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June 19, 2014

Making Innovations Personal

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:17 AM

CES 2014: Drones Take Flight in Las Vegas [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6W_wvY3mq8]

It had to happen. Seeing as we live in a world in which billions of inhabitants are obsessed with taking "selfies" on their mobile telephones, eventually we'd be seeing the "dronie" come along as well.

Credit the easily accessible technology that makes taking a "dronie" (a digital photograph of oneself taken from an unmanned aerial drone) a reality. Drones were once the sole purview of defense ministries, weather agencies, and large corporations. But now there are a number of companies that manufacture aerial drones that are simple for anyone to use in conjunction with a smart phone.

Before you start making a hand motion that resembles someone swatting away an annoying insect, I think we should consider the merits of personal drones going mainstream. They aren't as annoying as they initially might seem. After all, it was less than four decades ago that most everyone agreed that computers were big, ungainly boxes that took up a lot of space and that nobody would ever want to use in their homes. Think of how the perception of the personal computer has changed in that time.

Although drones still have public relations issues to overcome (many are still used by militaries in the field), digital consumers are beginning to realize their commercial applications. For example, I read a story about a real estate agent in North America who uses a personal drone to take photos of properties that he has for sale. He says the tool helps sell houses as much as putting a plate of cookies in the foyer. Customers are coming to expect a bird's eye view of a house to see what's going on with neighbors. It's not too much to ask before making what is usually the biggest investment (a house) a person will ever make.

In fact, a consultancy estimates that the market for personal drones will grow by 20 percent a year. Besides real estate agents, farmers can monitor acres and acres of crops from the relative comfort of their homes. And Amazon.com has announced that they're exploring the use of drones to deliver packages to the doorsteps of customers as a way to make their order fulfillment process even faster. As with any new technology, the market hasn't quite discovered all the possible uses yet. It was the same argument when personal computers hit the scene in the 1980s.

There is something quite profound about a technology's evolution to becoming very personal. When large enterprises or governments utilize something, there aren't as many concerns as when that same technology goes mainstream. The two major concerns I hear about these days concerning personal drones are safety and privacy. Sure, nobody wants a drone flying into the airspace of a commercial airplane. But remember how leaving a smart phone on during landing or takeoff was supposed to somehow jeopardize the accuracy of an airplane's flight controls? I think the concerns around personal drones flying 50 feet overhead are probably as unjustified.

We also hear about privacy. Personal computers were supposed to mark the end of any private realm that digital consumers could possess. But what we've seen is quite the opposite in the past couple years: Those consumers tend to offer up information about themselves and their shopping habits only if they perceive that the organization in question is giving them a special deal in return. A major search engine like Google has already mapped most of the earth's surface with its own technology. It might serve as a check on that ability for any entrepreneur with a personal drone to map her own community in order to help her business succeed.

One of the manufacturers of personal drones had it right when he said that any new technology always causes public concerns. We can rest assured that there will be vigorous debates as to the safety and privacy or anyone being able to control a drone overhead. Then again, it was the public's embrace of computers that made the technology what it is today.

If companies are going to want to utilize devices such as drones to get us merchandise delivered to our doors, their customers are going to have to embrace such technology as well. And the best way is for them to see the merits of that technology are in a personal framework.

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