There’s a strong probability a drone is now flying in your area.
A million new drones have taken to the air in the last four years, with sales of durable, high-precision commercial-grade drones jumping by 500%.
Despite the excitement with drones, only one out of every ten businesses is said to know how to use them to their benefit.
Drones have already been used to take aerial footage for film and television, as well as examine hard-to-reach regions for utility and energy firms, such as power lines, pipelines, and transmission infrastructure.
Drones are also used by ranchers and rural veterinarians to monitor animals.
They’re used by engineering and construction businesses to keep track of progress and compliance on construction sites. This is only the start. By 2024, the global market for drone technologies, which is currently valued at $14 billion, is predicted to treble. Despite all of the excitement, drones remain a niche technology for enterprises.
Drones, with the correct technology and applications, can provide strategic and competitive benefits as well as increased efficiency.
1. Special Delivery: Drones Expand Access to Services and Deliveries
Amazon gained federal authority to begin operating its Prime Air delivery drone fleet in the summer of 2019. (For the time being, the program is still being tested.) Given Amazon’s size and prominence, this was a watershed moment for drone technology, though it wasn’t the first. Drone deliveries had already been approved by UPS and Wing. Following Amazon’s announcement, Walmart announced its own plan to employ drones to deliver domestic goods, wellness products, and cosmetic products. Tesco, the British supermarket chain, also announced a six-month pilot program to deliver items by drone from one of its Irish stores. Consumer goods aren’t the only items that could be delivered by drones. Drones have been used as roving cellular towers by wireless carriers to deliver connectivity to rural places. Google and Facebook are experimenting with ways to supply Wi-Fi using drones. What both projects have in common is a desire to improve efficiency, either by avoiding traditional sorting and distribution networks or by lowering the cost of sending signals to far locations. This establishes a direct business-to-consumer channel when none previously existed.
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In other words, these businesses are relying on drones for accessibility. Filmmakers gathering overhead video, oil corporations monitoring pipelines, extraction companies assessing mines, and even ranchers and vets saving themselves long excursions into the field might all benefit from this technology.
Drone business applications will continue to be driven by accessibility.
However, the access that drones enable is only the beginning of their potential.
Drones are valuable not only because of their global reach but also because of the way they allow us to perceive the world more clearly. Drones offer a birds-eye perspective of the earth. This is a trait they share with maps, which provide us with a similar viewpoint and allow us to gain a broader understanding of the world.
Maps are no longer just maps, thanks to the tremendous rise of geographic information systems (GIS). Smart maps based on GIS are loaded with rich datasets, manipulatable through dashboards, and shared through apps. (GIS is available to anybody with a smartphone.)
GIS maps’ strength lies in their ability to create comprehension, which leads to better judgments and action clarity. This pattern is frequently referred to as “location intelligence.” These maps can be transformed into multi-dimensional immersive worlds with additional essential information using 3D images. Drones now commonly interact with GIS, sending imagery data straight to maps, allowing the photos they capture to serve as the foundation for this intelligence. As a result, the world appears to be sharper and more detailed.
Interestingly, the same GIS technology that gathers and displays drone imagery can also assist executives in determining where drones should be deployed for more data collection.
2. Drones and Maps for Site Selection Capture Time and Space
Let’s return to the Amazon example to see how drones will be integrated into normal business tasks. Before Amazon’s Prime Air fleet delivers products to your door, the corporation must continue to grow and improve the infrastructure that underpins its present Prime delivery program.
A large new air freight complex, featuring a hub for Amazon Air’s fleet of delivery planes, is being built at the San Bernardino International Airport in Southern California.
Drones hover overhead gathering precise photos as the site evolves, their flight patterns defined by specifying routes on a GIS-enabled tablet. This visualization is useful in and of itself, as it allows stakeholders to quickly assess a project’s progress. It can, however, be used in conjunction with a digital terrain model to track the volume of earth taken from the construction site. The imagery captured at angles may now be converted into point clouds and photorealistic meshes, allowing for 2D, 3D, and volumetric measurements, thanks to recent improvements in photogrammetry.
As work progresses, the same data can be utilized to track progress.
GIS software can learn to recognize features like doors and storm drains, as well as remember what was there previously. The photographs, which began with a drone flight, were transformed into a four-dimensional model that captured space and time.
This time travel potential, combined with the cost advantages of employing a drone instead of slower and more expensive means like aerial or satellite photography, will be useful to planners.
Stakeholders aren’t constrained by obscuring cloud cover or nighttime situations, unlike other third-party means of obtaining imagery. Cities can perform continual surveys, with drone footage smoothly fitting together to generate an evolving portrayal of a city, rather than undertaking large-scale surveys every few years and integrating the data.
3. Think Outside the Box: Image Analysis and Data Science in a Variety of Industries
It’s important to note that drone data can serve as the start of a larger journey of picture analysis and data science that extends beyond mapping to improve entire operations. It’s already being used by forward-thinking industry leaders. Business executives, for example, are figuring out how to employ drones to acquire competitive intelligence. For example, a merchant may give a drone the coordinates of a competitor’s stores and tell it to fly overhead to indicate activity over time. Machine learning algorithms could be used by an AI-powered GIS to discern the makes and models of cars in parking lots. Executives could make demographic predictions about the clientele based on this information. And these conclusions could be revisited and revised in the future.
As part of a “smart cities” concept, local administrations are increasingly employing sophisticated modeling of jurisdictions. Drone photos may be used to create complex 3D cityscapes.
The data may be synced and compared over time to show how changes have affected things—and to see the impact of future projects. Drones are still being used by power and utility companies to monitor pipelines, powerlines, and other infrastructure, owing to the simplicity with which drone images may be captured.
However, the most forward-thinking companies are already analyzing drone photographs and identifying areas that require maintenance using AI and GIS. Repair crews are subsequently dispatched just to the spots that need to be fixed.
Another intriguing growing use case is agriculture.
Drones could be used by farmers to acquire a “big picture” view of the crops grown by their competitors. Drones are used by some large-scale farms, much like ranchers, to conduct visual inspections of fields.
These farmers, like the ranchers, would take advantage of the increased accessibility that drones give. They may, however, take it a step (or many) farther. IoT-enabled devices are now commonly interfaced with GIS.
Drones equipped with remote sensors can collect data points to provide exact assessments of soil moisture or crop yields, for example.
A multi-spectral scan might identify an area with a severe weed infestation, prompting an automatic herbicide spray.
In this sense, drone use goes beyond image collection and even crop inspection to include integration into a larger workflow that supports both sustainability and profitability—a good return on investment for both the farmer and the environment.
Drones will always be most fascinating since they allow us to travel nearly anyplace, even if only by proxy.
What the future years will show is that this voyage is…well, only a part of it.
Even the sky won’t be the limit as more businesses learn how drones bring our world into sharp focus.