Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that examines the lessons behind disruptive products through the lens of design.
Drone technology was a divisive issue even before Jeff Bezos unveiled plans to revolutionize shipping by airlifting Amazon products to customers' doorsteps. The many practical applications of drones are certainly compelling, but the prospect of filling the skies with flying robots comes with legitimate concerns about safety, privacy and whether ensuring orderly drone traffic requires regulation.
The use of drones--and one specific drone in particular--received a major public endorsement, however, when Martha Stewart wrote an op-ed in Time on Tuesday entitled "Why I Love My Drone." Here's part of what she had to say about her first time operating the Parrot AR Drone 2.0:
"After a quick introduction to the mechanics of operating the contraption and a few words about its idiosyncrasies, I loaded the appropriate app on my iPad and went down to the beach. In just a few minutes I was hooked. In near silence, the drone rose, hovered, and dove, silently and surreptitiously photographing us and the landscape around us. The photos and video were stunning."
As Pepin Gelardi, a partner at New York-based product design company Tomorrow Lab, points out, part of what makes drones so appealing is their simplicity. Unlike older flying gadgets such as toy helicopters that required mastering an six-channel remote control system, the ease in which drones can be piloted is attractive.
"Now, because of the type of electronics you can have on board on a drone--because the drone can do so much processing--you can essentially have a drone that you can control with a very simple channel," he says. "You can literally tell a drone on a map where to go and computationally everything else will happen outside of your control. That drone will just move to that place in space. That's completely unique."
So what makes the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 so special? Here are three design lessons from the product that should keep all consumers (not just Martha Stewart) hooked:
1. Focus on user-friendliness.
The AR Drone 2.0's built-in 3D compass uses the pilot as a reference point, so no matter what direction you're facing, the drone will follow the tilt of your smartphone or table. Called "absolute control mode," this piloting mode helps beginners get a handle on flying the drone immediately.
2. Design with social media in mind.
The AR Drone 2.0 automatically records HD video and sends it directly to your device so that you can immediately upload footage and share it on social media. For Martha Stewart, that means a 50-foot view of her handiwork is streamable, instantaneously.
3. Build a lasting product.
One of the challenges with drones is making them both lightweight and durable. To achieve this balance, the AR Drone 2.0's hulls that surround the propellers are made from super lightweight but ultra-sturdy expanded polypropylene foam.
While the AR Drone 2.0's design might have Stewart's seal of approval, the underlying technology behind all drones is the innovation that's shaking up entrepreneurship in the field of robotics.
"What makes robotics really exciting right now is that ability for them to do so much processing on board," Gelardi says. You can "make them do things that we weren't able to do before."