Garage university for emerging technologists: Quadcopters

December 14, 2015

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What inspired makers tinkering in their garages can teach businesses about effectively experimenting with technology.

Business and technology executives who want to learn to effectively explore emerging technology should look to their nearest garage. Chances are they’ll find a maker—a DIY technologist—tinkering with the latest technology.  Makers are all the rage these days for a reason. What makes them tick? And, how can corporations emulate makers to disrupt their marketplaces?

It’s a myth that makers wield magic to create out of whole cloth. That’s not their secret. Makers draw connections between disparate technologies to solve real world problems in new ways. They are willing to try, test and fail and start over again. They get their hands dirty. And, they learn from each other.

This is the first in a series of posts we’re calling Garage University. We’ll explore the maker world and the influence it can or could have on the world of enterprise innovation in emerging technology.

Demystifying the making process: patterns, ecosystems, community/open cource and testing

You can see what I’m talking about by piggybacking on the process of my son’s first foray into flight design. With a passion for space and Mars exploration specifically, he attended an Aerospace engineering camp earlier this summer. They built several prototypes to learn about different aspects of flight, aerodynamics and controls.  They also learned about the complementary and conflicting forces of helicopter rotors.

He returned from camp eager to learn more…especially as the rotorcraft blades are twisted and bend as part of their normal operation. To satisfy his curiosity, he wanted to build a quadcopter, a multirotor helicopter lifted and propelled by four rotors. So, we picked a variation of a model and purchased the individual components. He soldered, assembled and installed/configured the different software modules for the speed controllers and overall flight computer. He also picked up some solid soldering skills in the project.

There are several interesting and relevant things he learned throughout the process that apply to how we think about learning about emerging tech:

  1. Patterns: The article he initially read to get started was about a growing trend of drone racing of quadcopters, but he wasn’t so interested in the racing part. However, he used the basic approach to build his quad based on the same blueprint/pattern.  Lots can be learned from others specific projects even if they aren’t followed exactly. Patterns can be shared, leveraged and evolved.
  2.  Ecosystems:  It would be simple to buy a preconfigured kit or even a completed quadcopter.  But most of the learning in this project was assembling the quadcopter out of its component parts.  It’s interesting how 10+ companies can come together to make something interoperable and cool.  Separate (small) companies produce these parts for the design:
    • carbon fiber body
    • motors
    • props
    • speed controllers
    • flight computer
    • battery
    • battery charger
    • LED lights
    • wiring and connectors
    • glue, tape, zip ties, etc.
    • remote transmitter/controller
  3. Community and open source: Another part of the ecosystem is the software. Depending on whether a general purpose microcontroller (Arduino, Raspberry Pi) or a specialized quad computer is used, there are several flavors of operating systems that exist as open source projects, many with excellent user interfaces, support and how-to use videos.  He saw first hand how the open source model produces great stuff.
  4. Testing: Despite great instructions, videos and hundreds of discussion forums, this project was far from foolproof.  Assembling, testing, reading, changing, retesting, etc. uncovered many issues and lessons from prop configuration and rotation directions, to software configuration and compatibility to basic wiring.

Business and technology executives who are eager to disrupt their marketplaces need to take lessons from the makers who toil away everyday on the latest technology. Watch them make new connections between existing technologies. See how they explore through trial and error. Ask them who they talk to and where they get their parts. Demystifying the maker can help corporations learn how to explore emerging technology to effectively innovate.

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Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Vicki Huff Eckert

Global New Business & Innovation Leader Tel: +1 (650) 387 4956 Email

Mark McCaffery

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Leader Tel: +1 (408) 817 4199 Email