Lecture 9 – Hardware: Antennae and drones

As I mentioned in my last post, the next few classes in this module will be focused on hardware and software – the two entities that make up modern technology. When you buy a mobile phone, it’s not just the hardware you need – the screen, the case, the antennae, the camera etc. it’s the software inside that allows you to make calls, browse the web etc. Hardware and software working together – one without the other isn’t much use.

I’ve already covered the first class based on hardware in my most recent blog posts, in the class we discussed some of the social and political issues around hardware. What are the implications of using rare earth metals in the production of technologies? Where does our data go when we save to the cloud or send something through the internet? Who has access to this information? These are all questions we should know and understand the answers to, it’s in the interest of every human on the planet to understand what freedoms we have and what freedoms we only believe we have.

This weeks class focused more on the physical hardware itself. What are drones? What are they used for? The evolution of mobile phone technology. The ‘internet of things’ and ubiquitous computing – the development of the internet.


Although there’s lots of military connotations still surrounding drones, they’re becoming increasingly popular as something to be used for creative and entertainment purposes. They can be used for filming aerial footage, taking birds-eye photographs or just for flying in the local park on a Sunday afternoon for fun.

The term drone originates from the honeybee drone – the male bee who mates with the queen in order to continue the good work of its hive. To make a long story short, the make bees are there to mate with their queen, whilst the female bees – the workers, do all the work and collect the nectar for the hive. The drone is named after these male drone honeybees as they have stouter bodies than the workers, with larger eyes, although they’re larger than worker bees, they can match their speeds.

Drones are crucial in a world where information is key. They are part of a network of ‘smart’ objects that collect data and interact with other hardware. Although they can be used to simply fly over an area, take images and store them within a microchip, they’re primarily designed to relay information via a data-link – transmitting the data they gather to other pieces of hardware, either on land, in the air, in space or at sea. Although many have made a connection between drones and the age of ubiquitous computing – the third age of computers we are currently experiencing, this may not be the case. This form of interactivity relies heavily on an infrastructure of hardware and software, working together in order to collect and make sense of the data collected by drones.


We then moved on to discuss the development of mobile phone technology. Over the last 30 years huge leaps have been made, and the leaps can be measured in periods lasting around 10 years each. From 1981 to now, from 1G, through to 5G, a number of key discoveries and creations have allowed for new experiences and uses for mobile phones.

1G – Basic mobile phone technology, allowed for calls to be made using very large devices that required battery packs and large antennae connected to the device. Up until around 1981.

2G – 1981-1991. Introduced more efficient, digitally encrypted calling systems, as well as new services such as SMS (text messaging). There was also an advance in the data storage capacities of mobile phones, in order to allow text messages to be saved to devices (late 1980’s).

3G – Based on a set of Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service standards. Allows mobiles internet access. The US flagged behind the rest of the world here due to the military owning the necessary lower frequencies that allow for faster, more efficient mobile communications. Here’s where the iPhone comes in – making the most out of internet access and giving people applications (apps) so they can use their mobile device for a wide range of tasks. 1991-2001

4G – 2001-2020. In 2008 the International Telecommunications Union set out a specification for 4G connections. These requirements included setting peak speeds for high and low mobility communications. For high mobility communication (trains, cars etc.) the connection would need to be around 100Mbit/s and for low mobility communication (pedestrians or stationary users) the required speed is 1Gbit/s. High demand means more mobile phones, needing more data and therefore more low frequency networks and more antennae. 4G allows for data hungry apps and tasks such as Skype, mobile online gaming, and HD video streaming.

5G – Focus on aiming for higher capacity rather than faster speeds and ensure services require less data and battery power – lower running costs, lower battery consumption etc. Be 100% reliable, especially in times of crisis or natural disaster. Also needs to meet the needs of the third age in computing – the Internet of Things, with more and more devices connecting to the internet using data networks and the lower frequencies being filled up, there needs to be a focus on finding more ways to streamline data and make the most out of the connections we have.

Ubiquitous Computing 

We are currently at the start of the third age of computing – the ubiquitous computing age. First there were mainframes – where lots of people shared the same machine, computers were something to be purchased as a one-off by a research or education centre as they were very expensive and hard to maintain. Next came the age of personal computing, where individuals use their own devices for specific purposes. We are now emerging into the age of ubiquitous computing, where technology recedes into the background and becomes something less tangible, something we take for granted and rely upon so much, it’s no longer something to focus on.

Mark Weiser coined the term ubiquitous computing in the late 1980’s and has become the father of the Internet of Things. He foresaw that computing would become something human centred and that future generations would rely on technologies that were only in their youth at the time. He imagined a world where we wouldn’t depend on one device per 100 hundred people, he also saw past the current age where we rely on our personal devices for our interactions and personal information. “We will not need to carry our own devices around with us. Instead, configurable devices, either handheld of embedded in the environment, will bring computation to us.”

The 1990’s saw around 1 billion devices connect to the internet, the 2000’s added another 2 billion. The Internet of Things predicts that humanity will connect a further 28 billion devices to the internet by 2020 and we are constantly finding and creating new devices to connect. Not all of what Mark Weiser said about the ubiquitous computing is around us yet but, everyday we get closer.




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