When it comes to commercial drones, appearances don’t really matter, study finds

MW-DZ124_drone__20151111132649_ZHThe following is an excerpt of a story originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here. 

Looks don’t matter – at least, not if you’re talking about a drone.

A study out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that the design of a drone doesn’t actually impact people’s perceptions of drones.

The study asked 647 people in the U.S. to rate their perception of drones that they saw in pictures, manipulated across four factors – color, propeller blades, legs and propeller safety guards.
What the researchers found was “completely surprising.”

“People’s perception is that a drone is a drone is a drone,” said Joel Lieberman, professor and chair of the UNLV criminal Justice Department and co-author on the study. “It doesn’t matter so much how it looks” — which runs counter to a common design assumption that appearance can dramatically affect how consumers feel about a product.

Lieberman got the idea for the study partially after watching the Audi commercial where hundreds of ominous black drones with eight blades descend upon a parking lot, a parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

“UAVs in that case look pretty scary,” he said. “If it’s really simple with a bright friendly color, would people be more receptive to it?”

Study participants were asked to self-asses their moods when looking at drones of various colors (white, black and orange) or with various numbers of blades (four, six, or eight).

Researchers went in with the assumption that a white drone with rounded edges, such as a DJI Phantom, would be received better than a drone with multiple blades and sharp, pointy legs. The wildly popular DJI drones are expected to exceed $1 billion in sales this year, but it may not be the drone’s approachable looks that are driving sales, the study indicates.

The study found that people ranked their mood with the same score for each photo, whether the drone in the photo resembled a spindly, black spider or a soft, white cloud.

More important than aesthetic to shaping drone acceptance is function, the study found. Participants were more inclined to rate their acceptance of drones higher or lower based on what type of function the drone had, rather than what it looked like.

But that’s not to say drone makers aren’t meticulous about the effort they put into designing drones and, as some point out, form and function go hand in hand.

“We don’t want our vehicles to look like camera drones that can spy or invade privacy,” said Marc Shillum, an Advisory Board Member and Design Chair at Matternet, a company that builds delivery drones with a focus on medical supplies. “This is essential medical, diagnostic samples we’re delivering.”

The design of Matternet’s drone is intended to convey that it’s going somewhere important, particularly in conflict zones that need medical supplies quickly.

Read the rest of this story here.

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