One year ago, drones dominated the Paris Air Show. Manufactured by major defense contracts, these drones were positioned as the future of warfare (and had a price tag to match in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars). Last month, the Hobby Expo China in Beijing featured similar drone with the same capabilities as the military ones (minus being able to blow stuff up). The difference? Many of these drones came with a price tag of less than a $1000. It’s no wonder open source drones, like the ArduCopter Quad from 3D Robotics, now outnumber military drones in the U.S.

What do drones and market research have in common? Well, nothing…yet. But reading Noah Shachtman article, 5 Drones at Work, there seems to be a common thread or strength if you will, of observation depicted. Drones that inspect oil equipment, conduct police reconnaissance, check on crops, and survey wildlife. In a sense, one could argue this is a form of ethnographic research, as ethnography simply aims to describe the nature of that which is being observed or studied (whether it be consumers, crops or wildlife).

At W5, observational ethnography is used to evaluate consumer behavior in detail, identifying meaningful patterns and themes that emerge through sustained, structured observation of people engaging in activities such as browsing, buying and trying products, or using services. By recognizing such patterns and themes and finding their underlying meaning, W5 ethnographers highlight the points of inflection at which consumers are most susceptible to influence, as well as develop a holistic picture of the market environment. Now, imagine a drone the size of a butterfly doing the observing. Impossible? Impossible like conducting Focus Groups in a virtual, online room? Impossible like collected data via mobile devices? Possibly.

One of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) latest project – a butterfly-shaped drone weighing just 20 grams – the smallest in its range so far – can gather intelligence inside buildings.

There are, of course, existing rules and regulations that address a future where people, companies and police all command tiny aircrafts. (See Rules for Proper Droning for answers to questions like ‘Can I use a drone to spy on my sexy neighbor?’ or ‘Could a police drone look in my window for drugs?’) Chris Anderson, co-founder of 3D Robotics, reminds us “the military created the Internet, but the people colonized it and created the web for their own purposes. The amateur UAV community is hoping to do the same with drones—demilitarize and democratize them so they can find their full potential. There will be good uses and bad ones, but the same is true of any tool, from a crowbar to an ultrasound machine. Ultimately the way society best figures out how to think about a powerful new technology is to set it free and watch where it flies.”

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