Texas Start-Up Tasers Intern Via Stun-Copter to Spark Discussion About Tech at SXSW

PHOTO: An intern for Chaotic Moon Studios in Austin, Texas, volunteered to be tasered by a stun gun drone.
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The 26-year old intern who was tasered by a stun-gun equipped drone during the South By Southwest festival (SXSW) says he felt "pretty good" about being zapped by his employer.

Jackson Sheehan, 26, is an intern for Chaotic Moon, a four-year old creative technology studio based in Austin, Texas.

The University of Texas, Austin student is studying computer science and happens to be very fit with a "Superman"-like physique, says William "Whurley" Hurley, chief innovation officer at Chaotic Moon.

Sheehan and four others volunteered to be zapped by a Chaotic Unmanned Personal Intercept Drone or C.U.P.I.D. But Sheehan was selected as the best fit through a series of physical and medical tests, such as electrocardiographs, to make sure he had no abnormalities that would cause further risk.

To spark a discussion about the rapid growth of technology and the possible uses of it, Hurley said the company is spearheading a series of projects to draw attention to the both terrifying and amazing uses, which are outpacing a public response and regulation.

"You could make something comparable for few thousand dollars," Hurley said. "It would be manual and not autonomous," he said, adding that anyone can potentially buy a phantom drone for $1,100 to $2,000 that doesn't have enough power to lift much. "This isn’t something of a military-industrial complex budget. These are hobbyist-level budgets."

So how did it feel to be tasered by a drone?

Sheehan said, "If you’ve ever had a muscle cramp, like your calf cramped up - it’s like that except it's your whole body and there's a vibrating sensation. It pulses. I wouldn’t describe it as painful – you’re immobile."

Afterward, the project team hosted a celebratory lunch, and Sheehan said he didn't have any physical wounds expect for marks from the darts that stuck in him, which he described as "if you've ever given blood."

"I’ve never had that experience. I've had it in a calf or quad but never my whole body at once," Sheehan said, adding that the public's varied response has been "pretty thrilling."

Because military drones are a hot topic and SXSW is a large global event, Hurley said they decided to bring to life the "fantasy of some people and nightmares of others."

"We wanted to have an educated, well-informed discussion about how people feel about this as a society, or whether you're a police officer or private citizen," Hurley said.

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Chaotic Moon's legal department wouldn't let the demo run in an automated fashion, so every aspect of it was controlled by a person. The project was "over-engineered," including safety procedures that included a manual control override for the setting of the charge, Hurley said. The preparation time was about three weeks for a demo that lasted about 30 seconds.

"Demonstrations like these can seem unsettling, but they help us prepare for the future instead of react to it," said Chaotic Moon CEO Ben Lamm. "The technology is already here and seeing it in action like this pushes us to have the conversations we need to have about how to deploy drones responsibly."

Lamm said his team chose to build the stun-copter "because it was one of the more difficult executions" due to the taser blast "and it's one of the first conversations we need to have about rules and regulations."

The next project, Hurley said, will be the "polar opposite" of the stun-copter project, but it will still involve a drone.

"I feel it’s not the regulators or entrepreneurs who should dictate for the rest of us. I think the rest of us need to participate in this discussion," he added.

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