of debate among contemporary artists, engineers and researchers. 

This weekend, phase 2 of Calit2’s “Drones at Home” project will provide open forum for this discussion, with a series of screenings, panel dialogues and art performances over the course of Friday and Saturday. 


The conference will begin with a panel discussion entitled “Robotics, Biointerface, Agency” moderated by Sheldon Brown — the director of UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, and creator of the acclaimed immersive digital suburban environment “Scalable City.”

In the afternoon, “Drones at Home” will operate as an open venue for demonstrations, roundtables and brainstorming sessions with the conference’s host of esteemed authors, scientists, software developers and UC professors. A wine bar will be open from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Day 1 highlight “Unmanned” is a performance piece by artist, author, theorist and UCSD professor Jordan Crandall. With a series of character monologues, Crandall creates a “philosophical theatre” to examine the position of masculinity in a military increasingly dependent on automated technology. In the American Southwest, a military drone crash lands in the backyard of a suburban home. The crash initiates a chain of reaction among the narrative’s seven characters (all played by Crandall), including the agency detective who investigates the incident and a trucker/cowboy who searches for similar crashes along the border. In addition to the stage action, Crandall will be supplemented by video and sound, creating a performance that is both intimate and dramatic. 


On Saturday, “Drones at Home” will facilitate two panel discussions: “Drone Subjectivities, Mediations and Perspectives,” moderated by Crandall, and “Drone Economies,” moderated by UCSD’s own Ricardo Dominguez. 

The conference will culminate in a screening of writer/director Alex Rivera’s “Sleep Dealer,” winner of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival’s Waldo Screenwriting Award and Alfred P. Sloan Prize. 

In the vein of “Brazil” and “Blade Runner,” “Sleep Dealer” is a take on the familiar sci-fi summer blockbuster from an entirely new perspective. In the near future, Memo Cruz (Luis Fernando Peña) traverses a dystopian Mexico, as a conflict broils between the military and local “aqua-terrorists.” After a remotely piloted drone attacks his home and kills his father, Memo travels to Tijuana (“City of the Future”) in search of work at a virtual reality labor factory where workers plug in — à la “The Matrix” — and outsource their work across the border. But as any tech-savvy filmgoer might’ve guessed, the factory is much more sinister, and its implications much more destructive, than what Memo had imagined. 

The film was praised by the Los Angeles Times and Wired for it’s sharp script and glimpse of a frighteningly plausible future. A.O. Scott of the New York Times called it, “Exuberantly entertaining — a dystopian fable of globalization disguised as a science-fiction adventure.” The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Rivera, and a closing dinner reception. 

The conference will take place in the Calit2 Auditorium in UCSD’s Atkinson Hall, Friday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The event is free for UCSD students.