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PHENOMENOLOGY OF MICRO AIR VEHICLE RESEARCH
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To my parents, Marco and Irene Rodriguez. Without their support and encouragement it
would have never been possible.
I wrote this phenomenology with three audiences in mind: my professors in the
College of Journalism, my interviewees in the College of Mechanical and Aerospace
Engineering, and citizens of the United States of America. First and foremost, however,
it was a personal journey. Micro Air Vehicle phenomenology was a cathartic process of
coming to terms with scientists by understanding them, to reconcile past aspirations to be
a scientist as I move forward professionally. I am attempting to see technological
research vicariously through the eyes of engineers, to recover some of the inspiration I
once felt, as David Bowie (1995) sings:
It's difficult you see
To give up baby
To leave a job
When you know the money's from day to day
All the majesty of a city landscape
All the soaring days of our lives
All the concrete dreams in my mind's eye
All the joy I see thru these architect's eyes
Second, as noted by the engineers I interviewed, there is a tendency in the field of
journalism and communications to assume that engineering is too complex. My study
represents an attempt to elucidate barriers to communication between scientists and
journalists, and thereby open discursive channels. It is an attempt to forge discourse
between two disparate fields. My goal is to generate mutual interest between the two
disciplines. However, I am also writing my study for the engineers who graciously
participated in my project. I hope that they will gain from it an insight into their own
research, in terms of laboratory dynamics, design process, and ethical considerations.
Finally, my study attempts to illuminate motivations underlying an important new
technology with revolutionary implications for surveillance. Micro Air Vehicle
phenomenology is an attempt to see the technology through the eyes of the architects,
from inception to fruition, without bias. It is an attempt to develop empathy with the
engineers to see clearly their intentions for future applications. My study is a meditation
on the ethics, politics, inspiration, and motivations that underlie an emergent technology,
and the way that technology impacts the "human sensorium," or the Life World of the
Micro Air Vehicle technology has relevance to the War on Terror. Its
underpinnings relate to how we legislate Fourth Amendment rights. My study has deeper
significance as a warning to Americans to carefully consider the implications of military
technology, and the regulation of that technology by Congress. Washington Post
correspondent Robert O'Harrow noted that there was increased cooperation between
government and industry in the area of surveillance since September 11, 2001. A
government that trivializes its citizens may see those citizens abandon free thought in
favor of social aggregates as the axis shifts from democracy to mass democracy, from
governance to surveillance.
As Sandra Chance, Director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at
UF, once observed in a personal conversation, Americans must decide whether we are
willing to sacrifice freedoms to feel safe.
San Jose, Costa Rica, 2006
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST OF TABLES ................ ..... ................................... .. ....... ....... ix
A B ST R A C T .......... ..... ...................................................................................... x
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
Purpose and Im portance of the Study................................ ...................................
A bout P henom enology .................................................................. ...................... 3
State ent of the P problem ............................................................................. ........ 6
R research Focus ................................................................. 7
D definition of T erm s ................. .................................. ...... ........ .......... .......
P personal Interest in the T opic ........................................................................ ... ... 12
2 LITERATURE REVIEW ........................................................................... 15
Phenomenology, Life World and Technology.........................................................15
The Ego-C entric Predicam ent.......................................................... ............... 19
Constructivism ............... ......... ........ ....... ...............20
Object World and Research Object ...... .................................22
Qualitative Studies of Engineering.................................... ...................... 24
C re ativ ity ................................................................2 6
3 M E T H O D O L O G Y ............................................................................ ................... 29
Phenom enology B asics ........ ......... ......... .......... ....................... ............... 29
Transcendental Phenomenology ............. ................. ................. .. ..... ............. 33
I an d T h o u ..........................................................3 8
C choice of M methodology ......... ................. ....................................... ....................... 40
The van K aam M ethod (7 steps) ........................................ ...... ............... 40
Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method (4 steps) .............. ..... ..................... ..... ....41
R research Protocols......................................................... .. .. .. ................ 43
Institutional Review Board, Informed Consent and Security.............................43
Evolution of Research Questions ........................... .......................... 43
S am p lin g ............... ....... .. .. ......... .. .. ............................................. 4 4
Co-Researcher Diversity .................................. .....................................45
Setting ...................................................................................................... ....... 46
Data Analysis........................................... 49
R research Rigor and A xiology ........................................ ........................ 51
4 NAIVE DESCRIPTION AND IMAGINATIVE VARIATION.............................53
N afv e D escrip tio n ............................................................................ ..................... 5 3
R obotics H history .................. .................................................. 53
T e c h n o lo g y ................................................................. .................................5 4
M icro A ir V vehicle O rigins........................................................ ............... 55
M icro A ir V vehicles in the N ew s .............................................. ......... ...... 58
Im aginative V aviation ...................................................................... 60
5 R E S U L T S .............................................................................6 6
Micro Air Vehicle Researchers in Their Own Words .........................................66
Dr. D avison: Textural D description ............................ ................................... 67
Dr. Davison: Structural Description........................................ ............. 69
D r. Peterson: Textural D escription.................................. ........................ 71
Dr. Peterson: Structural Description............... ........... ......... .. ............... 75
Eric: Textural D description ............................................................................ 77
Eric: Structural D description ................ .. ...... ................ ....... ........... 81
M ark: Textural Description ............... .......... ..... ........... .. ... .......... 83
M ark: Structural D escription...................... ............................. ............... 86
W illiam : Textural D escription....................................... ......................... 88
W illiam : Structural D description ........................................ ...... ............... 92
Steve: Textural Description .............................. .... ...................95
Steve: Structural D escription....................................................... .. .............. 99
Joseph: Textural Description.......................... ........... .. .............. 102
Joseph: Structural Description.......................... ........... .................. 107
L ew is: T extural D description ............................. ...................... ........ ........... 111
Lewis: Structural Description............... .......... ........... ................... 115
E essential D description ......................................... .... .. .... .. .......... .... ..... 118
Micro Air Vehicle Researchers: Background and Personal Experience ..........118
M otivation, Inspiration and Goals .............. .............................................. 121
D esign Process.................................. ...... .................... .......... 123
Micro Air Vehicle as Research Object........................... ...........................124
Creativity and Micro Air Vehicle Research.................................................127
M em ber Checks ........ ......................... ...... ............... ............. .. 128
Sum m ary of Structures ........................................... ....................................... 128
6 CONCLUSION S ................................... .. .. ........ .. .............133
Sum m ary .................. ............................................. ..................................133
Essential Description and Choice of Micro Air Vehicle Research .................133
M icro A ir V vehicle as Research Object ........................................ .................137
C reativ ity .......................................... ... ............. ....... ............... 13 8
L im station s .......................................................................................................... 139
Insights and Future R esearch............................................................... ........ ....141
A INFORMED CONSENT DOCUMENTATION.................... ..................................145
B INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD APPLICATION........................................ 147
C R E SEA R CH Q U E STIO N S ........................................................... .....................150
D SAMPLE LETTER TO CO-RESEARCHERS ................................. ...............151
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ...................................................................... ..................... 152
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................. ...............157
LIST OF TABLES
5-1 Summary of Structures: Davison, Peterson, Eric and Mark................................129
5-2 Summary of Structures: William, Steve, Joseph and Lewis ...............................131
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication
PHENOMENOLOGY OF MICRO AIR VEHICLE RESEARCH
Chair: Lisa Duke Cornell
Major Department: Journalism and Communications
This thesis presents the lived experiences of engineers at the University of Florida
who are working on an emergent surveillance technology, Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs).
Micro Air Vehicles are six-inch and smaller airplanes originally conceived by the U.S.
military as a form of battlefield reconnaissance. However, their applications are only
limited by imagination.
The central methodological tool for my study is phenomenology. Phenomenology
was born in the early twentieth century out of the writings of Edmund Husserl (1859-
1938). It has since been adopted as a form of qualitative inquiry that focuses on the lived
experience of interview subjects so as to form a composite, essential description of their
common experiences of a phenomenon. The key aspect of phenomenology that
distinguishes it from other forms of qualitative inquiry is its emphasis on describing the
phenomenon so as to remove initial researcher bias. This is known as bracketing, or
My study focused on four major points: generating an essential description,
explaining why research participants chose to study MAVs, describing the MAV as the
product of negotiation among members of the laboratories, and the ways in which
creativity manifested in the design process. Overall, the MAV researchers were found to
place great emphasis on pushing boundaries of science for the sake of research itself.
Researchers were very competitive, but also placed a great deal of emphasis on
socialization in the design process, including qualitative analysis. However, they showed
reluctance to discuss ethical issues of military funding however.
Finally, creativity manifested as the product of group interaction, actively seeking
out areas of personal inspiration, and through changing design parameters. Future
qualitative studies should focus on issues that remained unspoken my study, such as the
absence of women in the laboratory, or the relevance of ethics and politics to the
Purpose and Importance of the Study
My study is a phenomenology of Micro Air Vehicle research at the University of
Florida. Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) are small airplanes with wingspans of six-inches or
less that originated in a military initiative to produce a new generation of surveillance
equipment in the late 1990s. Micro Air Vehicles have various applications falling under
the rubric of surveillance, including battlefield and urban reconnaissance, search and
rescue, law enforcement, and wildlife analysis. The military anticipates MAVs will have
a revolutionary impact on surveillance. Micro Air Vehicles portend a reorganization of
the way wars are fought and the ways in which Americans define privacy.
The purpose of my study is to better understand the experience of engineers of the
emergent technology known as MAV research, as a means to come to terms with the
philosophies and tacit assumptions underlying the technology, precisely because the
MAVs will have such a profound impact on privacy and future wars. The
methodological tool for cultivating this understanding of MAV engineers is
phenomenology. Phenomenology is a form of qualitative inquiry that emphasizes the
elimination of bias so as to ascertain essential structures of lived experience.
Phenomenology is a method for developing understanding without preconception.
The end product of a phenomenology is an essential description of the
phenomenon, which is a composite of all the experiences of the individual participants in
the study. The essential description reveals key structures of experience. Generation of
this essential description is the focus of my study.
As a corollary, my study gathers evidence for the MAV as "research object." The
term "research object" comes from the writings of Louis Bucciarelli (2002), who
suggests that technology is a cultural artifact that is the product of negotiation among
laboratory members. The purpose of comparing the MAV researchers' descriptions of
the MAV to Bucciarelli's theory of "research object" is to verify the existence of
negotiation in laboratory research. My study also compares creative models in the MAV
lab to current models of creativity (Boden, 1994; Dunbar, 1997).
Thus, my study grapples with the co-researchers' personal philosophies that
underlie MAV technology and that could potentially impact civil liberties and warfare.
Phenomenology of MAV researchers reinforces models of qualitative analysis and
creativity in engineering research. Studying the emergence of MAVs sheds light on how
engineers negotiate a new technology. Qualitative research of MAV researchers
stimulates self-reflection in the engineering community about the social and creative
processes of conducting novel technological research.
Science writers who cover cutting-edge science will benefit from a deeper
understanding with MAV researchers as a result of reading about lived experiences of
engineers, and particularly reflection on what it takes to communicate research to friends,
family, lay people, and the press. Phenomenology of the experience of MAV research
will contribute to a more robust understanding of communicative processes between
scientists and journalists, as well as between scientists and the general public.
Phenomenology is not frequently used in the field of communications and warrants
a brief introductory explanation. A philosophical movement that stems from the
twentieth century work of the philosopher Edmund Husserl (Moustakas, 1994),
phenomenology is also a qualitative method that seeks to remove bias from the
perspective of the researcher and distill the essential nature of a phenomenon (Creswell,
1998). The process of removing bias is known as bracketing, or epoche.
Phenomenology is particularly useful in psychology and other health-related fields
because it can be used to discern the essential nature of abstract concepts. For example, in
his explication of phenomenology Moustakas (1994) cites a variety of phenomenologies
describing depression and abuse, the experience of triple bypass surgery, or the nature of
Jung's shadow archetype. Other forms of phenomenology do exist. Sokolowski (2000)
provides a very accessible introduction to phenomenology. He generates phenomenology
of common objects, such as a tree and a box. There is a precedent for applying
phenomenology to a specific form of technology. For example, Nunberg (2005)
conducted phenomenology of the Internet. My study follows the prescriptions set forth by
Creswell (1998) and Moustakas (1994) regarding phenomenology, with reference to
Phenomenology has various forms. Moustakas' definition of transcendental
phenomenology serves as the methodological basis for my study. Transcendental
phenomenology differs from other forms of phenomenology in its emphasis on
bracketing (or epoche). Moustakas (1994) elaborates on transcendental phenomenology,
tracing it back to Husserl, and distinguishing it as having more emphasis on bracketing
than mere psychological phenomenology. The transcendental aspect of phenomenology
refers to Heidegger's (1975) distinction between being and human beings.
Transcendental phenomenology also breaks down mental perceptions into two aspects;
objects and perceptions. (Page 39 gives a more complete discussion of transcendental
Phenomenology requires full description of the phenomenon from the perspective
of the researcher. The researcher engages in an initial description of the phenomenon
from his or her own perspective, and then envisions possible interpretations of that
description as a means to identify preconceptions (Creswell, 1998). After removing these
preconceptions, the researcher looks for emerging elements in the interviews that are
essential to the description of the phenomenon. The researcher attempts to equalize these
elements by not favoring any particular perspective on the phenomenon, and by devoting
just as much attention to important words and phrases as to entire paragraphs and pages.
These elements are clustered into non-repeating, non-overlapping categories of like
themes, and these themes are used in turn to generate individual descriptions that focus
on the facets of experience: objects, events, and people. These are textures of experience.
These descriptions are then interpreted to uncover the implicit meanings of the lived
experiences, the researchers' perceptions and intentions toward their experience. These
are the structures of experience. The final step is to synthesize these individual textural-
structural descriptions into one essential description of the phenomenon.
According to Mitcham (2005), particularly in North America, little had been
written about philosophy of technology. Mitcham does, however, identify some
European philosophers who grapple with the slippery subject of technological ethics, and
their analysis takes the form of phenomenology. Idhe (1990) conducted phenomenology
of technology as it relates to every day experiences and sensory perceptions of the
individual. Casey and Embree (1990) compiled a number of articles similarly concerned
with phenomenology of the experiences of modern humans vis-a-vis technology.
Numerous qualitative studies of engineering research exist in the literature, but
many of these are ethnographies geared toward improving performance of engineering
teams. Existing phenomenologies of technology tend to adopt a large-scale perspective.
Phenomenologists have traditionally been mistrustful of the idea of performing
phenomenology on the level of an individual technology. This causes the researcher to
get too caught up in the details of an individual project, and miss the overarching themes
that characterize a larger phenomenon (Mitcham, 2005).
The present phenomenology focuses on understanding researchers' lived
experience with reference to a specific kind of engineering research, the MAV.
Conducting phenomenology of MAV research presents a novel opportunity to bring the
macro-level tool of phenomenology to bear at the microcosm to understand the
philosophies and experiences underlying a cutting-edge technology. Rather than
focusing on generalization, as phenomenology traditionally does, this case-level
application of phenomenology yields insights that are highly contextualized, and
therefore rich in detail. This is useful specifically as a meditation on experiences and
implicit philosophies of MAV researchers, and what their designs suggest for
surveillance applications. The results also provide insights into the role of qualitative
analysis and creativity in the engineering laboratory and the process of communicating
research to peers and the media.
Statement of the Problem
Much has been written about MAV research in the popular press. Articles about
MAVs have appeared in numerous national and international publications over the past
decade. Nothing has been written in the academic literature about these machines from a
qualitative standpoint. As Mitcham (2005) has noted qualitative considerations of
technology are not as prevalent in America as in Europe. However, a number of articles
have been published concerning the relevance of ethnography to the engineering
laboratory (Jagodzinski, Reid, Culverhouse, Parsons and Phillips, 2000; Ball and
Ormerod, 2000; Button, 2000; Lloyd, 2000). Bucciarelli (1994, 2002) wrote about the
research object as the product of a collective process. Baird, Moore and Jagodzinski
(2000), described ethnography of engineers at Rolls Royce Aerospace, suggesting a
model for team interaction and the value of such a study in understanding the pressures
and constraints upon engineers. Engineering was also considered in terms of design
philosophy (Galle, 2002), and artistic merit (Eder, 1995).
All of the above studies emphasized the value of understanding engineering from a
constructivist perspective that examines the importance of discourse in an otherwise
quantitative field. However, not only were most of these studies produced outside the
United States, but they emphasized the facility of understanding such interactions from a
business perspective, for example, to increase efficiency of workforce. The
phenomenologies of Idhe (1990) and Casey and Embree (1990), on the other hand,
explored macro-scale aspects of technology, and broached ethical concerns. These
phenomenologies were not concerned with business applications of qualitative studies,
but rather take a more philosophical approach to technology. My study bridges these two
perspectives to make practical observations about laboratory research, while also saying
something larger about ethical and philosophical dimensions of researchers' attitudes
A critical approach to technology stands at odds with basic tenets of
phenomenological inquiry and bracketing (Moustakas, 1994). One of the major obstacles
to conducting a phenomenology of MAV research is the need to eliminate initial
preconceptions of the research to see it clearly through the eyes of the engineers. It is
also necessary to eliminate bias so as to be receptive to co-researchers and form
relationships characterized by empathy, or I-Thou relationships (Buber, 1970). Another
objective of phenomenology is to appease the loneliness of individual experience by
generating understanding. Understanding involves establishing a relationship with
another person, through painstaking transcription, naive and general description, and I-
Thou interactions. By doing this, we move beyond initial perceptions, using bracketing to
relinquish preconceptions going into the interview (Moustakas, 1994).
Meloy (1994) noted that it is difficult to provide research questions for a qualitative
study a priori because the nature of the research requires immersion in a subject to
understand a problem. It is only possible to articulate such questions at the end of a
study. As such, my study offers a research focus in place of research questions. The
focus of my study is to understand the experience of MAV researchers from the
perspective of engineers. Following the steps in phenomenology, this involves first
discovering individual textural meanings of the experience of MAV researchers. These
are translated into individual structures that contextualize the experience of MAV
researchers. Finally, the composite textural-structural description of the experience of
MAV researchers is given-the essential description.
My study also comments on three other points as corollaries to generating the
essential description of the experience of MAV researchers. First, why did the
researchers choose to study this particular form of technology? Secondly, what does the
MAV represent from the perspective of the engineers as an artifact of discursive
negotiation, in the sense of Bucciarelli (2002) and his notion of "research object"?
Finally, what are the major creative processes at work in the MAV laboratory?
Definition of Terms
As previously stated, because phenomenology is not often used in the field of
communications, it is appropriate to rigorously define its terms. The following is a list of
terms specifically used in phenomenology. Many of the following definitions are based
on descriptions found in Moustakas (1994) and Creswell (1997):
Bracketing (Epoche). Husserl's essential component of phenomenological inquiry,
which begins the process. The researcher engages in bracketing as an exercise to strip
away preconceptions and biases about the phenomenon, to be receptive to all possible
interpretations. This involves recognizing and reigning in one's own biases (Moustakas,
1994; Creswell, 1998).
Co-researcher. According to Moustakas (1994), the interviewee/subject should be
regarded as a co-researcher. The process of phenomenology is largely concerned with
cultivating a rapport with interviewees. The title co-researcher signifies the constructivist
stance adopted by phenomenological researchers.
Constructivism. Paradigmatic approach to research that comes after post-positivist
and critical theory. Constructivism stresses the subjective nature of reality that is
constantly being negotiated through the process of communication and the importance of
text as an epistemological tool (Anderson and Baym, 2004).
Essence. The essential nature of a phenomenon revealed by phenomenological
inquiry. The essence emerges in the synthesis of the individual textural and structural
descriptions. Also known as essential or invariant structure (Moustakas, 1994; Creswell,
Ethnography. Qualitative method that is the primary tool of anthropologists.
Ethnography is the study of culture from the inside, whether this is a tribal people or an
engineering laboratory. It is therefore ecological in the sense that it emphasizes
immersion in a culture to study that culture from within (Bucciarelli, 1994). Painstaking
insider observation and reporting are key to ethnography (Creswell, 1998).
Horizonalization. Horizonalization is the process of assigning emergent aspects of
the phenomenon equal value. In phenomenological reduction, this takes place after
bracketing. The researcher decides that certain elements called horizons are essential to a
description of the phenomenon, and considers each one with equal weight. The researcher
makes a list of these horizons. Horizons are textural meanings of the phenomenon, and
are constants of the experience, or invariant constituents. There are an infinite number of
horizons, so the researcher must be judicious in deciding upon those that are essential to
the description of the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994; Creswell, 1998).
Imaginative Variation. In phenomenological reduction, after the researcher has
engaged in naive description of the phenomenon, he explores all possible interpretations
of the description by varying the meaning and considering the phenomenon from a
multiplicity of perspectives. Once this is completed, the process of bracketing is
complete, and the researcher is ready to proceed to horizonalization of the interview data.
Imaginative Variation can incorporate music, poetry, and art (Moustakas, 1994).
Intersubjectivity. Husserl's term to explain the way reality is socially constructed.
Reality is composed of a multiplicity of perspectives. Before a researcher can understand
another's perspective, he must first understand his own through the process of bracketing
preconceptions (Moustakas, 1994; Sokolowski, 2000).
Life World (Te/'/',/I em. The personal, internal world of the individual as opposed
to the systems of scientific inquiry, such as physics and mathematics. The Life World
describes how the individual interacts with reality on a daily basis (Sokolowski, 2000).
Naive Description. Naive description is the initial attempt on the part of the
researcher to describe his or her experience of the phenomenon, to enumerate essential
perceptions that may or may not be accurate. It is the first step in bracketing (Creswell,
1998). A naive textural description describes the essential facets of a phenomenon.
Imaginative Variation of these naive textures describes personal feelings or impressions
of the phenomenon, that is, any intentions that the researcher holds toward the textural
aspects. Naive description can be a way to infuse the essential description with the
researcher's perception of the phenomenon. In the Van Kaam method of
phenomenological reduction, however, naive description is mainly a tool for bracketing
Noema and Noesis. Intentionality suggests a fundamental relationship between
subject and object. This is not to say, however, from the perspective of phenomenology,
that there are not universal characteristics of a phenomenon. Indeed, it is the end goal of
phenomenology to produce such an essential description. Moustakas (1994) makes a
distinction between an object and one's perception of an object. This schism gives rise to
the concepts of noema and noesis, which are aspects of a person's mental perception of a
phenomenon. The noema is the object-correlate. It is the mental perception that points to
the essential nature of a phenomenon, but that is more descriptive and perceptive.
"[N]oema is that which is experienced, the what of experience." Noema is associated
with textural description (Moustakas, 1994; pp. 69-79). Noesis is the subject-correlate,
that is, the mental perception that points to the essential nature of the phenomenon, but
that is more concerned with judgment. "[N]oesis is the way in which the what is
experienced." Noesis is associated with structural description (Moustakas, 1994; pp. 69-
79). The point is that noema and noesis are dual aspects of the individual's mental
perception of a phenomenon.
Research Object. Bucciarelli's (2002) term for the end product of engineering
design. The term emphasizes the discursive nature of engineering design, which gives
rise to technological forms as ethnographic artifacts.
Structural Description. Structural description is linked to noesis (Moustakas,
1994). Structural description is how the phenomenon is experienced, and "involves
conscious acts of thinking and judging, imagining and recollecting" (p. 79). Moustakas
suggests three main classes of mental phenomena that further clarify the distinction
between textural and structural aspects of perception. First, there are presentations, and
these are the noema, or textures. In reality, new phenomena (objects, people,
impressions) are constantly presenting themselves, emerging from and vanishing back
into the background. There is not necessarily any significant intention toward these
objects. They are merely presenting. But there are also perceptions and emotions toward
some of them. These perceptions and emotions are the noesis, or structures. Structural
description, then, describes the aspects of experience that do not merely emerge and fade
as horizons, but register a higher level of intentionality, of correspondence between
subject and object. This manifests as a perception or emotion, a consistent conceptual
thread between that spans textures. The structures can be either conscious or
Synthesis. Synthesis of textural and structural descriptions to reveal the essential
experience of the phenomenon, or its essence (Moustakas, 1994).
Textural Description. Textural description elaborates the phenomenon's physical
and/or primary features (as in the case of something intangible, such as depression or
love). Textural description involves the common elements of a phenomenon, yet is still
subjective in nature. Textural aspects are associated with the noematic phases. The
textural description represents the "what" of a phenomenon, i.e., what it is like to
experience that phenomenon, the facets of the phenomenon that are presenting-the
invariant horizons (Moustakas, 1994; pp. 78, 79).
Personal Interest in the Topic
My reasoning for conducting phenomenology of MAV research is first inspired by
a sense of fascination regarding technology and science. At a young age television
played a large role in my development. Not being a very athletic child, I more often
found myself creating imaginary worlds with the other children on my street. Television
science fiction programs transfixed me. Most notable among these was the long-running
BBC serial Doctor Who (Davies, 2005), which features a time-traveling physicist alien as
From this, I developed an interest in the science. Taking physics in high school, I
found it quite difficult, but nevertheless enrolled as an undergraduate physics major. I
plodded through two years of undergraduate physics, only to abandon the effort before
enrolling in quantum mechanics. Perhaps appropriately, the most difficult class I
undertook (and subsequently failed) was a course in analog electronics. My
undergraduate thesis was a trilogy of science fiction stories and a brief history of the
genre. I thought, if I could not do science, at least I could write about it.
Science fiction can function as a form of communicating real science to lay people,
as well as raising ethical questions (Lambourne, 1999). By broaching ethical questions
concerning engineering technologies, science fiction functions in the place of a tradition
of philosophy of technology, which according to Mitcham (2005), is largely absent in
North America. For example, O'Harrow (2005) provides a prime example of science
fiction commenting on science fact when he uses Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002) as a
touchstone for discussion of emergent surveillance technologies. As the MAVs are an
emergent surveillance technology, O'Harrow's references to Minority Report seem
As a result, my inspiration for conducting MAV phenomenology is two-fold. On
the one hand, it stems from a fascination with science perceived through the lens of
science fiction that goes back all the way to childhood. On the other, because of my
recent background in science fiction, it emerges from the belief that science fiction can be
used as a metaphor to discuss real science.
My initial interest in MAVs came about in the fall of 2002, while working briefly
as a gardener for a UF lepidopterist. He suggested that if I had an interest in science
writing, I investigate research in the UF aerospace department on small airplanes inspired
by birds and insects. Because of my previous interest in search and rescue robotics, I
decided to take his advice.
This interest in search and rescue robotics came about as a result of an experience I
had on September 11, 2001. My international flight from London Gatwick to North
Carolina made an unscheduled stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that morning. I thought the
plane was crashing. Then the captain explained that terrorists had demolished the WTC.
For the next four days, I became a first-world refugee. One of the first thoughts that
came into my head after hearing what had happened was whether or not search and
rescue robotics would be employed in the rescue effort. Indeed, this is what happened
(Lee, 2001). Nothing could have impressed upon me more completely the urgency of
developing search and rescue technology, and their potential dual role in surveillance.
Two years later, while enrolled in my first year in a journalism graduate program, I
resurrected my notes on the topic and conducted a series of interviews for a short article.
The next semester, while enrolled in a qualitative methods class, I incorporated my
research on MAVs into an inchoate phenomenology.
After discussing the matter with my professor, I decided to expand this paper into a
full-fledged thesis. Though the project unfolded over a period of two years, the initial
seeds were planted almost four years ago. Even though one does not know it at the time,
the mind is always gathering information, and, as with the qualitative research process,
slowly, imperceptibly, formulating synergistic perceptions.
Phenomenology, Life World and Technology
How can phenomenology be practically applied to study of technology? A number of
scholars have attempted to apply phenomenology to technology, including Idhe (1990),
Casey and Embree (1990) and Nunberg (2005). Also, other areas of qualitative research
have been applied specifically to engineering, for example, Bucciarelli (1994; 2002)
approached laboratories ethnographically. Marchessault (2005) suggested that McLuhan
conducted phenomenology of modern society. For example, in his posthumously
published The Laws of Media, McLuhan offered up the idea of the tetrad, an experimental
technique for "historical and phenomenological investigation of objects, to describe
forms of media" (Marchessault, p. 224).
Idhe (1990) and Casey and Embree (1990) framed their phenomenological
inquiries in broad terms, taking a sweeping social perspective, specifically with reference
to a term forwarded by Husserl called the Life World. Sokolowski (2000) defined the
Life World as the personal, internal world of the individual as opposed to the systems of
scientific inquiry, such as physics and mathematics.
Phenomenology and the Life World thus have a relationship to democracy. This is
relevant because the systems of society are a kind of technology imposed on human life.
In fact, as we shall see, Idhe (1990) argued that technology manifests implicitly as
cultural convention. Next, we turn our attention to phenomenological considerations of
technology itself. We begin with philosophy of technology, which sometimes
Mitcham (2005) briefly chronicled the development of philosophy of technology,
which is two-pronged. Philosophy of technology began to emerge in the late nineteenth
century. American schools have largely ignored many of the continental thinkers who
developed philosophy of technology. These thinkers tended to develop the idea of
technology as organic, meaning technologies were seen as extensions of organs. Another
school arose contemporaneously, which included a range of thinkers from Kant to
Heidegger. This school came to see technology as dystopian, standing between man and
God, life or organic existence. In other words, one branch of thought suggests technology
issues from humans, and the other says that it mutates human nature. Such perspectives
can be applied phenomenologically to MAV research by interrogating the perspectives of
the engineers on the product of their research. From the perspective of the researchers,
what are the primary applications of the MAVs? How do they amplify or attenuate
Mitcham also noted several problematic areas in the interaction of humans with
technology. These include distribution of technological resources, alienation from labor
(in the Marxian sense), and how technology is integrated into the realm of the "human
sensorium" (p. 544). Another problem includes the issue of how we deal ethically with
the power that technology places in our hands arises, for example, in the question of
whether or not engineers are qualified to make public safety decisions. Some of these
ethical considerations are crucial to understanding MAV research. The purpose of my
study is to understand how technology is integrated into the researcher's perception, how
researchers regard their labor, some potential applications envisioned for MAVs, and
how MAV researchers view research ethics.
Mitcham suggested that technicity underlies technology, and chronicled the
evolution of the term from Aristotle through Descartes, Mill, and later Heidegger and
Ellul. According to Mitcham, Heidegger viewed technology as a challenge to ontology,
and as something transhuman, in that it is undergirded by the drive to advance for
advancement's sake. There is only a "human veneer" (p. 574). This attitude toward
technology relates directly to my study. Heidegger's transhuman view of technology for
technology's sake suggests the question of the researcher's motivation to design MAVs.
Finally, Mitcham observed, "There is also a tendency for the engineering school to
make alliances with the Anglo American analytic tradition of philosophy, and for the
humanities school to find a convenient partner in the European phenomenological
tradition" (p. 546). Furthermore, phenomenological researchers tend to shy away from
viewing technology on a case by case basis, because they believe that this robs the
technology of important historical and social context. This is problematic for a
phenomenology of MAV research, in which the focus is on a particular form of
technology. However, conducting phenomenology on a case-by-case basis has the
benefit of familiarizing the researcher with the details of how new technology is
negotiated. This microcosmic perspective provides more insight into the social world of
the laboratory, and is not something that can be achieved through grand theory.
Idhe (1990) provided an example of a how phenomenology can be practically
applied to the study of technology, albeit from a meta-perspective of society as a whole.
He began with a general textural description of being awoken by an alarm clock, eating
breakfast, getting into a car, etc. After this introduction, he conducted Imaginative
Variation of a hypothetical Eden where people go without technology. He noted that this
could only occur in tropical regions, and that it could only have occurred before recorded
history. People have always used tools (and again, he refers to the human use of tools as
technics) for cooking, self-defense, etc. The closest people to these hypothetical Eden-
dwellers are the modern Tasaday in the Philippines, but even they employ rudimentary
technologies for cooking, clothing, etc. Even ants and primates use technology. Thus, it
is as if Idhe concluded that technology and humanity are inextricably linked in a
Idhe also questioned how technology alters human perception of nature. He gave
the example of a mountain. Prior to the nineteenth century, mountains were considered a
blight, the sight of which was to be avoided. The industrial revolution changed this
sensibility. Modem mountain-climbing gear is an extreme expression of this nostalgia
for mountains, and has taken our ability to interact with them to an extreme.
Idhe noted the pros and cons of a face-to-face interaction with the natural world,
i.e., either a relaxing soak in a hot spring, or falling from a cliff. And yet, because we
interact with the world in a way that is perceptual, that is, through the senses, we may
assume that this provides some kind of unadulterated communion with nature. Thus,
Idhe broached the topic of the "ingrained technics of ritual," as in the case of the
Egyptians, who went so far as burying people alive so that they might accompany the
deceased into the underworld (pp. 16-18). Social technics may be just as influential as
engineered technology in modifying human interaction with the natural world, albeit in a
more insidious way. Essentially, Idhe provided an interesting model for
phenomenological reduction and Imaginative Variation, and demonstrated how culture
itself can be construed as a kind of technology.
The Ego-Centric Predicament
It is worth noting an important epistemological benefit of phenomenology.
Sokolowski (2000) suggested that phenomenology is a throwback to the philosophy of
ancient Greece. He saw it as an alternative to postmodernism, which he regarded as the
despairing notion that a thing is defined by the multiplicity of its parts, but that wholeness
and truth escape us. Thus, phenomenology represents the idea that the various parts point
to a consistent whole.
To Sokolowski, phenomenology represented a means to escape a problem in
philosophy associated with Descartes' cogito ("I think, therefore I am.") that is
traditionally called the "ego-centric predicament." As a consequence of living under a
Cartesian world-view, the "intramental" world is defined in opposition to the
"extramental" world (pp. 9-12). Perceptions are received through the filter of the senses,
delineating between the physical world and thoughts about the physical world.
Phenomenology presents a solution to this dilemma. For example, intentionality stresses
a subject-object relationship. Phenomenology does not distinguish between intramental
and extramental. There is not the thought and the thing-they are one and the same.
Sokolowski also pointed to the potential of phenomenology to illuminate a
publicnesss of mind," (pp. 11-12) as a result of the intimate connection between mind
and objects. Consciousness equals consciousness of something. Because of the public
nature of consciousness, it is possible to communicate about the nature of every-day
objects. This also has political implications: "Phenomenology strictly addresses the
epistemological aspects of modern philosophy, but that does not mean that it cannot say
something about political philosophy, since the idea that we are all beings of truth is a
component of citizenship" (p. 7). There is a political dimension to this phenomenology,
one that relates to the implications that the figure of the MAV holds for the future of
democracy from the perspective of its creators.
Similarly to the concept of publicness of mind, Idhe (1990) suggested that
phenomenology is like ecology, where we study other animals from within the ecosystem
because there is no way to extricate ourselves from the web. Moustakas (1994) noted this
as a common component of qualitative forms of inquiry. In his ethnography of various
engineers, Bucciarelli (1994) referred to the "ecosystem" of the engineering laboratory
(p. 127). It is to Bucciarelli's ethnographic approach to engineering that we now turn.
His ideas are particularly relevant to the question of the MAV as "research object." First,
however, we must provide context for Bucciarelli's research by rigorously defining
Constructivism is key to my study in its emphasis on contextualized observations.
According to Knopf (2004), Essence is something that transcends physical objects of
experience. The Essence is something universal, and thus the term "objective"
phenomenology (p. 40). But modern phenomenology has undergone a pragmatic shift,
especially the American incarnation:
The fruit of phenomenological research has changed from Essence to essence. That
which was once thought to be a description of universal truths of experience, has
evolved to become characteristics of experience that are situated within the context
of the participants being studied (Crotty, 1998) or subjectivist phenomenology. In
other words the aim is no longer to describe universal truths that apply to all, but
rather a description of a phenomenon that is situated within the context of culture
and shared experience. [Knopf, 2004; pp. 40, 41]
This interpretation applies to my study. We have already seen that applying
phenomenology on a case-by-case basis to technology garners criticism from two sides.
On the one hand, the American philosophical tradition has largely ignored technology.
On the other, Continental phenomenologists are dubious of a study that purports to
discern anything essential by studying a single technology. Nevertheless, my study
aligns itself with a more practical approach. As a result, the study cannot reveal universal
truths regarding the interactions of humans with technology, but rather only
contextualized observations. Such observations foreshadow at an essential description of
how engineers regard research, research objects, and associated creative processes.
This paradigmatic shift from "Essence to essence" should not be underestimated.
In terms of explanatory power, such a transition represents not only a shift from universal
truths to situated truths, but also a transition from post-positivism to constructivism. In a
nutshell, there are four paradigms for scientific inquiry, three of which are still relevant
(Anderson and Baym, 2004). The first, positivism, became obsolete in the late 19th
century. Positivism was the ontology of natural scientists seeking an ultimate science
that would explain an objective reality. Post-positivism dispensed with this notion,
culminating when Thomas Kuhn (1996) published The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions, in which he elucidated the concept of paradigm shift. Natural science could
not discover an ultimate expression of reality, but through periodic upheavals, the
scientific world could continually refine its worldview to more accurately approximate
The critical paradigm deconstructs post-positivistism by exploring cracks, faults,
and blind spots. For example, Haraway (1989, 1997) dissected military science and
genetics from a feminist perspective. Virilio (2000) and Baudrillard (1994) approached
technology and media from the standpoint of technological determinism. Finally,
however, constructivism suggests in our everyday interactions, we negotiate reality. In
this way, constructivism escapes the paradoxical situation of critical theorists who attack
authority from the privileged position of being authorities themselves. Conducting
phenomenology that focuses on situated essences cannot be widely generalizable, but
perhaps this scaled-down perspective actually portrays reality more accurately than a
macro-scale critical approach.
Object World and Research Object
Useful concepts can be borrowed from Bucciarelli's (1994, 2002) laboratory
ethnographies for the purposes of phenomenology: "object world" and "research object."
While ethnography is an entirely different qualitative tradition than phenomenology,
there are common elements between the two. For example, both require the majority of
theoretical work to be done before conducting research. Both ethnography and
phenomenology emphasize lived experience of the co-researcher, immersion in the
subject, and pain-staking description (Creswell, 1998).
The concept of "object world" (Bucciarelli, 1994; p. 55) introduces some gray areas
into the otherwise clear-cut process of engineering research. Bucciarelli defined the
object world in various ways. For example, in the case of an engineer working on a
computer model of solar cells used to convert salt to potable water in the Saudi desert, the
object world consisted primarily of the hardware of the photovoltaic cells, as well as
mechanical artifacts such as pumps. Yet, these artifacts were "as much the symbolic,
mathematical relationships" that regulated the many factors involved in the functioning
of the system, as well as the computer language that she used to write the software to
model the system (p. 63). For another engineer, the "object world" consisted of a system
that was merely a blueprint and had "not yet been embodied in hardware" (p. 65).
Different engineers with different specialties (electrical, mechanical, etc.) tend to
view the same research object differently. There can even be micro-discrepancies in
interpretation of objects between people with the same specificity. To illustrate this
subjective decision-making process on the part of the engineer, Bucciarelli noted the
difficulty the U.S. has had converting to the metric system: "...the bit of time (seconds)
it takes to make this simple numerical conversion is like a gap across a canyon separating
two different worlds. We do not understand metric the way we know English. It is not
part of our culture, our object-world heritage" (p. 78). One particularly dramatic example
is the crash of NASA's Mars Orbiter (Lloyd, 1999), in which the American engineers
worked in inches, but their British compatriots worked in metrics. Another example is
that for an electrical engineer time scales are typically in milliseconds, but for a
mechanical engineer time scales involve minutes and hours. Thus, there are different
perspectives ("object worlds") that need to be reconciled in the process of design, and
these are of a highly personal nature (pp. 80, 81).
One important aspect that derives from the concept of object world is the need to
negotiate the terms of design from the multiple perspectives of the researchers. For
example, diagrams (such as circuit diagrams) negate all but the most important
components of an object, leaving room for ambiguity of interpretation, such as in the
spatial construction of the final product versus the 2-D blueprint. Bucciarelli (1994)
suggested how a process could be viewed as an object. A management process, for
example, can be represented as a flow chart based on principles of control theory.
Bucciarelli (2002) wrote about the design object as the product of a collective
process. He underscored the value of transitional artifacts in the design process-back of
the envelope style diagrams that are eventually incorporated into the final design,
working acronyms, and management flow charts. Each of these represented a step along
the way to the final "research object" that were important subjects of discourse and
negotiation in the lab (pp. 219-231). As noted above, some of these common, ephemeral
elements in the process of MAV design could be elucidated through phenomenological
Discovering the parameters that define the "object world" of MAV researchers is
part of the focus of my study. What common metrics define the MAV from the
perspective of the engineer? What artifacts form an ephemeral trail along the way to the
finished product, such as diagrams on napkins, or working anagrams? What
subjectivities require negotiation in the spatial construction of the final "research object"?
Qualitative Studies of Engineering
A brief survey of qualitative engineering studies revealed a number of perspectives,
ranging from critical studies, to elite interviews, to ethnography. Stanley and Slattery's
(2003) article on biracial qualitative research noted the difficulty in putting aside critical
bias as researchers, a topic of particular relevance to phenomenology. The research
participants in the study-all engineering students-suggested that science functions as a
lingua franca that transcends gender and racial lines. However, the authors dismissed
these claims, and insisted that there were undercurrents of gender and racial politics in
the focus groups. The authors reject the possibility that science could be a common
language that equalizes gender and racial relations.
Another problem of conducting qualitative research with scientists is the inability
of lay researchers to communicate with scientists in this common language. For a non-
specialist, then, developing rapport requires applying elite interview techniques. This is
the case in my study. In her article on transformational elite interviews, Kezar (2003)
suggested a calculated approach to interviews in which there is a perceived power
relationship. She made some suggestions to de-politicize the interview, for example,
recognizing the interviewee's desires to be acknowledged as a human being, and
recognizing elite time constraints.
Kezar's elite interviews relate to Reed's (2001) qualitative analysis of scientists and
science journalists. Reed identified several areas of friction between the spheres of
science and the media, such as out-of-sync time schedules, perceived power relations,
mutual ignorance of organizational constraints, and differing conceptions of audience,
accessibility, and accuracy. The last one-accuracy-is particularly interesting, because
science and journalism have come to represent divergent epistemologies: the relativism
of the journalist, vis-a-vis the post-positivist engineer or scientist as "modest witness" to
natural phenomena (Reed, 282).
The publication Design Studies devoted an entire issue in 2000 to ethnography of
engineering laboratories. A number of these made reference to Bucciarelli's (1994)
concept of the "object world." For example, Lloyd (2000) suggested that social
experience in the engineering laboratory is a neglected topic. He incorporated the "object
world" to explain how different teams of engineers working in a software company
construct narratives to communicate with one another, and assign varying connotations to
the same words. For example, the word "sufficient" has different meaning to an engineer
working in sales as opposed to a designer (pp. 369-370). Baird et al., (2000), described
ethnography of engineers at Rolls Royce Aerospace. The Rolls Royce study incorporated
Bucciarelli's (1994) notions of laboratory ecology. The authors focus on the lab's
response to change and pressure, and creativity, among other factors.
Various models of creativity have been proffered, and phenomenology is
sometimes one approach to unmasking this mysterious concept. The philosopher Karl
Popper suggested that attempting to model creativity was unimportant. Creativity occurs
randomly, and the source of creativity is not as important as the discovery itself (Boden,
1994). In this sense, his "pessimistic" view of creativity was not all that different from
that of Plato (p. 3).
In an essay on whether engineering is art or science, Eder (1995) noted that
creativity does not simply occur, but comes about as a result of oscillations of intellectual
and intuitive modes in human psychology. Boden (1994) reinforced this perspective, and
suggested that there may be more to the process of creativity. For example, she cited one
of the authors in her anthology, David Perkins (1994), who suggested a model of
"Klondike spaces" for creativity. Scientists and artists have a "Klondike map" of
"conceptual landscapes," and as a result, their creativity is not random. It is not a
"eureka" situation, but rather a calculated effort to unearth discoveries (p. 7).
Boden (1994) defined creativity in terms of P-creativity and H-creativity, or
psychological creativity and historical creativity. Psychological creativity involves an
individual who has a type of thought that they have never personally experienced before,
but that was conceived by others before. Historical creativity involves an individual
having a new thought that no one has ever had before. To Boden, creativity is not just
novel combinations of previously existing ideas, e.g., merely slinging together gibberish
to make new sentences. Rather, it means engendering systemic changes in a set of
constraints, like Schoenberg's space of atonal music, or Lobachevsky's formulation of
non-Euclidean geometry. Boden also notes that the presence of certain "transformational
heuristics"-such as dropping constraints, varying variables, or considering the
negative-might be required in order for young children to exhibit certain forms of
creativity (pp. 86-91).
Dunbar (1997) studied how scientists think about and manifest their creativity. He
followed experiments in four molecular biology laboratories, and conducted interviews
with over 21 scientists, including senior scientists, grad students, and research technicians
before, during, and after the research process. Contrary to the popular conception in
scholarly literature on the topic of scientific creativity, Dunbar concluded that scientists
infrequently make use of analogies from outside of their field to make important
discoveries. Many of the analogies used by the molecular biologists were homologies
between structures within the same organism or similar organisms, and thus analogies in
a very specific sense of the term.
Dunbar also suggested that scientists working in laboratories were more apt to
attend to inconsistent findings than participants in psychological experiments. The
process of negotiating with other scientists (dubbed "distributed reasoning") allowed
scientists to generate alternative hypotheses that they might not have been able to see
otherwise (p. 484). Finally, Dunbar concluded that scientific reasoning is a multi-faceted
process, involving "[a]nalogy, induction, deduction, causal reasoning, and distributed
reasoning." Scientists had little memory of the creative process involved in discovery:
"Thus, much of the on-line cognitive processes that went into the conceptual change
would have disappeared without a record if I had not taped the original meeting" (pp.
487, 488). This is significant, because it points to qualitative gray areas in the
engineering research process similar to those identified by Bucciarelli (1994; 2002) in his
definition of the "research object" (i.e., personal preferences of metrics, arbitrary
elements left to the imagination by a circuit diagram).
The research focus concerned how creativity manifests during the design process.
It may be interesting to note the role of analogy and distributed reasoning in the
production of MAVs, but more importantly the degree to which MAV researchers
identify these elements in their creative process. Do MAV researchers seek out the
"Klondike spaces"? How much of the creative process is a team effort? What sorts of
"transformational heuristics" are employed in the process of MAV design?
Micro Air Vehicle research portends a significant effect on the nature of warfare, as
well as privacy rights in the United States. However the technology also has applications
to wildlife conservation, and is intended to save lives. Phenomenology was chosen as the
method of inquiry for my study due to the potentially explosive social impact of MAV
technology. With its emphasis on eliminating preconceptions, phenomenology of MAV
researchers' lived experience promised a more unbiased, realistic glimpse into the
thought processes of the architects who design this volatile new technology, so as to more
rationally discuss applications and ethical issues.
In order to talk meaningfully about phenomenology, we should take some time to
define it more rigorously. I will begin with Creswell's (1998) schematic of
phenomenology, included as part of his outline of five traditions in qualitative research.
Creswell advances a psychological approach to phenomenology inspired by Moustakas
Phenomenology focuses on the meaning of lived experiences surrounding a
concept or phenomenon (Creswell, 1998). Phenomenology has its roots in the
philosophy of the mathematician Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), and later Heidegger,
Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology posits an essential, invariant structure or
underlying meaning (essence), and data analysis proceeds through a methodology of
reduction, using bracketing (or epoche). Through phenomenological reduction,
phenomenology is meant to return scientific inquiry to its origins in "natural science,"
that is, it is supposed to represent a return to the traditional tasks of philosophy (p. 52).
This entails a belief in the intentionalityy of consciousness," i.e., that the reality of
an object is inextricably linked to one's consciousness of it, and thus a refusal of the
subject-object dichotomy (p. 53). The idea if intentionality should not be confused with
intention: intentionality stresses subject-object relationship (Sokolowski, 2000). From
this arises the notion of "intersubjective validity," which tests the researcher's
understanding of the essence of the phenomenon in a dialog with co-researchers. Thus,
"intersubjective validity" involves returning to sources to have them verify results
(Creswell, 1998; p. 207).
After bracketing, phenomenological data analysis proceeds through
horizonalization, clusters of meanings, textural and structural descriptions, and concludes
with the "essential, invariant structure (or essence)" of the phenomenon (pp. 54, 55).
First, the researcher provides a full, naive description of phenomenon from his or her
perspective, and then engages in Imaginative Variation to consider a multiplicity of
interpretations of this description. This is a form of bracketing. Once bracketing is
complete, the researcher engages in phenomenological reduction. Phenomenological
reduction involves horizonalization of data. The researcher identifies horizons of the
phenomenon. Horizons are aspects that are essential to the description of the
phenomenon. The researcher considers each horizon with equal weight, regardless of
whether it is a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, or an entire page. These are then
grouped into non-repeating, non-overlapping categories called themes or "meaning
units." Based on these themes the researcher produces textural description of the
phenomenon-what actually happened (p. 150).
Moustakas (1994) noted that horizons are "the textural meanings and invariant
constituents of the phenomenon" (p. 97), and that "[h]orizons are unlimited. We can
never exhaust completely our experience of things, no matter how many times we
reconsider them, or view them. A new horizon arises each time that one recedes" (p. 95).
To illustrate the phenomenological process, Sokolowski (2000) generated a
phenomenology of a cube. In so doing, he differentiated between sides, aspects, and
profiles. We as observers are aware of the sides of a cube because they are indicated by
aspects-i.e., from this perspective the side looks like a square, but from this perspective
the side looks like a trapezoid. Beyond this, the sides can also have temporal aspects,
called profiles. Sokolowski refers to a profile in the sense of a "sketch." If the observer
closes his eyes momentarily, and then opens them again without moving, a newprofile
presents itself (pp. 17-19).
Sokolowski made an analogy to a sentence-like we see one side of a cube, or
touch it, and apprehend the rest of it-so too, we recall what was said during a lecture
and anticipate what will be said. Harkening back to Moustakas' definition of horizons as
"unlimited" (p. 95), Sokolowski observed:
It would be wrong, however, to say that the cube is just the sum of all its profiles.
The identity of the cube belongs to a dimension different from that of the sides,
aspects and profiles... As I move around the cube, or turn it in my hand, the
continuous flow of profiles is unified by being "of' the single cube. [Sokolowski,
2000; p. 20]
In this way, the cube exemplifies the intentionality of consciousness. The ability of
humans to interpret the overall identity of the cube transcends Cartesian epistemology.
After horizonalization, the researcher seeks a multiplicity of possible meanings
and divergent perspectives of the textural aspects of the phenomenon. These emerge as
the structures of the phenomenon, which are the co-researchers perceptions and intentions
toward the phenomenon. In the end, integration of the textural and structural descriptions
into an exhaustive, synthetic "composite" description yields the essential invariant
structure of the phenomenon, or its essence (p. 150).
Creswell placed phenomenology on the "before" end of the theoretical spectrum,
meaning that the majority of theoretical work is done prior to interviewing (pp. 85-87).
Creswell defined a standard phenomenology as involving ten in-depth interviews lasting
up to two hours, and notes that these can be supplemented by the "self-reflection of the
researcher as a preparatory step to interviewing; depictions of experience drawn from
outside the context (novels, poems, painters, etc.)" (p. 122).
Access issues associated with phenomenology are "limited to finding individuals
who have experienced the phenomenon and gaining their written permission to be
studied" (p. 117). Difficulties related to field duties concern bracketing, and trying to
minimize the role of interviewer. Finally, phenomenology requires extensive
In terms of ethical considerations, Creswell (1998) made clear that qualitative
researchers strive to protect the anonymity of sources. Being up front about research and
not deceiving co-researchers is another of the guiding tenets of qualitative research. The
importance of informed consent is paramount.
Reflexivity is a key component in the embedded rhetorical structure of a
transcendental phenomenology (Creswell, 1998). This is both in terms of an initial,
autobiographical naive description of the phenomenon, and in terms of the intersubjective
validity that serves as a value check on the quality of research, in which understanding is
tested "with other persons through a back and forth social interaction" (pp. 207, 208).
Creswell (1998) enumerated key components to establishing intersubjective
validity, drawing from Moustakas: 1. Did the interviewer distort the subject's
descriptions? 2. Was it an accurate transcription? 3. Were all possible interpretations of
the transcripts considered? 4. Can the general structural description then be used to
account for transcript excerpts? 5. Is the structural description situation specific, or does
it extend to other contexts for the experience? (p. 208).
Creswell (1998) identified six strands of phenomenological research, and then
focuses on the psychological, transcendental approach to phenomenology of Moustakas
(1994). Moustakas elaborated on transcendental phenomenology, tracing it back to
Husserl, and distinguishing it as having more emphasis on bracketing than other forms of
As we have seen with Sokolowski's (2000) example of the box, phenomenology
refers to a way of knowing that is greater than the sum of the parts, i.e., we see a series of
faces, and there are an endless number of vantages, but we intuit a box. Transcendental
has a similar philosophical implication that becomes clearer through a reading of
Heidegger, one of the founders of existential phenomenology. Heidegger (1975)
explained the purpose of phenomenology. Sciences, like math and medicine, became
divergent from philosophy, but he argues that philosophy is in itself scientific inquiry into
the essence of reality. Thus, it is redundant to speak of a "scientific philosophy"
(Heidegger, 1975; Paragraph 6, 7).
The German term Weltanschauung (Paragraph 10), or world-view, became
associated in the 1830s with unconscious intelligence, as opposed to sense impression.
Weltanschauung was favored as the mode of natural inquiry, the "independent, formative
process of intuition," (Paragraph 12), i.e., serendipity. But the Weltanschauung, said
Heidegger, is not theory. Rather, a world-view is linked to the being that we are
Heidegger used the term being in the sense of driving-toward something. This idea
that human beings are comportingg ourselves toward being" (Paragraph 20) lead him to
the conclusion that knowledge of beings presupposes knowledge of being, and this is the
essence that phenomenology seeks to draw out by means of an original natural science:
We must understand actuality, reality, vitality, existentiality, constancy in order to
be able to comport ourselves positively toward specifically actual, real, living,
existing, constant beings. [Heidegger, 1975; Paragraph 20]
Philosophy was ontology for Heidegger. This distinction between beings and being
was what he referred to as the ontologicall difference," a transcendent observation, and
thus philosophy is a "transcendental" science (Paragraph 41). The methodological
structure of transcendental differentiation is the "a priori cognition" that being precedes
beings (Paragraph 48). This, said Heidegger, is phenomenology, which is the method of
ontology and thus philosophy itself. The phenomenological process is three fold:
reduction, construction, and destruction (de-construction, the requisite flip side to the
ontology, the breaking down of ingenuous theories through historicity) (Paragraphs 53,
From Heidegger's rigorous definition, we see that transcendental refers to the idea
that there is a being to be discerned outside of the subjectivities of beings, and
phenomenology becomes the method to unravel this. While Heidegger is associated more
with existential phenomenology, and Moustakas (1994) aligned him with the tradition of
hermeneutics, Moustakas evokes Heidegger's etymology of "phenomenon" to elucidate
the meaning of phenomenology:
Constructed from phaino, phenomenon means to bring to light, to place in
brightness, to show itself in itself, the totality of what lies before us in the light of
day (Heidegger, 1977, p. 74-75). Thus, the maxim of phenomenology, "To the
things themselves." [Moustakas, 1994; p. 26]
In his first chapter, Moustakas identified five areas of human science research that
he wishes to distinguish from transcendental phenomenology. These include
ethnography, grounded theory, empirical phenomenological research, hermeneutics, and
heuristics. These have the common elements of rejecting the normal quantitative model,
and adopting more qualitative criteria for understanding the essence of things.
Phenomenology is distinct because it relies on epoche.
Moustakas then defined transcendental phenomenology in terms of intentionality,
intuition, a three-pronged methodology (epoche, reduction, Imaginative Variation), and
intersubjectivity. He attributed most of the influence on his concept of transcendental
phenomenology to Edmund Husserl, who was in turn influenced by Descartes. For
The intertwining of subjective and objective knowledge in Husserl's thinking was
also influenced by Descartes' (1912/1988) posture on objective reality, that "the
object is said to possess objective reality insofar as it exists by representation in
thought...for objective reality (i.e., the reality of representation) is in truth a
subjective reality" (1912/1988, p. 249). In other words, perception of the reality of
an object is dependent on a subject. [Moustakas, 1994; p. 27]
Though he was strongly influenced by Descartes, Husserl diverged from his
philosophy. Husserl's phenomenology did not "employ deduction" to ascertain reality,
but relied solely on intuition (p. 33). Husserl took the familiar Cartesian notion of
empirical observation (as an antidote to purely subjective impressions) and sort of
inverted it. Husserl suggested that at the human level of interpersonal communication, no
scientific model can substitute for cultivating an intuitive understanding of another
person's lived experience. Thus, Moustakas (1994) distinguished between natural
sciences, which investigate physical phenomena, and human sciences, which investigate
mental phenomena. This is what Moustakas means when he outlines five areas of human
science research, as distinct from the physical sciences. As Casey and Embree (1990)
stated: "[I]t is unfortunate that 'science' has come to denominate merely 'natural'
science, for certainly the human sciences, e.g., sociology and history, are sciences as well
(and also 'applicable'), in which case the noun 'science' ought always to be qualified" (p.
Interestingly, Moustakas (1994) enumerated forms of phenomena in his discussion
of human science from a phenomenological perspective. He again divided phenomena
into three groups: presentations, judgments, and emotions, or feelings. Presentations are
"whatsoever that appears," whereas judgments are positive or negative reactions to these
presentations, and feelings include love, hate, etc. (pp. 48, 49).
Moustakas (1994) noted that everyey mental act includes a presentation, a
cognition, and a feeling" (p. 50). Husserl modified this, changing presentation to "act,"
and noting that it is possible for a phenomenon to be a "mental object" with "mental
inexistence" (p. 50). Husserl changed presentation to "act" to stress the experiential
nature of reality. The possibility of "mental inexistence," then, vis-a-vis an act explains
how people make mistakes in ascertaining reality from a phenomenological perspective,
for example, mistaking a mannequin for a real person. The point of phenomenology is to
filter out these misinterpretations and experience "invariant meanings" (p. 51).
Perception is the primary source of knowledge in phenomenology, and this is intentional
experience. Intentionality is meant not in the sense that we intend some goal, but rather
that every perception is itself an act of consciousness. Perception refers to real objects,
and is in this sense hyletic, or sensual (p. 56).
Creswell (1998) suggested that the textural description relates what was
experienced, and that structural description relates how it was experienced. This
delineation reflects Moustakas's (1994) discussion of noema and noesis (noeses, pl.) as
they relate to texture and structure. In "intentional experience there is a material side and
a noetic or ideal side" (p. 69). Noema and noesis are part of this ideal, noetic side of
intentional experience: "...noema is that which is experienced, the what of experience,
the object-correlate. Noesis is the way in which the what is experienced, the
experiencing or act of experiencing, the subject-correlate" (p. 69).
Thus, the "noema, in perception, is its perceptual meaning or the perceived as such;
in recollection, the remembered as such; in judging, the judged as such" (p. 69). The
noesis is then the unconscious recognition that gives rise to the conscious perception,
recollection, and judgment of phenomena. This is why noema is linked to textural
description (conscious awareness), and noesis is linked to structural description
(unconscious perceptions giving rise to the conscious awareness).
Moustakas' procedures for phenomenology, including formulation of the research
question, ethical considerations, validation of data, methods of data collection and
interviewing. His steps for analysis begin with horizonalization and horizons, which are
grouped into lists of meaning units. These are then clustered into themes. The clustered
themes are used to develop the textural descriptions, and from these the structural
descriptions are formed.
Finally, Moustakas discussed how to summarize the study by returning to the
literature review to compare findings, discuss future implications for further research, and
the potential outcomes of this study in terms of social meanings and personal meanings.
He gave examples from studies spanning diverse topics, such as bypass surgery, to
women's empowerment, to the experience of recovering from a closed head injury.
Phenomenology has been tied to a number of studies, but has not yet been used to
illuminate the experience of conducting military research, and its underlying philosophies
and creative processes.
I and Thou
In his work I and Thou (1970), Martin Buber, a foremost Jewish philosopher of the
twentieth century, stressed that people cannot understand each other as they do a thing-
an I-it interaction-but that real understanding requires "openness, participation, and
empathy." Indeed, he argued that in today's age the I-Thou relationship is eclipsed by the
I-it relationship. Krippendorff (1996) cited Buber in his application of second-order
cybernetic theory to mass communication. Krippendorff suggests:
I know of no communication scholar who could communicate by the protocols of
the classical theories they tend to perfect with their colleagues, for example, of
communication as attitude change, as information transmission, as prediction and
control, as management of meanings, or as institutionalized mass-production of
messages. [Krippendorff, 1996; Paragraph 4]
Krippendorff situated Buber's concept of I and Thou in the context of non-trivial
machines. A trivial it responds like a simple mathematical function of input and output,
but a non-trivial it responds to external states, as well as dynamically to internal stimuli.
Utilizing non-trivial machines as a model for human communication, Krippendorff
distinguished between two types of interactions defined by Buber-I-Thou and I-You.
An I-You interaction is one of power-relationships, with iterative incorporation of the
other person's point of view into an unending chain-as though braided together.
In I-Thou relations, there is mutual respect, unmediated empathy, and love.
Krippendorff (1996) suggested that if a society degenerates into an I-You rapport-or
worse, an I-It relationship of trivial machines-with its citizenry, then people may
abandon thought in favor of "aggregates" (Paragraph 53). The axis shifts from democracy
to mass democracy, and from governance to surveillance (Krippendorff, 1996).
The distinction between I-Thou and I-You interactions is relevant the question of
surveillance technology in a democracy. The distinction is also methodologically
important to phenomenology. Interpersonal communication is not merely internalizing a
series of trivial facts and anecdotes that define others as if they were so much post-
modern miscellany. This is the definition of an I-You interaction. Rather, it is important
as a researcher to continually place oneself in the shoes of the co-researcher, to see things
from his or her perspective. This is empathy, the definition of an I-Thou relationship.
I-Thou interactions are of relevance to journalism, and the role of a journalist is
similar to that of a phenomenologist. Early models of mass communication, such as gate
keeping, view journalists as passive conduits for the transmission of information
(Roberts, 2005). Griswold (1999) identified a growing trend of specialization in
American journalism. He suggested this might lead to greater diversity in news
coverage, but that it could also lead to "increasing power over the uninformed" by elites
(p. 193). Shoemaker and Reese (1996) documented the effects of media routines and
organizational constraints on journalism, for example, in the case of the Gulf War. Buber
(1970) had important lessons for journalists in a media climate characterized by
organizational constraints and specialization, forces that compel journalists to obtain
trivial sound bites and snippets of information.
In his introduction to I and Thou (1970) Walter Kaufmann provided background
for Buber's short book. He suggested Buber intended his book to be read deeply, and
repeatedly. Although he was a religious philosopher, Buber is widely cited in
communications literature, and wrote his book in a secular capacity. Kaufmann noted
that Buber's notion of intimacy is linked to the Jewish notion of "return"-the idea that
man can return to God simply through an act of will, an idea sharply contrasting Christian
doctrine (p. 36). The intimation is that the individual-in the case of phenomenology,
the co-researcher-possesses an almost religious significance, as though he or she is the
site of divinity.
Choice of Methodology
Moustakas (1994) suggested two models of phenomenological analysis. These
include the van Kaam method and the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method. The van Kaam
method (van Kaam, 1959, 1966) includes seven steps:
The van Kaam Method (7 steps)
* The researcher begins with horizonalization of the data.
* The researcher then reduces these to fields, looking for invariant constituents. This is
done with a two-step test:
First, the researcher asks if the horizon contains a moment of experience
necessary and sufficient to understanding the phenomenon.
Second, the researcher asks if it is possible to abstract and label the horizon.
* The researcher clusters the invariant constituents into groups of like themes.
* These themes are checked for validity:
Are they explicitly expressed in the complete transcription?
If not, are they compatible with it? Otherwise, the themes are discarded.
* The researcher constructs individual textural descriptions, including verbatim
* The researcher constructs individual structural description based on the individual
textural descriptions and Imaginative Variation.
* The researcher combines these into individual textural-structural descriptions,
incorporating the invariant constituents and themes. [Moustakas, 1994; pp. 120, 121]
From individual textural-structural descriptions, the researcher develops a
composite description of the meanings and essences of the experience, the essential
experience of the group as a whole (Moustakas, 1994). The van Kaam method differs
from the method of Stevick, Colaizzi and Keen in three ways. First, the Stevick-
Colaizzi-Keen method begins explicitly with phenomenological reduction and
Imaginative Variation of the researcher's experience of the phenomenon. This self-
reflection is not mentioned in the van Kaam method. Secondly, the Stevick-Colaizzi-
Keen method is more iterative than the van Kaam method. There are fewer steps in the
Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method, but they are applied again and again to the data for each
individual co-researcher. Finally, the van Kaam method places more emphasis on
validation of data. The steps in the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method are as follows.
Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method (4 steps)
* The researcher begins with full description of his or her experience of the
* From the verbatim transcript of that experience:
The researcher considers his or her description of the experience.
Records relevant statements.
Lists non-repetitive, non-overlapping statements. These are invariant
Relates and clusters these meaning units into themes.
Synthesizes invariant meaning units into a description of the textures of
Reflects on the textural description, and through Imaginative Variation
constructs a description of the structures of experience.
Constructs a textural-structural description of the meanings and essences of
* The researcher then follows this procedure for the transcript of each co-researcher.
* The final textural-structural descriptions are then integrated into a universal textural
structural description that elucidates the essence of the experience. [Moustakas, 1994;
pp. 121, 122]
The benefits of applying the Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method include incorporation
of the researcher's personal experience into the data, as well as exhaustive
phenomenological reduction. The Stevick-Colaizzi-Keen method is more straightforward
and procedural. However, because the researcher's personal experience of MAV
technology is not as important in my study-because co-researchers are experts with
more direct experience of the phenomenon-the van Kaam method was selected as a
guiding methodology. As previously stated, for the purpose of my study researcher self-
reflection is largely an exercise for bracketing. Self-reflection is crucial, but because the
study focuses on a specific technology, the researcher's experience is not as vital to
understanding essences as that of co-researchers. Furthermore, the van Kaam method is
not as explicit in its protocol. It appears to leave more room for qualitative comparison
and testing of initial horizons and invariant constituents.
The results of my study begin with the researcher's self-reflection on the
phenomenon of MAVs to produce a naive textural description of MAV technology.
Imaginative Variation is then be a means to vary the meanings of this interpretation of
MAV research. This free-fantasy variation of the implications of MAV technology
explores science fiction, technological determinism, and ideal applications for MAVs.
The primary purpose of enumerating these naive textures and structures will be to enact
epoche and get beyond preconceptions regarding the technology. Naive textural and
structural description of the researcher's experience will be in this case a form of
catharsis to identify and move beyond wild imaginings regarding the technology, and
begin to see MAV technology for what it is through these architects' eyes.
Institutional Review Board, Informed Consent and Security
Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was obtained in January 2006, and the
first official interview was conducted shortly thereafter. Participants received an
informed consent disclosure sheet prior to the interview briefly explaining
phenomenology, the minimal risk associated with the study, and that identities would be
"kept confidential to the extent provided by law." This sheet is included as an appendix.
All materials and documents relating to my study are kept under lock and key in the
researcher's home. However, because MAV research at UF is high profile, the primary
contact agreed that anonymity was not paramount. Any individual who wants to learn
the names of researchers involved in the MAV project at UF need only log on to the
Internet to obtain the names of professors and students. Also, as previously noted, BBC
News ran a high-profile story on MAV research at UF. Still, all co-researchers are
referred to with pseudonyms. The informed consent sheet specifically noted that if the
research were to be published in a peer-reviewed communications journal, the names
would be changed.
Evolution of Research Questions
Asking open-ended questions is vital to phenomenological inquiry. Relaxing
critical thoughts into an open-ended set of highly generalized questions through
bracketing took several months. It was an ongoing process that continued to evolve even
the interviews concluded. The general protocol is listed as an appendix. Questions were
not always given in exactly the same order, though interviews frequently began with the
broad question, "What is MAV research?" These questions also delved into how the
researchers viewed aesthetics, inspiration, ethics and potential applications for MAVs.
Preliminary questions involved asking about technical details of MAV functioning. It
became apparent that the line of questioning should be more experientially oriented,
intended to emphasize lived experience and obtain anecdotes. Thus, questions were
added about how co-researchers' family and friends perceived research. Interviews also
probed for experiences at MAV competitions. Later, some questions about how
creativity manifests in the course of research were added to the interview protocol.
It is important to note that because of the nature of qualitative research and
phenomenology in particular, the research questions evolved over the course of the study.
Thus, the preliminary interview questions (see Appendix C) still reflect initial researcher
bias. They served as more of a branching off point for inquiry, and transformed over
time. Ideally, the questions in phenomenology proceed from a general stance, and are not
specific so as to be receptive to subjective impressions of the interviewee. The questions
are tentative, representing the exploratory initial stages of the research.
Interviews were conducted in spring 2006 at the University of Florida. This process
was the culmination of two years of rapport building with members of the MAV lab, and
networking through professors to contact graduate students. Creswell (1998) refers to
nine major types of purposeful sampling, including maximal sampling, extreme case
sampling, typical sampling, theory or concept sampling, homogeneous sampling, critical
sampling, opportunistic sampling, snowball sampling, and confirming and disconfirming
sampling. The sampling strategies employed in my study were maximal variation
sampling, opportunistic sampling, and snowball sampling.
Maximal variation sampling seeks co-researchers who have different characteristics
and traits. This was achieved by contacting both professors and graduate students, as
well as by drawing from diverse walks of life and sub-fields in engineering.
Opportunistic sampling selects samples that emerge during the research process.
Networking through professors to graduate students was in a sense opportunistic. The
professors and students were very busy, and thus if an engineer had the opportunity to
talk to me then they were accepted as a co-researcher. However, the primary sampling
technique used in my study was snowball sampling, in which a key person is identified to
help find co-researchers.
Creswell (1998) recommended a maximum often co-researchers for a
phenomenology. This number is small enough for the researcher to establish proper
rapport in a reasonable amount of time. It is up to the researcher to determine when
enough data has been collected to achieve self-consistency, called saturation. For my
study, eight interviews were completed. The duration of interviews was one hour. A
number of initial, rapport-building interviews were conducted with three of the
participants as part of a previous series of journalistic articles. As these were conducted
before IRB approval, no data from these interviews was used in this paper.
Participants ranged in age from their early 20's to mid 40's, most of the master's
students were in their early 20's. One was in his early thirties. The two professors were
in their early 40's. The MAV laboratory was predominantly American, but also included
one Asian graduate student and one Canadian graduate student with ties to the Middle
East. However, none of the researchers were females.
Stanley and Slattery (2003) examined race and gender in the field of engineering.
Through qualitative interviews with various students to examine why female and
minority students succeed or fail in an engineering curriculum, they determined that, in
general, engineering students were reluctant to discuss issues of gender and race. While
the MAV labs may not demonstrate great racial or gender diversity, they do demonstrate
field-specific diversity. That is, it is an interdisciplinary program by its very nature,
incorporating specialists in machine vision, aerospace, and electrical engineering, among
others. Questions that arise based on co-researcher diversity include how age, level of
education, length of involvement with the project, and ethnicity relate to co-researcher
experience of MAV research.
The settings for the interviews were the classrooms and offices of the University of
Florida Engineering Department. "Gator Engineering" encompasses several buildings on
campus, including the New Engineering Building (NEB), Machine and Aerospace
Engineering A (MAE-A), and Machine and Aerospace Engineering B (MAE-B). Micro
Air Vehicle research is part of the Machine Intelligence Laboratory (MIL) at UF, which
sponsors a number of other projects, such as the SubjuGator, a submarine with
autonomous mobility that is nationally competitive.
Multiple laboratories within the engineering department are involved in MAV
research, for example, the machine vision systems, and the flexible wing project.
Graduate students and even some undergraduates are involved in the project. They attend
weekly meetings at the MAV laboratory, which is located on the first floor of the NEB.
The laboratory is a single, institutional-looking room with white-painted
cinderblock walls lined with heavy black slate benches. One large table sits in the center
of the room. Strewn about on these tables are pieces of carbon fiber, which are cut and
shaped to form the MAV wings. There are a few computers. High up on shelves sit
boxes of old, crash-landed MAVs. Posters displaying MAV designs and projects line the
walls. One provides a colorful plot of wing-deformation. Another discusses the
applications of MAVs to conservation biology.
The MAV lab was normally busy. Classrooms and offices provided a more
suitable setting for interviews. Perhaps it would have been optimal to retreat to a neutral
locale to conduct the interviews, and thus de-politicize the environment. However, due to
the busy schedules, the engineering buildings had to suffice. These offices and
classrooms reflected the functional nature of the MAV laboratory: white-painted
cinderblock walls with minimal decoration, and frequently, high ceilings and windows.
Professors' offices were carpeted and lined with neat rows of technical books on subjects
ranging from machine vision to differential equations. The graduate student office
contained a series of long desks with personal workstations. In the back of the room a
box held haphazard retired MAVs.
Many such artifacts presented themselves. On brief visits to the MAV laboratory,
MAVs of twelve-inch and six-inch wingspans were available for examination. Posters
lining the walls of the engineering building described MAV research projects. The MIL
web page also provided valuable information about project goals and participants,
including flowcharts depicting the design process. Theses and dissertations were
available online, and within these, diagrams of MAV subsystems. Intermediate
documents in the design process-working diagrams, calculations on scratch paper, or
scrapped platforms on the computer-were not collected. My study drew mainly from
transcriptions, personal observations, and online material.
Initial meetings involved either meeting with a professor in his office, or a student
in his workspace. There was no compensation offered to co-researchers other than the
opportunity to communicate with someone about their research.
The NEB is a brand-new engineering complex with a multi-story curved glass
exterior wall. It is rather imposing. Upon entering, a curving staircase leads up the side
of an atrium topped with a glass ceiling. The walls are white, and adorned with plane
screen TVs that broadcast information about weather and events. Students surf the
Internet at tables on the ground floor, taking advantage of the free wireless. One of the
co-researchers was also the director in charge of the Center for MAV Research. His
office was on the ground floor. The interview began with introductions as he finished an
e-mail message. Large windows behind him framed green trees.
The meeting with Eric, a master's student working on the MAV project, took place
upstairs in the MAV student study area at the NEB. The corridor curves toward the
sterile looking room. Periodically, other students came in and out. One sat down and
surfed the Internet at his workstation while Eric and I conversed. William, another 24-
year-old master's student, agreed to meet at the MAE-A building across from the student
union in a lounge area where several students talked shop in front of a muted television.
To avoid the commotion, the interview was moved to an empty classroom, which
contained only chairs and benches. The walls were bare, white painted cinderblocks.
The blackboard was blank. The room had high ceilings and inaccessible windows, all
under incandescent lighting. Overall, there was a minimalist air of functionality.
The interviews were transcribed verbatim by the primary researcher, and printed.
The interviews were read and re-read. Porterfield (2005) noted in her phenomenology of
the experience of women living with HPV that readingsns and re-reading are all a part of
the hermeneutic circle of understanding or interpretation.. Re-reading the interviews
allows the researcher to ensure that the data obtained really answered the question that
was asked and reflected the experience" (pp. 30, 31).
The researcher coded all interviews. Units of meaning varied from the individual
word to entire sentences and paragraphs. These were highlighted using different colors.
Initial codes and notes were made in the margins. Emphasis was placed on text that
described the meaning of the experience for the co-researcher, to develop individual
textural description of the "what" of experience. These codes were refined and reduced
to fields of invariant, non-overlapping constituents-those deemed necessary and
sufficient to the experience of conducing MAV research, and which could be abstracted
These invariant, non-overlapping themes were then clustered into groups of related
themes, and tested for validity on the basis of whether or not they were explicitly
expressed in the overall text. One way to do this was to re-read the entire text. Another
was by conducting random spot readings in the original interview, which will be
discussed further in the section on validity. If the themes are not explicitly expressed or
do not correspond to randomly selected sections of text, then they must at least be
compatible with the overall themes of the original interview, a judgment-call on the part
of the researcher. If the clusters of themes do not hold up to these three levels of
scrutiny, they must be discarded.
Validated clusters of themes were used to formulate individual textural
descriptions, again, the "what" of experience. These included verbatim examples. The
researcher then varied possible meanings of the textural descriptions and arrive at
individual structural descriptions, the "how" of MAV research. These were combined
into individual textural-structural descriptions for each participant, including the invariant
constituents and themes. The individual textural-structural descriptions were cross-
examined against one another to elucidate commonality and discrepancies. Merging the
individual textural-structural descriptions into one essential description of MAV research
yielded a synthetic textural-structural description.
Three major areas of the experience of MAV research were addressed during each
phase in the process, and these corresponded to the original research focus. First, the
question of the meaning of the term "MAV research" was explored from the perspective
of the engineers. This included illuminating underlying themes and contexts, universal
structures (of space, time, materiality, causality, etc.), and any exceptional anecdotes.
The question explored the lived experience of the co-researchers: what inspired them,
experiences at competition, how friends and family understood their research.
Next, the MAVs were considered as "research object" in the sense of Bucciarelli,
that is, as the product of active negotiation between engineers, contextualized in terms of
a series of ephemeral artifacts (such as acronyms and working platforms) giving rise to a
final product. The last question brought to light the creative processes at the level of the
individual in producing the MAVs, and the corollary question of why the co-researchers
chose this particular technological form as a course of study and self-expression.
Research Rigor and Axiology
Validation is a slippery process. Creswell (1998) commented on experiences that
affect the initial orientation of co-researchers toward a study. He summarized criteria for
evaluation of a phenomenological study:
* Did the interviewer influence the contents of the subjects' descriptions in such a way
that the descriptions do not truly reflect the subjects' actual experience?
* Is the transcription accurate, and does it convey the meaning of the oral presentation
in the interview?
* In the analysis of the transcriptions, were there conclusions other than those offered
by the researcher that could have been derived? Has the researcher identified these
* Is it possible to go from the general structural description to the transcription and to
account for the specific contents and connections in the original examples of the
* Is the structural description situation specific, or does it hold in general for the
experience in other situations?
The first criterion requires a more complex discussion and will be dealt with in the
section on "Limitations" in Chapter 6, Conclusions. The second criterion involves the
accuracy of transcription. To this end, the primary researcher performed all transcription
to ensure integrity. Only I could recall the nuances of the interviews, having been present
for the conversations. Synopses of the individual textural-structural experiences were e-
mailed to corresponding co-researchers for member checks. This is also known as
intersubj ective validity, or confirmability.
Regarding criterion five above, another check on research rigor is transferability of
findings. In this respect, researchers ask whether or not the findings have validity when
transferred to another context, such as other forms of engineering research. This is a very
narrowly focused phenomenology. Transferability will naturally be limited. Indeed,
generalizability is not the goal of this phenomenology. Thus, the structural descriptions
generated in this phenomenology were situation specific. However, the data might verify
Bucciarelli's concept of "research object," or theories of creativity. This could represent
a form of transferability.
As far as the third and fourth criteria, his phenomenology placed primary emphasis
on the text of the transcripts. Reading and re-reading were steps in a hermeneutic circle
intended to arrive at truth. Imaginative Variation involved free fantasy variation of initial
naive description. Imaginative Variation also involved returning to sections of the
transcripts to vary all possible structural interpretations that evoke the textural
interpretations, as a check on validity. This was a similar procedure to spot-checking
random sections of the interview text to verify themes and invariant constituents.
Random spot readings of the original interview were performed during the
formation of themes and clusters from textural descriptions. They were also conducted
during Imaginative Variation. Themes and structures should be reflected on every scale
of the text, from the level of the sentence and paragraph to that of the entire transcript.
The analogy is to a hologram. Unlike the negative of a photograph, if the template
containing a hologram is broken a faint image can be reproduced from each piece. The
groups of invariant constituents, clusters of themes, and structures in a phenomenology
should exhibit the same correspondence to the interview text as the pieces of a hologram
to the original image. Spot-checking ensures this is the case. The interview text could
almost be said to exhibit a sort of fractal nature, if only metaphorically.
NAIVE DESCRIPTION AND IMAGINATIVE VARIATION
In phenomenology, naive description begins the process of bracketing. It is the
researcher's initial interpretation of the phenomenon, incorporating reflexivity into the
phenomenological process (Creswell, 1998; Moustakas, 1994). As the MAV may be
viewed as a kind of robot, I will begin my naive textural description with a brief history
of robots in lore and in reality, and rigorously define technology.
Though the idea is very old, only in this century did the word robot come into
being. Its etymology can be traced to the Czech robota, meaning drudgery, first used to
describe artificial workers in the 1920 play Rossum's Universal Robots by Karel Capek.
Created to help humans, the robots eventually take over the world (Jerz, 2002). A similar
theme emerged in Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, a series of vignettes exploring robot
consciousness. The book ends with the eerie sense that the giant, robot-constructed
electronic brains somehow extrapolate and channel human destiny (Asimov, 1950).
I, Robot came out in 1950. Two years earlier, Harvard philosopher and MIT
mathematician Norbert Weiner revamped an ancient concept in his seminal work
Cybernetics. The term comes from the Greek kybernetes, or steersmann," coined by Plato
to refer to effective government, and has since been used as a prefix for just about
everything, from cybercafe to cybersex to cyborg. Weiner became interested in
cybernetics after studying anti-aircraft fire control during WWII, particularly the
interactions of the operator and the steering mechanism. Weiner envisioned man as a
component of technology in an automatic age (Weiner, 1972).
Robotics developed concurrently with cybernetics. In the sixties and seventies,
hybrids began to emerge, such as computer science, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and
neural networks (Heylighen and Josyln, 2001). Inventor Ray Kurzweil predicted that
when A.I. heuristics meet advances in neural networks head-on, robot sophistication will
increase exponentially, perhaps bringing Asimov's vision to fruition (Kurzweil, 1999).
At the present time, robots perform surgery, filtering out the natural shaking of a
surgeon's hands, explore volcanoes, distant worlds, and Antarctica. There are modern
commercial robots too, for example, iRobot's Roomba (an autonomous vacuum cleaner)
(I-Robot Corporation, 2005). Teleoperation (operation at a distance) is an established
sub-field of robotics. Teleoperation over the Internet is a brand new sub-field presenting
interesting problems. Examples include a potential telerobotic system for remote
handling of protein crystals on expensive Space Shuttle missions via the Internet, and the
CoWorker, a roving, web-ready office robot with built-in tele-presence (Goldberg and
Inspired by designs from an early Japanese animation called Astroboy, the Honda
Asimo robot debuted at the 2002 Robodex exhibition in Yokohama. Asimo once rang the
morning bell at the stock market. It looks like a child in a space suit (Weiner, 2002)
evoking one Japanese researcher's comment that anthropomorphic robots the size of
children might make them less imposing (Menzel and D'Aluisio, 2000).
Mitcham (2005) equated the tendency to talk about technology as opposed to
technologies as suggesting that technologies have some sort of essential feature. This is
technicity, which he traced from Aristotle's idea of techne (pl. technics), a great
intellectual virtue, but subordinate to the flourishing of human nature. In fact, said
Mitcham, Plato thought it was bad to remove techne from context. Galileo, Francis
Bacon, and later Descartes attempted to extricate techne from human activities, study
them in specific ways, and thus create technology. Mitcham suggested that in Mill's
lifetime, technology was becoming seen as the science of means, and that thus technicity
is the study of means divorced from ends.
Micro Air Vehicle Origins
Micro Air Vehicle research originated in a 1996 Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative. Capitalizing on advances in micro-
electromechanical systems (MEMS), which massively integrated small components,
DARPA experts foresaw the emergence of a new kind of warfare for the twenty-first
century, characterized by non-traditional urban environments navigated by small cells of
specialized units. Micro Air Vehicles would reduce casualties and reconnaissance time,
and provide foot soldiers with instant information. Because of the scale of MAVs, their
aerodynamics is more akin to that of birds or butterflies than planes. They could also be
used for tagging, targeting, communications, or tracking the shape of chemical clouds.
They could even negotiate building interiors, or be mounted with weapons (McMichael
and Francis, 1997).
Researchers at the Machine Intelligence Laboratory (MIL) at the University of
Florida strive to make the MAVs autonomous. They filmed remotely piloted flights and
created horizon-tracking programs based on these that allow the MAVs to distinguish
between earth and sky, assuming the horizon to be a straight line (Center for Micro Air
Vehicle Research, 2005). Recently, the horizon-tracking software was abandoned in
favor of an object-based vision system.
Though not an MAV, the Predator drone, which is "toy-like," debuted in Bosnia in
1995. On November 3, 2002, a Predator drone assassinated Qaed Salim Sinan Harithi, a
senior Al Qaeda leader, and five associates as they drove through Yemen (Crandall,
2002). A recent article in the Sunday Press Democrat notes that Predators have been
deployed recently by the CIA to target al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan, Iraq, and
Yemen, with an unknown toll in collateral damage (Meyer, 2006).
Micro Air Vehicles also have application to search and rescue. The most dramatic
recent example of robotic search and rescue occurred on September 11, 2001. Robin
Murphy of the Center for Robot Assisted Search And Rescue (CRASAR) at USF
descended with her team of graduate students on Ground Zero in the days after the attack,
along with robots from private corporations, such as iRobot and Foster-Miller from
Boston. Funding for these programs hails from the NSF, the Office of Naval Research,
and DARPA's Tactical Mobile Robots program-in part the vision of DARPA's former
director, Colonel Blitch, who partook in rescue efforts in Oklahoma City. Blitch still had
the first generation TMR robots in his basement on the morning of 9/11, to be donated to
the non-profit National Institute for Urban Search and Rescue. When the planes hit, he
loaded up the robots into his car and called other robotics teams en route to New York
To showcase the broad spectrum of MAV capabilities, since the inception of MAV
research in the inception of MAV research in the late 1990s, MAV researchers have
begun hosting competitions. The size of the competitions has increased from only a
handful of teams in 2000 to 14 in the 2005 competition in Seoul. The competitions have
also become international events. Different competitions focus on different aspects of
MAV design. For example, the 2005 Korean competition was geared toward rapid
fabrication of the vehicle. The fall, 2005, European Micro Air Vehicle competition
focused on constructing the best autopilot for a MAV.
The MAVs are comprised of a number of systems that work together to propel the
machines and give them autonomy (Albertani, Stanford, Hubner, and Ifju, 2005; Plew,
2005; Abdulrahim, 2004). These include vision systems that use object-based software
that allows the MAV to move autonomously. The vision system entails the use of a small
camera mounted on the MAV. All hardware creates size and weight constraints on the
vehicle. There are power systems, including a small battery. The propulsion systems
include wings and propeller. In some versions of the MAV, the wings actually change
shape, or morph. The wings are a lightweight carbon weave injected with a resin, which,
when baked, hardens into a wing. Other sections of the wing are comprised of synthetic
material as used in kites, which is flexible so as to provide more lift.
In all of these cases, the size and weight of systems, such as batteries, cameras, and
materials for the construction of the wing and skeleton, create upper limits to just how
compact the MAV can be. Furthermore, the aerodynamics at small scales (six-inch
wingspan and smaller) create unique engineering obstacles. This is unlike the case of
larger aircraft that can be modeled after birds, although the morphing MAV is modeled
after a sea gull. The weight of materials and response-time required of on-board systems
make the MAV a unique class of machine as the wingspan decreases.
Micro Air Vehicles are disposable military vehicles intended for eventual mass-
production. They could be used for reconnaissance during war, or planting sensors to
guide missiles to targets. Their wings are flexible enough to be rolled up and placed in a
canister to be released from a missile to circle the impact and study it, or to be mounted
on a police car.
On the other hand, MAVs hold potential for civilian uses, particularly in biological
conservation. For example, MAVs will study migration habits of animals without
disturbing them. Biologists frequently crash small airplanes while performing wildlife
analysis. By replacing the biologist in the field, MAVs will save human lives. Micro Air
Vehicles could be flown alongside windsurfers or rock-climbers to get pictures from
Micro Air Vehicles in the News
Micro Air Vehicles have heralded significant coverage in the news over the past
few years. A Lexis Nexis Academic search for "micro air vehicle" in news content from
2004 through 2006 yielded 47 articles, primarily from military, aerospace and technology
oriented specialty publications, such as Space Daily, PC Magazine, and Aerospace Daily
and Defense Report. Other regional newspapers such as the Albuquerque Journal and
Dayton Daily News also covered MAVs, as well as the wire services Business Wire and
Many of the articles stressed military and surveillance applications of the MAVs,
and the novelty of MAVs. Several of the articles focused on a 13-inch MAV under
development by Honeywell, which according to the Albuquerque Journal is able to hover
and survey a specific area (Webb, 2005). The article noted that the MAV is part of a $40
million contract with DARPA, and that it was expected to be combat-ready by the end of
the year. Space Daily covered the unveiling of a combat ready MAV recently ("High-tech
micro air vehicle will battle with soldiers," 2005). Another article that ran noted that a
DARPA Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) had was quickly being primed for the battlefield
("DARPA passes key milestone towards future combat ready system class I UAV,"
2005). One UPI article focused on the morphing-wing MAV being produced at UF and
its urban reconnaissance applications ("Mini-plane used for urban spying," 2005).
While a search of the New York Times from 2004-2006 revealed no articles related
to "micro air vehicles," six recent articles related to MAVs were found in the BBC News
archives for the same time period. These stressed applications for MAVs, including
wildlife surveys, rescue operations, hazardous materials detection, and military
reconnaissance. In April 2005, the BBC reported that 800 unmanned drones had been
deployed over Iraq ("Allies plough billions into drones," 2005). However, another BBC
article noted that UAVs could be used as low-cost, low-orbit satellites for developing
nations ("'Eternal planes' to watch over us," 2006).
A BBC News article reported the morphing-wing MAV technology under
development at UF ("Spy craft take gull flight lesson," 2005). The article noted that the
researchers involved copied the "wing action of seagulls" to produce a morphing-wing
MAV that could be ready for missions in two to three years. One of the co-researchers of
my study was a source for this article. The article stressed potential surveillance and
communications applications, and chemical sensing capabilities. It concluded with
speculation that MAVs could eventually be used to plant small microphones, function in
"swarms" that are disbursed from and communicate with a "mother ship" high above a
city, and manufactured at the scale of insects within 20 years. They could be made
capable of changing color and form. Thus, MAVs are a rapidly developing technology
with numerous military and civilian applications that have not yet been exhausted.
After naive textural description, the researcher varies possible meanings and
structures associated with the textures in a free fantasy variation. Imaginative Variation at
this point is primarily an initial exercise for the researcher to bracket preconceptions by
varying the meanings of his own personal experience. In keeping with the van Kaam
method, the structures outlined in this section will not be integrated into the final,
synthetic structures. This Imaginative Variation is a poetic exercise for bracketing. It is
also inspired in part by Don Idhe's (1996) Eden metaphor as a means to envision an
alternative reality in which humans never use technology. In much the same way, I
wonder what civilization would be like if MAVs were ubiquitous.
Novelist Thomas Pynchon (1995) brushed together the poetry of Rilke and
mathematics. His characters themselves are ensnarled in mathematical architectures:
...in the dynamic space of the living Rocket, the double integral has a different
meaning. To integrate here is to operate on a rate of change so that time falls away:
change is stilled... "Meters per second" will integrate to "meters." The moving
vehicle is frozen, in space, to become architecture, and timeless. It was never
launched. It will never fall. [Pynchon, 1995; pp. 301]
Technology can become poetry. Indeed, both Creswell (1998) and Moustakas
(1994) suggested integrating fiction and poetry into phenomenology. Then, like in
Pynchon's novel, I see superficial parallels between mathematics and the architectures.
The curve of the wings of the smallest MAVs reflects the curve of integrals. The lines
suggested a mini-UFO. There is the suggestion of something alien in the object of the
MAV, and perhaps a little sinister.
The researchers permitted me to hold a seasoned, six-inch MAV. It seemed
decrepit, and tattered, the plastic of the wings torn in many places. They assured me it
had been through twenty crashes. I was struck by the seeming frailty of the tattered
plastic and carbon-fiber wings. Contrast this with the deadly Predator Drone deployed by
the U.S. military in Bosnia and the Middle East.
The contrasting fragility of the individual MAV strikes me compared with its
destructive potential. This is especially relevant because the MAVs are meant to be
produced cheaply, mass-produced, and deployed for military purposes. It could be used
for planting sensors to guide missiles, or be mounted with a bomb to take out small
targets. However, at the same time it contains the potential for conservation biology and
a range of civilian applications, particularly for journalists. Thus the fact that it is
lightweight is also contrasted with the great good it could bring to people by opening up
new realms of public knowledge. In any event, what emerges is the understanding of
technology as a double-edged sword, and this is one common view of technology
addressed by philosophers (Mitcham, 2005).
There is implicit in the object of the Micro Air Vehicle the specter of the "War on
Terror." The MAVs are part of the machinery of this new war. The MAV, then,
embodies fears regarding the sacrifice of freedoms for safety. To me, the MAV
represents a point of common interest to begin a discussion with scientists about their
experiences and approach toward research. It represents an opportunity to open dialogue
with engineers and better understand what values are implicit in their work.
Taken to its most dystopian end, the MAV technology could be a very destructive
tool. Previously, I mentioned that my undergraduate thesis was a compilation of science
fiction stories that grappled with concepts in modern physics. I set the stage for one of
these in a cyberpunk, psychedelic future inspired by William Gibson, Philip K. Dick, and
J.G. Ballard. Other authors who have influenced me and that deal with the impact of
technology on modern life-but blur the boundaries between science fiction and other
genres-include Haruki Murakami, Thomas Pynchon and Jean Baudrillard.
Much of the writing of these authors deals with technology in a dystopian light.
Mitcham (2005) noted that American engineering schools tend to divorce themselves
from European philosophy and phenomenology. Perhaps in North America, science
fiction is one of the few modes available to us to question the ethics of the progress of
technology. For example, with the exception of Murakami, I had not read these authors
before I composed my science fiction. It is as if their work had been incorporated so
seamlessly into the fabric of popular culture that I had intuitively absorbed them into my
The term technology is derived from Aristotle's technics, which referred to the use
of objects to manipulate the physical world and accomplish tasks. According to Mitcham
(2005), Aristotle valued pure philosophy over technics. Important criticisms of the
advance of modem technology (particularly regarding mass media) come from post-
modernists such as Baudrillard (1994) and Virilio (2000). Baudrillard took the
technological determinism of McLuhan to a bleak, postmodern extreme. Specifically, he
suggests that the reproduction of digital images by modern media systems destroys
meaning. He compared his philosophical writings to science fiction (1997). When he
revisited some of the darker aspects of McLuhanism, Kroker (1995) spoke of humans as
the "sex of the lifeless machine world," like the bee cross pollinating "the sex organ of
the machine world" (p. 8). This is an extrapolation of Heidegger's transhuman view of
technology advancing for the sake of advancement. In a similar vein, Virilio (2000)
faulted the ethics of unchecked advances in modem techno-science, likening them to the
bravado of extreme sports.
Minority Report (2002) is a Steven Spielberg film based on a short story by the
author Philip K. Dick. Tom Cruise is a police sergeant in charge of a futuristic division
making use of so-called "precognitives" to apprehend criminals before they commit a
crime. As an example of how science fiction could be used as a vehicle to broach ethical
issues of technological development, O'Harrow (2005) cited Minority Report repeatedly
in his survey of developmental surveillance technology. These surveillance technologies
take the form of collaborations between government and private industry. The fact that a
Washington Post reporter repeatedly references popular culture to illustrate his point is
notable. Is Minority Report, like Orwell's 1984 or H.G. Wells' The h\lq,'e of Things to
Come, a prophetic text? O'Harrow referenced the film in his discussion of complex data
mining and facial recognition systems capable of catching terrorists before they commit a
Minority Report (2002) is relevant to Imaginative Variation in that it also includes a
scene with "spiders"-small, agile morphing robots that resemble arachnids. Police
deploy the "spiders" to ferret out a suspect from a tenement. The residents are shown
from a ceiling-eye view that sweeps from apartment to apartment. They are stopped
stock-still in the midst of everyday activities-dishes, arguments, sex-to endure retinal
scans by the scrambling "spiders." Will MAVs function as "spiders" for law
enforcement and military?
Another image that has come to mind in the course of conducting this
phenomenology is the 3-D Terminator ride at Universal Studios. In this ride, Arnold
Schwarzenegger comes under fire from small, airborne drones as he makes his way to the
A.I. nerve center of a future Earth hostile to human life, Skynet. As the ride is 3-D, one
of the drones aggressively approaches the audience, exploding on impact. Since they are
built cheaply and meant to crash land, some co-researchers mentioned that MAVs could
be fitted with bombs and flown into targets.
More realistically, MAVs could place sensors on buildings to guide missiles,
reminiscent of a scene in the Ridley Scott film, Black Hawk Down (2001). Black Hawk
Down reconstructs the U.S. military's botched intervention in Somalia in October of
1993. In one scene, a soldier surrounded on all sides by raving Somalis throws an
infrared sensor on top of the building in which he is hiding. The puzzled rebels pick it
up, and too late realize that it is a beacon for a nearby helicopter, which swiftly and
precisely dispatches them, clearing a path for rescue teams. In a preliminary interview,
however, one co-researcher noted that he had no interest in war films.
To me, MAVs allude to such dark visions. On the flip side, MAV research holds
the promise of eternal planes that watch over us. These planes provide ecological and
cartographic data and inexpensive communications for developing countries. Micro Air
Vehicles could be used for detection of chemical or biological hazards, as well as search
and rescue. Co-researchers mentioned that MAVs could be used in case of natural
disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina. Co-researchers mentioned that MAVs could be used
by journalists to get images from unusual vantage points, such as during a surfing or rock
climbing competition. Micro Air Vehicles could observe migratory patterns without
disturbing wildlife, such as manatees or sage grouse. They could save the lives of
soldiers, as well as human researchers, who frequently die in plane crashes while
conducting conservation research. Thus, in contrast to dark imaginings, MAVs inspire
conservation, defense, and humanitarian applications.
Micro Air Vehicle Researchers in Their Own Words
Now that we have explored the history MAV research and a variety of its potential
implications-both positive and ominous-we are going to hear from the scientists
themselves on the lived experience of Micro Air Vehicle research at the University of
Florida. What follows are individual textural-structural descriptions for each of the eight
participants. Through the process of horizonalization, the original interviews are reduced
to fields of invariant constituents. These are then clustered into groups of like themes.
The themes are checked for validity by comparing them to the original text. The textural
component of the description consists of direct quotes and themes.
Multiple interpretations of these textural descriptions are considered, giving rise to
structures, which are numbered in the structural component of the individual descriptions.
Finally, a composite textural-structural description is formed using all of the individual
textural-structural descriptions as a basis, revealing the synthetic description, or essence.
At each step in the analysis, every attempt is made to specifically address the
research focus. This is to understand the experience of MAV researchers from the
perspective of the engineers themselves through phenomenological inquiry, and generate
an essential description. There were three corollary questions. First, why did the
researchers choose this form of technology to study? Second, what does the MAV
represent to the engineers as research object in the sense of Bucciarelli (2002)? Finally,
what are the major creative processes at work in the MAV laboratories?
Dr. Davison: Textural Description
Dr. Davison, 42, specializes in machine vision for the MAV and is trained as a
mathematician. He describes his research as centering on control of autonomous
systems, mobile robots, and robot manipulators. When he came to UF's engineering
department, he found a very strong aerospace department. While his previous research
dealt with mobile robots he notes "equations of motion for some types of flight are
similar to the equations of motion for mobile robots."
A typical research day for Dr. Davison involves meetings with graduate and
undergraduate students to discuss progress on independent study, software development,
and "hardware in the loop simulation." This simulation involves an artificial intelligence
that takes the place of the pilot. This artificial intelligence tracks objects on a flight
simulator. Dr. Davison's lab is currently mainly concerned with developing algorithms
to improve the software. This particular approach to machine vision is not biologically
inspired. It is not stereoscopic, but rather geometric or object-based.
The MAVs did not always run based on this kind of object-oriented software.
After writing a proposal to the Air Force for a similar type of work, Dr. Davison took the
place of one of the founding members of the MAV group. The individual he replaced
worked on the original visions systems. Davison's object-oriented software replaced the
horizon-tracking software. Dr. Davison formulated his response very carefully in
describing this transition period. When further questioned about this, he said he just
wanted to stress that his research was distinct from his predecessor's.
Davison was not initially interested in discussing the aesthetics of MAVs. He
defined his inspiration in working with MAVs as relating mainly to pushing research
boundaries. Davison was also initially disinterested in discussing the relevance of
biology to his vision systems. For example, stereo vision, way animals see the world,
cannot be applied to MAVs because they're too small. He later elaborated:
We're mostly inspired just by the mathematics part of the program, just by our
knowledge, and we get excited about our parts of the MAV. I don't look at birds or
get inspired by biology how other people do. It's more of the pure mathematics
level for me.
When asked how he thought non-experts perceive MAVs, Dr. Davison was initially
puzzled, then suggested that people might regard them as toys, or perhaps as a threat, but
that still others appreciate their "coolness." He elaborated on "cool" to say that it meant
"Intriguing. I think you know it's just a topic that excites people.. cool is just kind of a
word that captures general public interest in the area."
He noted military applications of MAVs, but also their search and rescue
applications. For example, they could have been useful during Katrina. He referred to
their small size that does not require FAA clearance, and their ability to "swarm" and
provide video coverage of a large area.
Davison acknowledged that the government has the largest role in funding MAV
research, and that they have been bought and sold primarily for military applications.
However, he noted other more civilian applications, such as wildlife monitoring or
forestry. Finally, however, he noted, "a lot of the stuff we do is just broad science. It can
be applied, and it's not specific to the military."
In terms of impact on his personal life, Davison noted that his involvement with the
MAV project has lead to personal success. The program itself is a success, and it has
allowed him to meet distinguished colleagues, publish results, and attend conferences.
He has traveled extensively in relation to his work, including Spain, the Bahamas, and
San Francisco. Peers seemed excited and enthusiastic about his research. Micro Air
Vehicle research is "spreading like wildfire."
He felt the need "to be very mindful of the uses of the technology you're
developing," and justified his own research as "more defense related." Micro Air Vehicle
research is so new that there are no management, economic, or marketing precedents for
"design choices." In terms of the control that the individual researcher has over the
ethical considerations of his product, Davison noted:
I think that [pause] 100% in their hands at some point. I mean, when we develop
the Micro Air Vehicles, we don't know really what the Air Force is us-or what
the military is using them for. I mean we have an idea, and you know, based on
that belief, or that idea, then yeah, we feel comfortable developing a technology in
a certain way.
Dr. Davison: Structural Description
Davison originally worked on equations for mobile robots, but easily transitioned
into an aerospace department. As a mathematician, he was able to envision the mobile
robot and the MAV-two totally different dynamic systems-in similar terms of
equations of motion. Thus, his approach (1) transcended the physical differences
between the two projects through the common language of mathematics.
The emphasis of his research continued to be on developing new algorithms to
improve machine vision. However, because his emphasis was on vision for the MAV,
Davison was not concerned about biological inspiration, as were other co-researchers.
Neither had he attended any of the competitions. Still, he was still very enthusiastic
about MAVs. He reported a (2) positive impact on his personal life, including feelings of
success and commendations from colleagues, and exhibited energy and excitement.
Like other researchers, Davison pointed out that (3) MAVs are "more defense
related" when asked about military funding. Davison emphasized saving soldiers' lives
through battlefield reconnaissance, search and rescue, and conservation applications.
Though he was candid about military applications for MAVs, Davison formulated
responses to such questions carefully, and at times seemed a little tense.
Davison referred to "coolness" when asked how he thought lay people perceived
MAVs. He also said that MAVs could be perceived as a threat, or as toys. When asked
about aesthetics, he said, "I wouldn't say it's not of interest, because it is appealing to
look at a very cool-looking aircraft, and that does have an impact (on design)." The (4)
aesthetic of "cool" emerged repeatedly throughout the interviews. The (5) toy-like
quality of MAVs was something co-researchers frequently cited as a lay perspective that
contrasted actual complexity from a design perspective. Davison linked it with "coolness
in a technical geeky way," but also with popular appeal of the technology.
In terms of inspiration, Davison referred to "trying to improve performance of the
MAV" and "just trying to face those open barriers and discover what the open barriers
are, and then just the challenge of trying to overcome them, I guess, is the motivation."
As a trained mathematician, Davison focuses on pushing "pure mathematics" barriers.
Though the other MAV researchers are preoccupied with probing limits of physical laws,
the (6) underlying drive to push boundaries remains the same for Davison.
In response to the question about military applications, he also replied "the
government's been the main funding source, although a lot of the stuff we do is just
broad science, it can be applied, and it's not specific to the military." He also referred to
his object-oriented approach to machine vision as being more compatible with reducing
the size of the aircraft. Thus, his motivation for MAV research also involves pushing
boundaries of (7) miniaturization to an extent. Overall, it revolves around producing (8)
generally applicable mathematics, and the challenge of (9) conducting pioneering
Furthermore, Davison stressed that when he designs technology, he tries to
conceive of it in such a way as to make it useful in multiple ways:
I-I don't think, very few researchers develop a technology and think about it in
just one way. I think, when people develop technologies, they're always thinking
of different ways to leverage that technology. And I know, for myself, I'm always
thinking about what are different ways that this could contribute to society, whether
it's economics, or safety, or healthcare, [pace of speech accelerating] or economy
or military. [pause]
Thus, (10) he conceived of technology in such a way as to "leverage" it on multiple
levels. For example, he noted that sometimes it takes an event of the magnitude of
Katrina to make people realize that they can use one technology for another purpose,
such as the MAVs, which could have been used to locate people on rooftops. This
perhaps explains his strong belief that (11) the researcher at one point has "100%" control
over the ethical considerations inherent in a technology, a strong opinion not reiterated by
other researchers. He clarified this to say that, in such a fledgling field, it is easier for the
engineer to have power over the design process, because the management aspects are not
yet set in stone.
Dr. Peterson: Textural Description
Dr. Peterson, 45, is the professor who oversees the MAV project. Thus, all of the
other co-researchers work with him in some capacity, either as a student or collaborating
on research. He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, but switched to aerospace
when he got involved in the MAV project at UF. The interview began with Dr. Peterson
describing having recently gutted and refinished his vintage Airstream trailer. He had a
picture of his family standing outside of it in the desert as his computer desktop.
Peterson gave a play-by-play description of winning the 2005 MAV competition in
Korea. He described a "traditional surveillance competition," during which the team
"took a video hit" and ended up winning only second. They scored third in the
ornithoptor (flapping wing) competition. He conceded, "I don't think that any of us
really understand how to do flapping correctly. Birds are way ahead of us there, and bats
and insects." They placed first in the design report, and won first place over Arizona and
the Korean universities.
Peterson pointed out how the 15 universities present at the Seoul competition
represented a growing base for MAV research internationally. "It's definitely becoming
more and more mainstream as far as university activity," he said. He also noted the UF
team's victory in a recent European MAV competition. Participation was a spur of the
moment decision. The UF team only had three weeks to prepare, while other teams had
one year. They ended up sixth "with a very minimal effort."
Getting back to the bats and insects, Peterson talked about biological inspiration for
MAVs. He noted some ways in which nature produces more adept small flying
machines, as with some insects. However, he qualified this statement:
[B]iological inspiration is important, but it's not the only inspiration out there. For
instance, the biology is limited in what it can do. There's a design space that is not
accessible to nature. For instance there are no rotary mechanisms in nature except
for single celled organisms... It happens to be that rotary mechanisms are easy for
us to produce...it is more efficient to keep with the rotary mechanism like a
Peterson's daily routine, like Davison's, centers on advising students. He oversees
the MAV program, and as a result his advises are more varied. He has some acquiring
data on wing deficiency, or doing flow visualization, working in the wind tunnel. Others
are working on control systems, electronics, and hardware. Still others are working on
specific missions, manufacturing algorithms, and autopilot development.
As for MAV applications, Peterson mentioned wildlife conservation and bomb
damage investigation, though he could not go into detail on the latter. Applications were
"limited only by imagination." He noted that the MAV team is working with law
enforcement officials from Kentucky, where "a decent amount of marijuana is being
grown." The team's goal is to produce an MAV disguised as a buzzard that can circle
inconspicuously. Such an MAV could also be used for border control.
Peterson noted MAVs are primarily about surveillance. However, some research
was done with sensor placement, e.g., chemical "sniffers" that The Air Force recently
issued another request:
So Micro Air Vehicle size combat vehicles that essentially have the ah [slight
pause] firepower to for instance, um, attack maybe attack one person, or disable
computers, or disable equipment. So you know essentially a Micro Air Vehicle
with a tiny bomb on it could crash into a computer or blow it up, or crash into a
jeep and take it out. You know, they could take out little targets as opposed to
Peterson followed this up by saying, rather quietly, that he is "not pursuing it
heavily." In terms of public awareness, he seemed to think that most people would have
no idea what an MAV is, and once they found out they would think they were "cool," or
envision a world where they are ubiquitous for surveillance. He suggested that they
could have been used to increase the "speed and efficiency" of rescue operations during
Katrina or similar missions. As such, he noted that they could be also be useful to the
insurance industry. Finally, in a disaster situation, small MAVs would not damage
helicopters or injure civilians if MAVs crashed into them.
Peterson became involved in MAV research because he thought MAVs were
"cool." In this context, he noted that the idea of a flexible wing came to him while
windsurfing, one of his passions. He thought the flexible wing idea was "fascinating."
He has since become a leader in his field. Becoming "well known" in the field of MAV
research was a "positive" experience. The research has allowed him to broaden into and
contribute to new fields, which "obviously begins to help confidence level." Of course, it
has made him busier.
I prompted for a "eureka moment," and he noted that the first few months actually
getting something to fly represented the first major hurdle in MAV research. Nothing
since had been so momentous, but indeed he hoped that receiving a DARPA grant to
work on another class of aircraft, the 3-inch Nano Air Vehicles, would be a "test" to
gauge their lab's respectability. Unfortunately, since the interview the UF team has
learned that it was not selected.
Peterson also spoke of an effort to put all MAV "functionality" onto a single chip
that included communications, actuators, and power. The way this works is to design the
circuit on the computer, send it to a microlithography lab, receive 60 units and spend 4 to
5 months testing them. When asked how the microlithography works, Peterson smiled
and replied, "I don't know how they do it."
To convey MAV research to the public, Peterson suggested first emphasizing the
importance of the research in terms of national security, then presenting the challenges of
research. This challenge meant "trying to fly smaller and smaller vehicles," pushing
MAVs into a previously unattainable "flight regime." To Peterson, the ethics of
aerospace were not as important as in the field of biology. This was especially true since
the applications are defense:
In the area of engineering and aircraft design and understanding, I think there are
very few ethical questions that we really worry about. I personally try to keep the
vehicles that we work on in the realm of surveillance rather than combat, uh. I
don't feel real comfortable working on a vehicle that's specifically made to kill
somebody. You know, but, uh, if the vehicle is for surveillance then to me that's
more of an area of saving lives, versus, uh, eliminating lives.
Dr. Peterson: Structural Description
Dr. Peterson began with a play-by-play of Korea, as well as mention of their
placement in the European competition. He noted that the experience of MAV research
was positive for him, that he has become a recognized figure in his field. His self-
confidence has increased as a result. He also noted that MAV research has broadened his
intellectual horizons and allowed him to investigate other disciplines. Thus, (1) pride is
one aspect of Peterson's experience of MAV research. The field is growing, and
Peterson feels that his team is a vanguard. Peterson therefore (2) exhibits a highly
Yet in terms of competing with nature, birds "are way ahead of us there, and bats
and insects." Nature itself is viewed in technological terms. In fact, Peterson suggested
that though it is frequently novel, "biology is limited in what it can do," and human
ingenuity can devise morphologies that are more "efficient." That could be efficient in
terms of maneuverability, or in terms of improving "speed and efficiency" of disaster
response. Implicit in these statements is the (3) evaluation of efficiency as the primary
objective of research, as well as the notion that technology subsumes nature-(4) nature
is a subset of technology, not the other way around.
This is similar perhaps to Davison's "hardware in the loop" robotic test pilot in its
emphasis on (5) removing the human from the equation if that is most efficient. For
example, in his discussion of MAV applications, Peterson noted:
But there's a big consortium developing UCAVs, which are essentially unmanned
F-16's, except not quite that big, but probably equally lethal. So they're full blown
fighter pilots without the fighter, and what that allows them is a much higher
maneuverability, because, ah, right now they can produce an airplane that can
produce more G's than a pilot can take. That's a limiting thing, the physiology of
Micro Air Vehicle research involves a lot of routine. For a professor, this means
mainly advising students. Micro Air Vehicle (6) research is decidedly interdisciplinary
from Peterson's perspective as the coordinator of the suite of MAV labs. He mentioned
his collaboration on machine vision for the MAV with Davison, a mathematician, and an
aerospace professor. Machine vision is "a narrow topic, but nonetheless we're
Peterson offered up wildlife conservation applications for MAVs early on in the
interview. He mentioned border patrol and law enforcement applications of a disguised
MAV, but quickly follows up with wildlife conservation applications. Thus, there is a (7)
tendency to play up civilian applications to balance or contrast military-oriented
surveillance applications. Applications are only "limited by imagination," and this
suggests that Peterson is also attempting to (8) design MAVs with multiple applications
As for the military applications, Peterson noted the Air Force's recent call for
Micro UCAVs. He paused before mentioning MAVs with "firepower," and stumbled a
little when mentioning that they could be used to attack individuals. Finally, he
mentioned that he is not pursuing such an agenda heavily, and his voice dropped off
There was (9) reluctance to discuss MAVs as offensive military technology. It was an
uncomfortable topic. Peterson definitely favored viewing them as a "defensive
technology" focused on "saving lives, versus, uh, eliminating lives," whether on the
battlefield, or in the wake of natural disaster. Finally, it is important to remember that, as
a result of viewing the MAVs as a defensive technology, from Dr. Peterson's perspective,
(10) the ethics of aerospace research are not as important as bioethics.
Peterson felt that MAVs are a (11) relatively obscure technology, but if people
knew more of them they'd think they were "cool." He himself became involved with
them because he thought the project was "cool," and "fascinating." Thus, Peterson also
referred to (12) an aesthetic of "cool."
His inspiration for studying MAVs came from his windsurfing experience. Indeed,
he derived an idea for a flexible wing from his favorite hobby. Several subjects
mentioned their interest in extreme sports, such as flying, ATVs, and racecars.
Peterson also spoke of an effort to put all MAV "functionality" onto a single chip.
He noted that part of the challenge of designing MAVs is "trying to fly smaller and
smaller vehicles," and pushing a previously unattainable "flight regime." The push to
have (13) extreme experiences of the physical world through sports perhaps parallels the
drive to investigate the extremes of the physical world through engineering, for example,
in the sense of (14) miniaturization.
Eric: Textural Description
Like Dr. Peterson, Eric started off in mechanical engineering and switched to
aerospace. He "kind of lucked into" MAV research. Eric is a 24 year-old graduate
student, who realized that "research is really what governs graduate school," not classes.
This is something that he did not realize when he was applying. After completing his
undergraduate degree here, he only applied to UF, assuming "it didn't matter." After
searching "haphazardly" for an advisor, he signed on to work on a project related to
MAVs. More recently, he made the full switch to working on the MAVs, and he's been
with the project now for a year and a half.
Eric is not an airplane person, and perhaps sounds a bit guilty. Admittedly his
interest in airplanes has increased since joining the MAV lab. What first got him
interested in MAVs was the flexible wings-"adaptive wings." They were "fascinating
from a structural point of view." He was intrigued by how they change shape based on
ambient conditions. He describes the research as "almost a revolutionary kind of cutting-
edge type of thing" and "very exciting."
Echoing the interest of other researchers, Eric noted the motivation centers around
pushing "boundaries," and making something "cool." This drive is intensified, however,
by the pride he takes in having an unconventional line of work:
[I]f I had a real commonplace job for someone my age, I wouldn't be, necessarily,
doing things along these lines. I'd be trying make money or trying to sell things to
people, or bogged down with paperwork. So the ability to basically do everything
that I want in the real of these small vehicles as far as research goes, really pushes
you to try to think of new things to do, to try to come up with really cool, ah, just
new ways to push the envelope.
He felt that in graduate research, there is real opportunity to do what you "love" as
opposed to just working ajob. He felt privileged to work on "just ground-breaking
research, things that were inconceivable five, ten years ago," and senses the "rare"
opportunity to "make that first step in any field" in a competitive time. This feeling of
privilege is a "driving motivator."
Though proud of his work, Eric did not really care to participate in MAV
competitions. He had not attended any. He considered this more of an "undergraduate
type of thing," and "just not really worth my time."
Eric noted a change in his appreciation for airplanes since becoming involved with
the MAV project. Micro Air Vehicle design has "really been streamlined kind of
iteratively through a number of years." As a matter of fact, MAV designs at any
university now reflect the designs of the UF MAV lab, he said proudly. But there are
difficulties involved in the iterative process:
And it's just months and months of failure and frustration and trying, and finally
you walk across this one design, they usually call it the Edisonian approach, I
believe, you know, Edisonian, like Thomas Edison. You know, you just kind of,
you keep going, if you have some kind of glimmer of success, push along that
Eric elaborated on his view of research as frustrating, painstaking, and plagued by
And when you run up against a wall, since there's no textbook to look at and see
what went wrong, because we're trying to be ahead of the textbook to a certain
degree, it can be just a painful, painful, horrible thing, so you have the natural
dichotomy, at least I certainly did, of loving it one day and hating it the next.
Though Eric greatly enjoys his work, he struggles with the iteration process.
Friends and family also tease Eric a little for being a Ph.D. student, another source of
frustration. He attributed this to the fact that other people might be slightly envious.
Perhaps other people are starting out a job and it is "not quite how it's panned out to be."
According to Eric, when such people see him doing what he enjoys every day, and in
school as opposed to the business world, they tease him. Eric also noted getting "made
fun of a lot because I'm also messing around with tiny planes all day." His happiness,
however, is what is most important to his family.
It is difficult for him to communicate his research to lay people, but particularly
such career-minded people, because there is an automatic assumption that what he is
studying is too complex for them to understand. Thus he tries to keep communication
"on the surface." In general, he felt that there are "no real conversations" that go on
between he and his friends and family regarding his research. Many people in his field
pursuing master's and doctoral degrees face similar problems getting their work across to
Eric pointed out that much of the government funding for MAVs comes from
NASA. The government likes "to be the enablers," and he does not lose sight of the fact
that they are really in charge. Like Peterson, Eric saw ethics as more pertinent to the field
of biology. To Eric, ethics in MAV research means not stealing data:
Ethics. Well, from our laboratory's point if view, if you don't do anything with
animals, there's no biology involved that certainly gets rid of a lot of it. The ethical
part from what we have here is just like making up results, and making results look
better... Just make them look a little better. Just change the data points. That's the
only issue I ever come across, and it's just something to be completely avoided at
Eric felt that "99%" of applications for MAVs were surveillance. Like Peterson, he
suggested military applications, and followed up with wildlife surveillance. He noted
that the wildlife surveillance could save human lives. Part of the reason MAVs are being
developed is because frequently human pilots will crash airplanes while counting wildlife
from the air. The MAVs would also be statistically better at counting animals because
they lack the bias of "human error." Micro Air Vehicles can be set to sweep "dead set
rows," i.e., to mechanically follow perfect rows, whereas humans have a tendency to fly
toward an animal.
Finally, Eric spreads his time between six different labs, including fabrication,
stress analysis, and the wind tunnel. It was the "pure interdisciplinary nature" of the
MAV program that attracted him initially. He thought this interdisciplinary nature might
be a bad thing career wise, because he was spreading himself too thin. Still, it felt good
to be moving around and not just be sitting in front of a computer all day.
Eric: Structural Description
Eric approached MAVs from a mechanics perspective, initially drawn to them by
his interest in the structural properties of the wings. Unlike many of the other MAV
researchers, he was (1) not an airplane enthusiast, but has grown to appreciate them. He
initially "lucked" into MAV research by default. He sounds a bit guilty or at least self-
aware when he notes that he did not grow up an airplane enthusiast. Perhaps this is
because he also felt it is (2) such a privilege to work on MAVs, which are
"revolutionary," "cutting edge," and "exciting." Micro Air Vehicles are also "ground-
breaking" and a "rare" opportunity to contribute to the "first step" in a field.
Eric's sense of (3) novelty and being the (4) vanguard of a field works in concert
with the part of his persona that (5) refuses to see himself in a "common place job" for
someone his age "bogged down with paperwork." He (6) takes great pride in the fact that
he is working on exactly what he wants. This motivates him to do research, which in turn
reinforces his sense of pride.
"Cool" came up again as a motivation, trying to "come up with something cool."
The (7) aesthetic of cool is found in the context of pushing physical boundaries. The (8)
desire to push physical limits goes hand in hand with the sense of pride Eric felt to be at
the forefront of technology, which in turn validates his sense of pride in not holding an
ordinary job. The privilege and pride also attest to his (9) strong competitive spirit, for
example, in his comment that it is "rare" to be able to take the first step in any field today
because of laboratory competition.
However, although he had a competitive attitude, Eric had (10) no interest in MAV
competitions. He also seemed sensitive about the fact that he was a Ph.D. student. He
(11) defined himself in opposition to normal working people his own age just beginning a
job in the business world, and who are a little disappointed. Perhaps as a result they are
envious of him, because he spends his days "doing exactly what I want to be doing." It is
(12) difficult to communicate his work to non-experts, family, and friends because they
assume automatically that it will be too complicated for them to understand. He senses
many others in his field also experience this problem. Furthermore, people tease Eric
about (13) playing with "tiny planes" all day.
Eric had a love-hate relationship with the (14) design process, which was
iterativee" in that it was painstaking and time-consuming. However, it was necessary to
streamline the MAVs over time. He described the beauty when things run like
clockwork, and the "pure frustration" of hitting a dead end. These existed in a "natural
dichotomy." Eric is also both a scientist, and a musician. He loves his work one day, but
hates it the next. These dichotomies are signs of a creative individual.
Perhaps it is no wonder that Eric frequents as many as six labs at a time. It is the
(15) "pure interdisciplinary nature" of the MAV program that attracted him so strongly
initially. Thus, he is a (16) person who enjoys communicating with many different kinds
of people, and broadening his horizons in diverse forms of research.
Eric contrasted military applications with wildlife conservation, and noted that
MAVs were "99%" intended for surveillance, that is, defensive applications. He seemed
(17) unconcerned about ethical questions, relegating those to the biological sciences. He
also conceived of research ethics primarily as not stealing data. He saw government
funding agencies as enablerss," and also, the entities to which the entire lab must
Thus, in his mind the MAV (18) is a fundamentally defensive technology. Lastly,
he emphasized that the MAV could save lives and make wildlife counts more statistically
accurate. As well as stressing the defensive and conservation applications of the MAV
technology, this repeats the theme of (19) removing the human from the equation of
technology because the machine functions more accurately.
Mark: Textural Description
Mark, 26, an aerospace major, represents a different demographic. He has been
flying since he was little. His grandfather was a pilot, and he recalls building his first RC
aircraft with his dad. He stopped building aircraft for a while until college, when he
began working with the MAVs. He found out about the MAV program and "fell in love
with it," and now works in Dr. Peterson's lab.
He defined MAV research as dealing with a "different echelon of aerodynamics."
His "interest and love" is tackling new problems, and being the first to come up with
solutions. Though he did not consider himself an artist-software is not something
people "appreciate, like, you know, the Mona Lisa"-he said that there is an "element" of
art in aircraft design. To him, creativity is "creative new ways of solving problems," and
the art in it is "finding unique ways to do things."
The problems he encounters are mainly design challenges, of which "streamlining
design" is his sole interest. It is a balancing act of optimization. Later in the interview,
he explained the design philosophy of MAV research:
It's an iterative process, and that's just, that's not because we choose that method,
it's just inherent to the design of the aircraft... one thing affects the other, and the
other thing affects the other thing, so it ends up being they're related. They're
couples and you have to iteratively arrive at a place where everything is balanced
out. So that's where the optimization iteration comes into play.
Mark described the creative process as consisting of beginning with a design goal,
brainstorming in a group, coming up with "wild ideas," and then narrowing these down to
two or three to test. Design requires intuition, experience, and "crazy ideas." The crazy
ideas are needed to make the designs novel for future marketability.
The group conducts flight-testing, but supplements the data with qualitative
analysis. In fact, Mark was surprised by the amount of qualitative analysis involved in
MAV design. He has found that leaders in the field consider it important to consider
"subjective analysis" of aircraft design, that is, "aesthetics." As a result, the subjective
opinions of more experienced pilots on the MAV team are taken very seriously.
Thus, to Mark, aesthetics are a very important consideration in MAV design. In
fact, he referred to them as "just a new design goal to work around." He noted, "I think
aesthetics are deceivingly important. No aircraft that I know of has been successful
without someone who has very little knowledge of the actual performance of the aircraft
approving it based on looks alone."
Another aspect of this design process is brainstorming. Mark has attended several
MAV competitions. He described the pleasure of meeting people with common interests,
playing pool, and discussing common challenges and sharing ideas. He described a
typical day that varies quite a bit, from designing software, to discussing design
challenges. He admitted that he spends a lot of time in the wind tunnel, even though he
does not work there. "But you know, a lot of times, we spend a lot of time discussing,
you know, what we're going to assess," he says. Much time in the labs will be spent
"catching up" as the topic gradually moves to MAVs. Dr. Peterson tries to cultivate a
certain "laid-back" atmosphere.
However, Mark also expressed difficulty in communicating research to friends and
family, humorously noting "they know I play with tiny airplanes." Even though, like
Eric, friends and family tease Mark a little about his research, overall friends are
supportive. His dad likes to wear his laboratory's competition T-shirt. Friends think
Mark's research is "cool."
Mark also described having lots of experiences communicating with reporters at
competitions, but adds that MAVs really are not a front-page story. He felt the lack of
newsworthiness has made it difficult to communicate the significance of MAV research
to a popular audience, for example, to the larger UF community. Mark also pointed out
that communication is sometimes lacking within the suite of MAV labs, in that "the left
hand doesn't know what the right hand's doing."
Mark identified his primary emphasis in the research as "streamlining" the design
process. His motivation is to be able to go from scratch paper designs to an aircraft in a
few hours. Essentially, he would like to be able to "rapidly iterate" designs, and he notes
that it is the small scale of the MAVs that allows him to set this goal. Being able to
"cheaply and quickly" iterate design is an "advantage."
Miniaturization, making things "smaller and smaller," is a goal. In this sense, Mark
said that the lab is achieving some "science fiction things." He is an enthusiastic fan of
science fiction. He recalled an incident where he went to a conference and an official
played a scene from Minority Report (Spielberg, 2002) depicting small, spider-like robots
as an example of what the government wanted. He admitted that the military has the
largest stake in MAV research, stumbling a little over his words.
In fact, Mark felt very grateful for the military funding, noting that "every day is
Christmas for us," because they are always getting more supplies. A "graveyard box" of
MAVs is tucked into the corner behind him. When asked about wildlife conservation
applications, he noted that it is probably "less controversial," and "best of all doesn't
threaten human life." Still, to Mark "research ethics" means not stealing other people's
work. He takes an imaginative standpoint on the defensive applications of MAVs:
I can foresee, not too far in the future, where the battlefield will just be more like a
chess game of autonomous, or remotely controlled machines fighting each other on
a battleground that has few or no people on it... hopefully, you know, these
skirmishes and battles can be fought with minimal loss of human life.
Mark: Structural Description
Unlike Eric, Mark was (1) fascinated with flight since he was a boy, and had (2)
previous experience as a pilot and with RC aircraft that allowed him to segue into MAV
research. Mark also (3) spoke in terms of loving his work, and as a result (4) felt
privileged to work in the MAV lab, where "every day is Christmas." He did not consider
himself an artist, but (5) acknowledged an artistic component to his research. That
artistic streak is associated with devising "unique designs" and "creative new ways of
solving problems." Mark's (6) view of research and creativity centers largely on
generating novel ideas.
Mark also clearly exhibited some (7) competitive spirit in his drive to be the first to
come up with solutions. Other research goals that he kept in mind involve (8)
miniaturization (making airplanes "smaller and smaller"), as well as "streamlining" the
design process to speed up fabrication. There are the twin drives once again to (9) push
the extremes of physical reality, and (10) increase efficiency in terms of speed and
However, Mark also (11) referred to the iterativee" process, a balancing act of
optimization. It is in a way iterativee" in Eric's sense, that it is a painstaking process.
But for Mark, iterativee" took on a different sort of meaning, one that implies the
interrelatedness of the figure of the MAV-the interconnectivity of its systems-and
therefore perhaps the overall (12) interdisciplinary nature of the project.
This community emphasis is reflected in the design process Mark describes. It
involves a lot ofbrainstorming. Indeed, much of this is done in the wind tunnel, where
Eric also reported spending a lot of time, even though he was not assigned there either.
Meeting people of common interests at MAV competitions and talking shop over pool
was stimulating, as was the "laid-back" atmosphere of the lab. Thus, there is a (13)
communal and social element to the MAV research, one that is vital to Mark's creative
life. When this connection is strained-by difficulty communicating within the lab, or
with friends and family, or to the larger university community-it is a source of some
distress to Mark.
The fact that Mark (14) reported a large "qualitative" component to MAV design
speaks further to this discursive aspect of the process. Not only is "brainstorming" in
groups vital, but the subjective expertise of engineer-pilots on the MAV team is taken
very seriously. Aesthetics become a new design goal. Thus, the MAV is an object of
highly subjective negotiation among the researchers. In this case, at least, there is a
confluence of aesthetics and functionality.
Mark was very candid about military sponsorship of and interest in MAVs, but
tripped up a little when mentioning this, "So typically a lot of our design centers around
(pause) centers around military application," demonstrating (15) some discomfort in
discussing military applications. Mark had a tendency to laugh a lot, perhaps nervously,
during the interview. He seemed to genuinely be amused by the opportunity to reflect on
Mark elaborated on wildlife conservation applications, which "best of all [don't]
threaten human life." He placed (16) emphasis on MAVs as defensive technology. Yet
(17) "research ethics" remained a primarily academic concept. Mark brought up Minority
Report of his own accord. He (18) used science fiction as a means to envision future
applications of the technology. He furnished very imaginative defense related potential
applications of technology, including a future battleground where robots fight in the place
of humans, "with minimal lost of human life." Again, he stressed defensive technology.
Finally, Mark's (19) concept of"cool" had to do with carbon fiber, which is
lightweight yet strong, and quite expensive. This links the concept of coolness with both
economy of motion-in that a lightweight object could also be strong-and with the
notion of privilege, in that the materials are very expensive and therefore rare.
William: Textural Description
William, 24, has been flying Radio Controlled (RC) aircraft and full scale planes
his whole life. He still competes internationally in model aircraft competitions. He flies,
though not Boeings. Both of his parents are pilots, and he reports that they are intrigued
by his research. They were his "inspiration" to become a pilot, and to design airplanes.
He has been around airplanes all his life, and lived on a residential airport ever since his
family moved to Florida. Having grown up as a pilot, the experience of flying airplanes
is "nothing out of the ordinary." He is very accustomed to flying his own plane on
vacations as opposed to taking a commercial airline or driving. William said he tries to
maintain an appreciation this position of privilege, since most people do not have the
opportunity to pilot an airplane themselves.
In fact, William originally had ambitions to become a pilot. He was a senior in
high school when September 11, 2001, "kind of ruined" the industry. As an aerospace
undergraduate at UF, William attended an American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics (AIAA) meeting. Two students at the MAV lab gave a presentation. Prior
to this, William had never heard of the MAV program at UF. He's been with the
program for three years.
William said that he has had "no reason to look elsewhere" for work, because he is
very satisfied with working on MAVs. He described them as "cutting edge. He noted
that five years ago, people didn't think MAVs were possible, essentially due to the effects
of turbulence on small airplanes. His inspiration to work on MAVs stems from a desire
to solve new problems, scale MAVs down, and do something that has "never been done
before." He enjoys being able to engage an academic problem with real-world
As one of the MAV pilots, William described the experience of flying one:
[I]t's a pretty neat feeling to hold this 4 inch aircraft in your hand and think about
how hard it is to see just from across the room, much less when it's flying around
up in the sky. It certainly gives you a unique sense of satisfaction, that, you know,
I'm one of the few people in the world to fly that small of an aircraft.
Also, the option of changing constraints on the MAV provides a "never-ending
challenge." For example, he noted that competition constraints governed design as they
scaled down. All dimensions of the MAV had to conform to five-inches, like a sphere