The United States is pinning its hopes on the potential of drone technology to create jobs and spur growth. In June 2017, President Donald Trump met with the CEOs of General Electric, Honeywell and AT&T, as well as the leaders of several drone developers, to explore how their development and commercialisation might be support, to speed up the adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles, both at home and in business. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of small hobbyist drones will treble by 2021, while those being used for business purposes will increase tenfold to around 442,000.
A possible relaxation of the rules to encourage drone-based industries to boom offers a chance for companies to excited about the possibilities afforded by drones – not only in developing new models and finding efficiencies, but in boosting transparency and aiding much needed environmental and social protection. Drone-powered solutions across the industries are said to be worth $127 billion, according to PwC.
Here’s six ways companies use drones now and in the future.
- Taking vehicles off the road
The most famous example of corporate use of drones is Amazon’s Prime Air delivery service, designed to get people’s packages to them within 30 minutes of clicking ‘order now’. The company wants drones to be seen as normal as having delivery trucks on the roads – and the fuel savings, along with associated emissions savings, could be enormous.
- Reducing health and safety risks
Where there are high power transmission lines, wind turbines, hydroelectic dams, often height can pose a significant risk to ground workers. That’s where drones come in. Companies like Cyberhawk Innovations, are helping companies carry out inspections of industrial assets in the oil, gas and power sectors.
- Understanding supply chain impacts better
One thing drones can do really well is map landscapes. They can fly for several hours and take many high resolution pictures of different plots of land. Not only can they monitor elements such as tree loss in tropical areas (a huge repetitional risk for companies sourcing commodities from such regions), they can also gauge natural conditions, such as wind, humidity and air pressure to collect climate data. And by tracking thing such as water reserves or density of peatlands, the drone data can be used to analyse and assess supply chain risk for companies operating all over the world.
- Supporting the renewable energy industry
One of the many start-ups backed by Google cash is Skycatch, a company that is helping the building, farming and solar industry make use of its high-resolution aerial data. Essentially, by deploying its drones across huge solar farms to carry out advanced thermography to perform diagnostics to see which panels are not working well, for example, it can wipe out the need to carry out manual inspections, saving costs, time and making operations much more efficient in the process.
- Boost the agricultural sector
Both aerial and ground-based drones can be used throughout the crop cycle on farms everywhere, to carryout soil and field analysis, planting (with systems that shoot seed pods and plant nutrients into the soil), crop spraying and even irrigation, with hyperspectral, multispectral and thermal sensors able to establish which parts of a field are dry.
- Reaching hard-to-reach markets
Matternet might only be using its drones to supply only the most critical products, like food and medicine, to regions that have poor infrastructure. But their efforts to reach out to communities in places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which have been affected by hurricane and earthquake impacts, only shows other businesses what is possible when roads are not necessary to bring products to market.