Can drones help you run better?
Researchers in Australia say yes. A study done at RMIT University in Australia, suggests that runners can benefit from a “flying robotic system” used as a “jogging companion.” Floyd Mueller and Matthew Muirhead conducted the study using 13 runners and a quadcopter drone.
The runners set off on predetermined routes that the quadcopter was programmed to follow at a precise speed. Runners were sent outside to run laps with their robotic companions through the park hitting several predetermined waypoints via GPS programming. The average run lasted 26 minutes.
Runners were interviewed immediately after their drone runs. When asked about the experience, one runner said:
You start to take this [pace keeping] in quite passively, as your pace, cause it’s in front of you and you sort of, you get in tune with it, so your pace is almost subconsciously controlled. – Study Subject P5
Another noted a certain peer pressure from his robotic running partner:
I think ultimately there was a level of engagement. You felt you had to be responsible for its actions, because in theory you had programmed it go along a certain route, so you had to keep with it, so you felt responsible for it. – Study Subject P2
One runner felt the drone was acting like a friend:
…it started to crisscross in front of me, and I quite liked it, because it reminded me that I am running with something, I like running with a buddy, […] it gave it a bit of personality, a bit of character, I think what was cool about it, in that moment, cause it was like ‘Hey, follow me!’ – Study Subject P3
The experience wasn’t completely positive. Some subjects expressed a desire to have more control over the drone, some felt it wasn’t entirely safe, and another noted that it was an awkward experience. Perhaps the most telling comment was this one:
…it definitely did take some of my attention away from the experience as I was worried about focusing on [the quadcopter] I didn’t get to look around or think to myself.. – Study Subject P10
Researchers concluded that there are many positive applications of technology to exertion sports, and that robotic drones have a place in helping to support runners. Robots don’t always need to be considered replacements. Many times there application can be supportive to human activity.
Reactions to the study of drones and running
After reading about this study in a recent Runner’s World article, I took to Twitter to see what people thought.
Here are the first two responses:
I’m in total agreement. If the drone is high above the race taking video or photos, I guess I’m okay with that. As long as it doesn’t fall on me or careen off course and cause injury or panic. But, as a running companion, no thanks.
I don’t wear headphones. I don’t carry my smartphone for photo ops. And, I wouldn’t even wear a watch if I wasn’t so addicted to my run data. I run to find nirvana in disconnecting from external things and finding inner balance. A drone would ruin it for me.
What do you think?