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Retreating with Robots in West Virginia

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June 14th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016 06 10 at 10 01 03 PM

By Patrick Meier

We just held our first full-team retreat deep in the mountains of West Virginia. Why West Virginia? Frankly, because that was the cheapest option. Plus, we wanted to get away from the usual distractions in order to get some hard work done—namely finalizing our Flying Labs strategy amongst a dozen other major action items. As it turns out, West Virginia proved to be the ideal location for our retreat. There was minimal WiFi, which made it near impossible to get on emails or browse the usual social media channels. What's more, the cabin was a good half-hour away (by car) from the nearest restaurant or grocery store. So we did all the cooking at home, which meant fewer distractions. We were also surprised to learn that the nearest drug store (pharmacy) was a good half-an-hour away from the closest town (one of us needed a few items to deal with bug bites). Given our interest in localizing appropriate robotics solutions around the world, we wondered whether this one pharmacy "in the middle of nowhere" would likely benefit from delivering medicines via aerial robotics platforms (UAVs).

Speaking of aerial robotics, we forgot to take our micro-SD cards along for our quadcopter in order to take aerial pictures and videos. So we decided to test whether Amazon Prime might actually deliver the cards to a remote cabin in the mountains within 24 hours. As the pictures above might suggest, the SD cards arrived right on time. But was this really the most efficient way to deliver SD cards; i.e., by having a driver drive all the way into the mountains and adding more CO2 to the air? It may have made more sense to order the cards for Amazon Drone Delivery. In any event, after another 10-hour long brainstorming session, we decided to take a break by going on a long walk around the nearby lake.

We were really eager to get our robots in the air but spotted an older couple fishing in the distance (pictured above). So we followed the same code of conduct we use for projects overseas and politely asked said couple for permission to fly, adding that we were very mindful about not disturbing their peaceful evening. "No problem at all!" they both exclaimed with smiles. "I bought one of those for my son in law last year," said the lady with another smile while pointing to our flying robot." Later during the walk, we passed an elderly lady walking her dog. She too smiled when noticing our robot playing in the air: "So you're 'walking' yours too, I see," making herself laugh.

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Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised by the local perception around this new technology. While such positive reactions are very common (and in fact typical) in the developing countries we work in, US perceptions are often very different. In sum, West Virginia proved to be an excellent location for our 3-day brainstorming marathon. We were reminded that one doesn't have to travel far overseas to realize that aerial robotics can improve people's lives for the better. Anyone want to co-create a Flying Labs in West Virginia? : ) 




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