Technology

The rise of the drones

Amazon’s recent announcement that it was ‘planning’ to use drones to deliver its goods to customers in 30 minutes had all the hallmarks of a fantastically sticky PR idea. Seasonally sensitive, it was a idea whose elements all made sense individually and came together to make a story that stuck in your head, despite knowing instantly that it’s a publicity stunt. Among the almost pointless arm wrestling with the practicalities and regulations to try and debate whether it could or couldn’t happen, you just have to marvel at the genius of Jeff Bezos and his team. It works in the key way it was intended – to make you talk about Amazon.

There are so many angles here that are pertinent to Truth’s work and that you could put a magnifying glass to; the power of stories to carry brand messages, the consumer desire for ultra-convenience or Amazon’s logistical might. It all comes down to the fact that if anyone could pull this off it would be them. The one I’m interested in exploring further is the rise of the drones - not the controversial remote-controlled military deliverers-of-death type of drones, but the cheaper £100-£200 models controllable by smart phones that fill the aisles of model shops.

These surprisingly agile machines have a potential range of uses beyond the early-adopting hobbyist that we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of. In a truly William Gibson-esque way, some of these initial uses involve the people living on the edges of society, with a recent story showing how a drone was used in an attempt to deliver cigarettes to an American prison. The potential for nefarious uses is as big as your imagination, but there are also potential domestic security applications, with drones ready to provide a supplement or substitute to CCTV in the remote-policing of our streets and public places.

Are there potential uses for brands? Undoubtedly. But my initial thoughts were actually about their potential for research. We’re always talking about being a fly on the wall, so what about if we actually were, and could observe consumer behaviour without getting in the way of it? Drones might be intrusive on a human scale currently, but technology doesn’t stand still, and we could have the potential to explore family dynamics in home without disrupting them, or capturing shopping trips without distracting our respondents. Obviously there would be ethical and methodological challenges, and it wouldn’t be able to replace face-to-face engagement, but as another tool in the researcher’s armoury it could be amazing!