Robots and Drones. The Future of MR?

If you read my previous blog post, Using Drones for Ethnographic Research? Not Yet., then you can imagine my excitement when I saw space150’s April Fool’s Day prank: the launch of their new Drone Insights Division. And even though the launch was fake, chief strategy officer David Denham was correct when stating: “Those of us in the consumer insights space know that observation is one of the fundamental tools in unearthing latent needs that consumers can not always express. But observing a consumer in the field is still an intrusive endeavor in most cases.” He goes on to make his case on the benefit of drones, “By using drone technology, we can observe and not deter. The possibilities for brands, especially in the outdoor industry, are really exciting.” This prank, coupled with NPR’s recent interview Will Man’s Best Friend Be A Robot? with Cynthia Breazeal, seeded this post.

Cynthia Breazeal founded and directs the Personal Robots Group at MIT’s Media Lab. Her research focuses on developing the principles and technologies for building personal robots that are socially intelligent—that interact and communicate with people in human-centric terms, work with humans as peers, and learn from people as an apprentice. She has developed some of the world’s most famous robotic creatures, ranging from small hexapod robots to highly expressive humanoids, including the social robot Kismet and the expressive robot Leonardo.

In her TEDTalks video, Cynthia discusses how robots equal social technology. That robots push our social buttons. And her recent work that investigates the impact of social robots on helping people of all ages to achieve personal goals that contribute to quality of life, in domains such as physical performance, learning and education, health, and family communication and play over distance.

What grabbed my attention is when she stated the key insight her team has taken away from all the work and progress they’ve made thus far: people behave like people, even when they are interacting with robots.

When you think about this insight, coupled with the idea of using drones for observation, do you see a game-changer? If people interact with robots just as they do with humans, then who’s to say a human moderator is better than a robot? Why spend one hour studying “meal time habits” when you can have a robot live with a person for a month? Think of all the data you would capture. I think David hit the nail on the head with the idea that we can “observe and not deter.”

Is all this a stretch? Perhaps. But it’s not out of reach…

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