While there were numerous informative and innovative keynotes that took place at the 2016 Commercial UAV Expo, it’s no stretch to say that the one delivered by Jay Rogers showcased something different. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since he is the CEO & Co-founder of Local Motors, a company that combines open-sourced designs from their online community and micro-factories around the world for manufacturing to create truly innovative products.

This approach to co-creation has enabled Local Motors to go from idea to market in just a few months, while incorporating new technologies that have and are defining the commercial drone space. Their commitment to co-creation led to the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge, which encouraged participants to design a drone solution with Airbus Group and Local Motors that would be able to transport urgent medical materials to people and places that are difficult to reach.


Jay Rogers

I caught up with Jay to follow up around a few of the insights and details he was able to share with the audience at the Commercial UAV Expo. We also discussed what it means for a large organization to change their approach, explored the origins of the Airbus cargo drone challenge, talked through what kind of an impact automation will have in the commercial drone space as well as in the general public, plus plenty more.


Jeremiah Karpowicz: Your Keynote presentation at the Commercial UAV Expo was entitled, “Lessons Learned and Vision for the Future”. What can you tell us about those lessons learned and that vision for the future?

Jay Rogers: The pace of technology is changing so fast, manufacturing and sourcing methods have to change with it. In the case of commercial UAVs, even the business models or the service providers have to be more nimble (insurance, finance, data acquisition, fleet management). We need different business models to play at the speed at which the tech has developed.


What sort of feedback did you get from attendees around the presentation? Were they excited about the insights you laid out, or did they want to talk through their own lessons learned and future vision?

The talk was well-received and generated lots of great discussion with attendees. It is an empowering message to tell people that their wants and needs as a consumer can be heard and acted on through the power of co-creation.


How much of that future vision factored into the launch of Forth?

Forth is Local Motors secret sauce. As the platform on which our co-creation community members meet to solve problems and generate solutions, Forth is our vision for how great products come to life, with the input and creative power of the crowd and of the customers themselves.


You mentioned that Forth is dedicated to helping companies transform and digitize their product development process using co-creation and micro-manufacturing. Is that digitization a process many of those companies had already been looking to undertake? Or was it more about an opportunity you were able to help them realize?

It is tough for a big company to make a radical change in the way they manufacture products. The costs to transform existing infrastructure are often too great. So, while many companies may want to act on the possibility of digitalizing their development process, strategically, it's just not possible.

Since Local Motors is such a nimble company with the processes already in place for co-creation and digital product development, Forth allows us to offer big companies an opportunity to take advantage of those strengths, without having to completely change what they already have in place.


How difficult is it for organizations and even individuals to change their thinking when it comes to adjusting a given approach or process? What are some of the key factors in helping ensure changes like digitizing the product development process actually takes place?

This is very difficult, especially for well-established or franchised organizations to change their thinking. The more physical it becomes, the more difficult it is to change. When you don't own the tooling and it's owned by a franchise operator, it's even harder.

Key factors are probably best parsed out by access to the best quality ideas, a legal paradigm that protects that content, high bandwidth data transmission and the software to use it. Also, fundamental changes in material science are a key. Digitalization is closely linked to materials science.


Is the project you worked on with Chris Anderson of 3DR a good example of what can be achieved when this sort of collaboration takes place?

Yes. I can go even further to say that working with Chris Anderson brought us closer to people who may not work with him anymore but remain a part of his network. This expands our relationships greatly.


lighterThat collaborative element is also an aspect of the co-creation project you put together with Airbus. What can you tell us about the origins of the Airbus cargo drone challenge?

Airbus had decided that they wanted to take a look at entering the commercial drone space. Local Motors offered them a way to design and develop a product without Airbus having to retool an entire factory just to build a prototype. Our co-creation community submitted more than 400 ideas for the Airbus Cargo Drone Challenge quicker than the company would have been able to do on its own.


Quickly transporting urgent medical supplies to people in hard to reach places sounds like an extremely relevant use case for this type of delivery by drone. Will this eventually define what drone delivery actually looks like, as opposed to the package delivery model that some companies have talked up to capture the popular imagination?

There are all sorts of use cases for drones. One of those does happen to be package delivery, and this is easy for people to embrace because they see how directly it can influence an every day part of life.

Most people aren't regularly thinking about a life-or-death situation and an immediate need for medical supplies, so it makes sense that this may not be a use case that gets the general population excited about drones. I started Local Motors to make a difference in the world though, and it feels right to me to have our first work in the drone space be with a product that could ultimately save lives.


What stuck out to you the most about the cargo drone challenge entries?

The variety was incredible. No two drones looked the same, and it was inspiring to see how big our community members can dream when given an outlet and an opportunity.


Was there a common trait amongst the winners that you could highlight in terms of something that set them all apart?

The winners are the ones that co-create early. The ones who post early are the ones who remain most successful, and that's the case across all of our challenges. I don't know that we know the reason for that.


How have you seen automation change the way people think about cars? Will autonomous drones have a similar impact in terms of changing the way people think about drone technology?

Local Motors worked on a joint challenge with Mouser Electronics in which we asked community members to envision what could be possible in a world where self-driving cars are the norm. We are free to do so much when commuting no longer requires the responsibility of paying attention to the road. Not only are these vehicles safer, but they make our lives better. People are beginning to think about all that they could do during the time they normally would be driving. They could catch up on sleep, get some work done, watch a movie.

Drones though are such a new product for most people. I don't think folks have had to opportunity to think about how drones would change if they were autonomous only because they don't know much about drones in general. As drone use becomes more widespread though, it's incredible think about how automated drones could make life better- picking up our dry cleaning, returning a library book for us- handling those everyday errands that eat up a lot of time, clog the roadways and generally make life a little less convenient.


What has you excited about the commercial drone space in 2017?

I am most looking forward to seeing all of the new use cases that come to life for commercial drones in 2017. What drone services will technology make possible? How will those services make our lives better? This is what excites me most when drone technology and hardware come together.