Last month, as part of Cisco’s ongoing drone innovation efforts, I helped organize Cisco’s first-ever hands-on drone workshop for employees in our Bangalore office. “Drone Stars” was jointly sponsored by the Corporate Strategic Innovations Group and thingQbator, Cisco’s internal maker lab, which supports people in trying out new ideas. We wanted to give attendees a fun and informative introduction to drones and to spark a lasting appetite for innovation.
Little did I realize the interest there would be in playing with drones! The 60 spots in the workshop were filled just 30 seconds after we sent the registration email. And the enthusiasm continued throughout the day. Chandrashekhar Raman and the entire thingQbator team tackled not only workshop logistics challenges but also fielded numerous enquiries about future such events from aspiring participants.
I began the workshop with a brief overview of the global drone ecosystem and Cisco’s drone strategy. People often wonder why Cisco is interested in drones. If drones are to become commercially viable, they will need to be networked and able to communicate with each other, with the cloud, and with ground controllers. The data they collect from sensors or cameras will need to be processed locally for intelligent real-time decisions, at the edge of the network while the drone is flying. In order to alleviate the challenges of limited bandwidth to the cloud or response time in getting computed results back in time, the next best processing place for colossal amounts of drone data would be on the ground station Fog Computing nodes. Resulting outcomes from data processing performed on Drone as well as Fog along with the raw data can later be transmitted to the cloud for further analysis. Cisco is a leader in all of these infrastructural capabilities, and we wanted the group to start thinking about the many ways we can leverage these core strengths into innovative new drone applications.
Then the real fun began, with the DIY part of the workshop. We invited two coaches to lead the hands-on activities: Nico Darrow is a drone enthusiast and Cisco sales engineer based in Atlanta, and Greg Friesmuth is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Dronesmith, a drone startup based in Las Vegas.
Nico and Greg led 6 teams of 10 people in building their own drones from scratch using Dronesmith Luci hardware. After about two hours people were ready to go outside to try out their DIY drones – and of course, since innovation is an iterative process, we witnessed some massive mishaps. The teams took to heart the innovation maxim of “fail fast, learn, and move on.” They went back inside, modified their drones, and went back out to try again. And sure enough, we had some successful flights by the end of the day—to enthusiastic cheers.
The following day, employees also had the opportunity to hear perspectives from three Indian drone startups – NavStik Labs, Aarav Unmanned Systems, and Skylark Drones. We are always talking to startups, looking for ways to collaborate to bring new ideas to market and support an ecosystem of disruptive technologies.
Nico and Greg also treated the entire Bangalore office to a demonstration of expert drone flying during lunch hour. And in the spirit of true innovation, when it started drizzling, the team simply wrapped a piece of plastic around the electronics and continued flying.
The Drone Stars workshop demonstrated that innovation is alive and well at Cisco. By giving employees the opportunity to build their own drones, troubleshoot challenges, and experience the exhilaration of success, we helped create a taste for innovation that could last a lifetime. And who knows where that could lead?