Fun topic, I spend the better part of my existance developing new tools for data aquistion. Truly one of the bonuses i find with research, every job is different.
Now on the tool side of things I say the future is here but I agree it has to mesh with the methodology and like anything it all starts with the questions.
Course I tend to investigate tools for the sheer joy of finding new tools it seems.
The future in my playbook is things like:
Smart camera tracking, cameras that follow users and auto collect data as to where they are in a store, what possible navigational elements are in view, auto mapping features, and possibility if the resolution is there recognition that the user has picked up and object or put it down. Smarter camera tracking is funneling into the research end of things already, its spilling over from secruity efforts.
Even better would be camera regcognition of branding labels. I bet you could train a camera to recognize images. Hmmmm sounds like a fun one to resesarch.
RFID will no doubt have some fun research aspects to it, provided folks wire up all the pieces to make it work.
Using the wide range of available social networking tools could also be used to help fuel the research effort, from blogs to flickr, to delicious to 43things, its endless. Go where the user is. Right now its amazing how many social network tools are out there that are basically cultivating peoples habbits and patterns in exchange for a simple service. Tapping into that feed, in this all new, all open net reality that is unfolding could yield for some exciting development opportunies.
As for sorting or going thru miles of video, thats one piece of technology that hasnt innovated much. I too struggle with the pain of video. Time code, its all in the time code. My solution would be someting that would lock into the side of the camcorder and give me a button to simply “remember the moment”, then it’d send that log of moments to my pc, and batch digitize would do the rest. Its possible to create that tool, sadly not enough people in video production care about it.
Lastly and its not so much about getting more or better data, but its immersion. So much of what researchers need to do more of I think is immerse the client into the real world aspects of their product/experience/brand etc. Design teams need to meet the end user, you can do that thru a power point report, video of what happened, or take them there. I think the future would be do some kind of virtual mapping, some way of immersing designers into the realness of whats unfolding, with understanding of course. Cause data is chaos, its crazy, and design research firms help people bridge that gap.