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UAVs are tackling everything from disease control to vacuuming up ocean waste to delivering pizza, and more. Drone technology has been used by defense organizations and tech-savvy consumers for quite some time. However, the benefits of this technology extends well beyond just these sectors.
With the rising accessibility of drones, many of the most dangerous and high-paying jobs within the commercial sector are ripe for displacement by drone technology. The use cases for safe, cost-effective solutions range from data collection to delivery. And as autonomy and collision-avoidance technologies improve, so too will drones’ ability to perform increasingly complex tasks.
According to forecasts, the emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at over $127B. As more companies look to capitalize on these commercial opportunities, investment into the drone space continues to grow.
A drone or a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) typically refers to a pilotless aircraft that operates through a combination of technologies, including computer vision, artificial intelligence, object avoidance tech, and others. But drones can also be ground or sea vehicles that operate autonomously.
Drones In Industries
While drones have been used by the military for over a decade, smaller, portable drones are now being used by ground forces on a regular basis.
Military spending for this technology is expected to grow as an overall percentage of large military budgets such as the United States’ $640B defense budget, offering specialized drone manufacturers and software developers a tremendous opportunity. Many of the drones are being designed exclusively for surveillance, but others for offensive operations and to lead tactical initiatives.
Intrinsically, our health is tied to the food we eat, with agriculture playing an important role in our well-being. Additionally, farmers are striving to reduce costs and expand yields.
With the use of drones, agricultural workers are able to gather data, automate redundant farming processes, and generally maximize efficiency. In a research capacity, drones have also been used to pollinate flowers, and could one day prove helpful in compensating for the declining bee population.
Tracking animals also allows researchers to track disease. Drones with thermal imaging cameras have been used by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to track macaque movements in the province of Palawan in the Philippines - a region where malaria is an active threat.
The ability to follow these animals provided further insight into the possible movement of infectious disease and its jumps from animals to humans. In a similar vein, Microsoft is also leveraging drone technology to capture and test mosquitoes for infectious disease. Ideally, this intelligence could be used to protect local residents, and in the future could be used to prevent epidemics before they begin.
As climate change continues, scientists are leveraging new forms of hardware and software for data collection. Today, most data is collected through stationary structures or captured with geospatial imaging solutions. Drones, however, offer a versatile solution that can physically follow weather patterns as they develop.
In addition to aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) are changing the way data is gathered. Saildrone has developed an autonomous sailboat that collects oceanic and atmospheric data from the ocean surface. The data collected has been used to better understand our environment and imminent weather trends.
Emerging drone analytics gathers and analyzes weather data to maximize UAV flight duration and stability.
Modern medicine has had a profound impact on preventing disease, increasing life expectancy, and raising general standards of living. However, access to modern medicine has been rather difficult in many rural regions around the world. While medical supplies can be delivered by traditional means, certain circumstances call for quick access to drugs, blood, and medical technology — a need drones could fill.
One of the most prominent venture-backed medical delivery companies is Zipline International. Zipline has launched delivery drones in rural areas throughout Africa and continues to expand its reach.
HUMANITARIAN AID & DISASTER RELIEF
In addition to emergency response, drones have proved useful during times of natural disaster. In the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, UAVs have been used to assess damage, locate victims, provide temporary telecommunications and deliver aid. And in certain circumstances, they are being used to prevent disasters altogether.
To help monitor and combat forest fires, surveillance drones outfitted with thermal imaging cameras are being deployed to detect abnormal forest temperatures. By doing so, teams are able to identify areas most prone to forest fires or identify fires just minutes after they begin.
Innovations in camera technology have had significant impacts on the growing use of drones. UAVs outfitted with thermal imaging cameras have provided emergency response teams with an ideal solution for identifying victims who are difficult to spot with the naked eye.
An ambulance drone that deliver defibrillators on demand are already here. By extending existing emergency infrastructure, drones may be able to dramatically increase survival rates in both rural and urban areas around the world.
Regulation requires certain standards to minimize the risk of environmental damage.
With the use of drones, much of this inspection work can be done remotely and safely. There are UAV companies focused on oil and gas inspection, and is used by many of the world’s largest oil companies to inspect offshore rigs. A local Malaysian company is now a key player in the inspection of Wind Turbines worldwide.
Mining is a capital-intensive venture that requires constant measurement and assessment of physical material. Stockpiles of ore or rock or minerals are difficult to measure. But with cameras, drones are able to capture volumetric data on stockpiles and survey mining operations from the air. This reduces the risks associated with having surveyors on the ground.
Mining is also being disrupted by autonomous vehicles, such as the unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) designed by Komatsu. Similar to many other drones today, these vehicles can be controlled remotely without a line of sight needed.
With increasing amounts of oceanic data and innovations in autonomy, unmanned marine vehicles could become the standard for maritime shipping. Rolls-Royce has already completed a number of trials with unmanned vessels controlled remotely.
Inspecting ships is also an important and regular part of the industry. While Rolls-Royce plans to use smaller UAVs to inspect ships above the surface, there are now underwater drones used to inspect hulls from below.
Software developers have created solutions that analyze construction progress with regularly captured data.
Camera technology is used to monitor buildings and gauge topography and soil type throughout the construction lifecycle. Software can pair with drones to enhance project monitoring and site management. With new positional awareness hardware and software, drones are ready to be used for internal construction management as well.
Conservationists are adopting innovative methods to protect and study our global ecosystems. In combination with geospatial imagery, drones are now used to monitor and track animals and forests, while UAVs are also used to tag animals and collect samples.
The Janus Group is an example of an organization that is using our drones to collect deforestation data from the Rainforests of Malaysia. In addition to facilitating research on ecosystems, drones can also allow conservationists to track and incarcerate poachers and illegal loggers.
Drones have been beneficial in capturing pictures of high-value properties, showing that even the real estate industry can be upended by drone technology. Photography and videography solutions are available for a number of different sectors, including residential and commercial real estate. Home interiors are also being captured by small, agile UAVs can capture immersive 360-degree photographs and videos within large homes. The finished product provides potential buyers with a perspective that replicates a physical walk-through.
Recycling and biodegradation have dramatically improved global waste management. However, innovations in waste collection are still emerging. Fortunately, drones operate at the forefront of these initiatives and have helped to clean our oceans. A Roomba-like unmanned marine vehicle is now used to collect waste in ports and harbors, while another UGV is used exclusively on wastewater management.
Compliance is a challenge for many industries, but the airline industry must adhere to particularly stringent levels of regulatory standards. FAA inspections vary in comprehensiveness, but basic inspections are conducted after every 125 hours of flight time. Additionally, airlines are expected to conduct their own routine inspections before every flight.
At Prodrones, we have teamed up with Sky-Futures to provide a cost effective aircraft Inspection-At-The-Gate solution for the airline industry.
While our definition of drones is typically limited to unmanned vehicles, certain forms of autonomous transportation should be considered drone transportation. For example, EHANG has built an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV), which operates with four rotors (quadcopter) for vertical takeoff. The vehicle can transport passengers between destinations, even in an urban environment with plenty of obstacles. The AAV requires minimal passenger input and incorporates fail-safe functionality or built-in systems for safe landings in case of engine failure or collision.
Telecommunication towers also are inspected frequently to ensure service reliability. In the aftermath of hurricanes for example, Telcos have launched drones to inspect their towers — a process which would have been too dangerous and time-consuming to do manually.
These drones were able to quickly assess damage so that repair teams could be deployed to restore service. In many cases, service was restored in hours rather than days. Drones will eventually take over all facets of tower inspections and service optimization before long.
With the world’s largest technology firms such as Facebook and Google particularly keen on bringing the internet to the other half of the world population, the need for global internet access is becoming more and more central to business models and the answer lies in UAV-powered internet. These two internet giants are currently experimenting with various UAVs.
THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY
In the consumer area, an early application for drones was as a recreational tool for the great outdoors. Between aerial landscape photography and extreme sports footage, UAVs changed the way people experienced the planet.
Today, drones are being used for more than breathtaking photos and award-winning film. Drones for example can create 3D renderings of mountain peaks in mere hours. These types of models are used by climbers and skiers to better understand the terrain.
TOURISM & HOSPITALITY
Not only have drones transformed the way the tourism industry conduct marketing, but they may also transform our notion of extended travel inaccessible or difficult areas on locations for tourists.
Traditional hotels are also adopting drones, such as Unsupervised AI, which uses drones to deliver packages and room service quickly and autonomously.
Drones have already had an impact on event surveillance and event photography/film, but are also being used more directly to entertain. Disney has been one of the more active companies in this space, and has filed for a number of drone patents focused on entertainment. Synchronized lights shows, floating projection screens, and drone puppeteers have all been considered by the entertainment giant.
Drones are becoming increasingly popular for professional sports inside and outside of the stadium. The World Rally Championship for example have relied on DJI drones to provide coverage and broadcasts.
In addition to traditional sports, drones are influencing sports of their own. The Drone Racing League is a global drone-racing series that uses cutting-edge technologies to stream exciting content that can be shared with millions.
One of the first industries to adopt drones was professional film. Drones have allowed producers to capture dramatic aerial perspectives without the use of helicopters. This has had a dramatic impact on Hollywood’s bottom line, pushing the limits in cinematography.
In addition to filming advertisements, drones are being used as physical mediums for marketing. They can power aerial advertising at live events or high traffic locations with banner advertising.
Drones are being used to deliver goods from local retailers and fulfillment centers. Amazon is notorious for their innovations within the space and focus on fulfillment & logistics. The giant’s patent activity related to drones is frequent and often newsworthy. This space will soon be crowded once regulations are released.
UNDERGROUND ECONOMIES & FIGHTING CRIME
Though drone technology has many positive uses, it has also been used to conduct illegal activities. In particular, drones have been used to transport drugs across international borders. Large drones, like DJI’s Matrice 600, span nearly 5.5 feet and are designed to carry heavy Hollywood cameras. With flight times of 18 – 40 minutes (depending on the weight of payload) and top speeds of 40 mph, drones are ideal for transporting illicit cargo.
On the flip side of the coin, drones are also used by law enforcement for surveillance and crime prevention.
FOOD SERVICES INDUSTRY
Online food ordering and delivery services are enabling fast casual restaurants to downsize their physical locations and lower real estate expenses, but delivery commission costs are still weighing down profits. Some restaurants are looking to use drones for faster, cheaper delivery. Drones seem to be gaining traction with pizza delivery, specifically.
Domino’s partnered with startup Flirtey in November 2016 to make the first-ever commercial pizza delivery by drone. The pie was dropped off to a couple in New Zealand. Earlier this year, HBO teamed up with brand delivery agency Fooji and Drone Dudes to send pizzas to fans of its show Silicon Valley.
Drones also have potential to change the way food is delivered inside the restaurant. In 2015, Infinium Robotics developed a drone waiter known as the Infinium-Serve to address Singapore’s service staff shortage. The drones can carry up to 4.4 pounds of food and drink, which equates to about two pints of beer, two glasses of wine, and a whole pizza. Similarly, in 2016, a Dutch university opened a pop-up cafe that used drone waiters to take and deliver customer orders.
JOURNALISIM & NEWS COVERAGE
News outlets are using drones to add context and understanding to news stories, enhance production value, and improve documentary storytelling. CNN reportedly has the most advanced drone program - called CNN Air - of any US news outlet. The network reports flying hundreds of missions in more than 20 countries. Footage collected by its drone fleet contributes to CNN’s core news report, its Great Big Story initiative (dedicated to creating micro documentaries and short films), and other projects for Turner and Time Warner.
With drones, the crew can collect footage that would be difficult to get otherwise due to safety issues, high costs, and physical barriers. CNN’s senior director of national news technology and aerial imagery & reporting Greg Agvent explains that drones allow the teams to “capture things that you simply cannot capture from a helicopter, which would create that much more noise and cost you that much more money.”
CNN is currently working on leveraging data collected by its fleet to create digital models of areas the drones fly over. It also recently added body heat-detecting cameras to some of its drones to locate people using thermal imaging, and has plans to use virtual reality cameras and live graphics overlay in conjunction with its drones.