Unmanned aerial vehicles have gone beyond being mainstream to shaping the way we think about the future and its capabilities. From pizza delivery to waste management, industries are gearing up to do the impossible, thanks to drones and their capabilities.
The falling costs of these devices mean that some of the most dangerous and costliest missions can now be done safely, predictably, and in a cost-friendly manner.
And you can expect this trend to continue. Forecasts value the drone market at $127b as more businesses jump on the opportunities available and investment continues to grow.
Below, we explore 34 ways that drones are being used for in businesses and organizations today:
Drones already have a long history with military use, but their capabilities during military operations are expanding. Drone manufacturers and software developers are rushing in to fill the gap created by militaries across the world in need of drones for:
- Offensive operations
Expect to see more uses for drones in this space as their capabilities and software become more sophisticated.
Dramatic improvements in camera technology had greatly increased the impact of drones in emergency response operations. With aerial drones, teams can now spot individuals in need of help who may have otherwise being missed with the naked eye.
Stakeholders have not missed these implications. For example, in 2017, Land Rover partnered with the Austrian Red Cross to design a special operations vehicle equipped with a roof-mounted thermal imaging drone. This special Land Rover Discovery, named “Project Hero” comes with an integrated landing system which allows the drone to land securely on the vehicle and could save lives by reducing response times.
Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief
Drones are also proving useful during disaster relief post hurricanes and earthquakes. They are now being used to assess damage, seek out victims, and deliver aid where necessary.
Drones are also being used to monitor and combat forest fires. The use of surveillance drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras are being used to detect abnormal forest temperatures, for example. This allows response teams to detect and respond to fires mere minutes after they begin.
The fight against poaching, climate change, and their effects on wildlife requires ever more innovative solutions to complex problems. Drones are increasing possibilities by allowing conservationists to monitor and track animals using geospatial imagery. Teams are also able to tag and collect samples using unmanned aerial vehicles without disturbing natural habitats. Drones also allow conservationists to track and incarcerate poachers more easily than before.
Drones enable the tracking of animal-borne diseases such as those carried by insects across land masses. For example, drones with thermal imaging cameras have been employed before by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to track macaque movements in the province of Palawan in the Philippines (A region known for its malaria threat). In this manner, drones are giving us unprecedented insight into how disease spread from animals to humans. Businesses like Microsoft are ramping up capabilities and using drones to capture and test mosquitoes for infectious diseases in the hopes of preventing epidemics before they occur.
Many rural areas have been cut off from the wonders of modern medicine by the surrounding rough terrain. Drone technology is reducing the loss of human life by offering rapid deliveries of supplies like blood, technology, and drugs to areas that need them quickly. A promising startup, Zipline International, has already made great strides in this regard, delivering medical supplies to rural areas across Africa and beyond.
Drones are reducing the cost of doing agriculture in remarkable ways by enabling farmers and agriculturalists are able to compile data, automate processes, and maximize efficiency. This is leading to increased yields as costs go down. A particular case is that of Raptor Maps, a leader in agricultural analytics, which uses drones to help farmers get a better idea of their potential harvest. Apart from analytics, other efforts are underway for using drones and other unmanned vehicles for mundane repetitive tasks like harvesting, picking, and pollinating flowers.
In the battle against climate change, scientists are sparing no resources in the search for answers. Today, drones are allowing scientists to bypass the stationary points ordinarily used for capturing geospatial imaging solutions. And because these devices are so versatile in range and motion, they can easily follow changing patterns as they develop.
We are still largely dependent on fossil fuels as an energy source, and lots of effort is being put in to ensure extraction, refinement, and transportation are done as safely as possible. With the use of drones, much of the inspection work can be done remotely and safely. Many of the world’s largest oil companies are taking to the skies to inspect their offshore rigs and deposits, as well as assess their pipelines.
Mineral stockpiles and ore can be difficult to measure, requiring heavy capital to do so. But drones are taking even this area by storm. Mining companies are tackling difficulties by attaching special cameras onto drones to capture volumetric data from the air. This reduces the risks and costs of having human surveyors on the ground. Many of these drones can be controlled remotely without a direct line of sight and are also used for security purposes.
Drones are becoming increasingly popular in this construction industry, because of the ease with which they can gather relevant date. While ground surveying remains critical, drones can supplement that by monitoring and gauging topography throughout the project lifecycle. Some drone software companies even provide software capabilities for their hardware on a monthly subscription to fill this need.
Drones are becoming instrumental in developing concepts that could translate into physical structures one day. For example, ETH Zurich, a Swiss university was able to partner with roboticist Raffaello D’Andrea and architecture firm Gramazio Kohler Architects to create a structure built entirely by unmanned aerial vehicles. By programming the drones to lift and stack polymer bricks, the partnership was able to create geometric edifice almost 10 meters in height. The finished structure serves as a concept for a “vertical village” that would be built with bigger drones.
Insurance companies are taking advantage of drones high-resolution cameras to avoid scaling buildings in order to carry out inspections. Dedicated drone companies now exist like Converge Industries, and Kespry, who cater solely to the insurance niche.
With their capacity to capture previously impossible shots in high-resolution, drones have been able to upend the real estate industry too. Services now exist to offer on-demand photography solutions for residential and commercial real estate purposes. Even home interiors are being captured now in stunning 360-degree detail by small, agile drones to give potential buyers a perspective similar to a walk through.
The rising urban population has put a premium on urban planning and development as cities try to better understand population movement and flow. Fortunately, drones are taking out the guess work by supplying data-driven insights to urban planners. Consulting firms are using unmanned aerial devices to capture urban data from above to help urban planners make positive decisions.
We are yet some way from having a massive system of autonomous air taxis, but certain companies are already thinking in that direction. EHANG has designed and created an autonomous aerial vehicle that operates with four rotors like a quadcopter for vertical takeoff. Even in an urban setting with lots of obstacles, EHANG’s aerial vehicle is capable of transporting passengers between destinations. Other functionalities include requiring minimal passenger input and a fail-safe functionality for safe landings in cases of engine failure or collision.
In order to improve the stringent inspections required by the FAA’s regulatory standards, Intel partnered with Airbus to conduct exterior aircraft inspections by way of drones. The drones Intel supplied came with cameras that enabled them to gather images and data needed for creating detailed 3-D models of the Airbus fleet.
Realizing the opportunity, Airbus now runs its own drone subsidiary called Airbus Aerial which provides inspection solutions across a range of industries. Other services exist also, like Canard Drones, which cater to airport inspections rather than aircrafts.
With the largest tech firms vying for global dominance, efforts are turning towards providing internet access to those presently cut off from access. The most high profile example so far has been Facebook experimenting with beaming down internet connection into rural areas from a solar powered drone called Aquila. Google also has plans to use a weather balloon like aerial device to beam internet access down from the stratosphere in an effort dubbed Project Loon.
Drones have gone beyond providing photos and films to being considered tools for live entertainment themselves. Disney is one of the major players in this regard and already has a number of drone patents focused on entertainment. The entertainment company has already rolled out a number of live shows featuring floating projection screens, synchronized light shows, and drone puppeteers.
Tourism and Hospitality
The tourism and hospitality industry has also caught the imagination bug as far as drones are concerned. Apart from the fact that drones have changed the way hotels and touristic attractions do their marketing, some design firms are mulling over the idea of drone hotels that could go anywhere on command. Specifically, these aerial hotels could fly to remote, and normally inaccessible, locations with guests. Some hotels are also investing in drones which deliver items and room service rapidly and autonomously.
With their abilities to cover long distances and scale great heights, drones have opened doors in the field of aerial landscaping. The company SenseFly has used drones to create a 3D rendering of the notorious Matterhorn Peak in Zermatt, Switzerland. This, normally grueling task, took just 7 hours to accomplish with drones. Models like these save lives because they are used by skiers and mountain climbers to better understand their terrain.
Drone racing…anyone? We could be on the cusp of a world where drone racing is a big sport with millions of fans around the world. Drone racing as a sport is quickly gaining steam. Players control drones, equipped with cameras while wearing head-mounted displays that show the live feed from the drones. These live feeds can be shared with millions around the world as they sport grows in popularity.
Drones are also changing the way other sports games are being broadcast around the world. The skycam, a robotic overhead camera suspended from a cable driven computerized transport system, has been used for a number of years to provide a unique perspective on events in the stadium. But now events even outside the stadium are getting their share of attention with the use of drones to record live events and TV broadcasts.
The motion picture industry was one of the first to realize the potential of drones to change the status quo. And this is not surprising given that difficult aerial shots traditionally have had to rely on the use of helicopters for execution. The use of helicopters not only impacted the filming budget but also placed limits on the scope of cinematography.
Today, the adoption of drone tech by the motion picture industry has grown. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the FAA have worked together in establishing regulatory procedures for commercial drones in the industry, and these devices have been used to capture iconic shots in movies like The Circle, Guardians of the Galaxy, La La Land, as well as a variety of advertisements.
Drones have been used in creating adverts and content for projects like Apple Music. But beyond changing the way content is created, unmanned aerial vehicles have gone on to become advertising mediums themselves. For example, DroneCast has designed and developed services featuring banner advertising that float above high traffic and live events. A notable case of drone advertising like this involved Ford-branded knickknacks being drone delivered to patrons at an auto-convention.
Amazon has really taken the bull by the horns in this regard. Their efforts to incorporate drones into their logistics and supply chain are often newsworthy and highly reported. Other players involved in the retail industry are designing and testing delivery solutions that combine the delivery van with drones, or involve self-driving robots programmed to deliver goods locally within 30 minutes.
One of the best things about drones is their ability to take human actors out of positions where they may be in harm’s way. This is nowhere more true than it is with crowd control. Crowd control police can now disperse unruly crowds with the use of drones equipped with non-lethal weapons like tear gaz and sound cannons. In this manner, peace and order are maintained without risking injury or the unfortunate loss of human life.
Assembly Line Manufacturing and Inventory Management
Drones are able to play an essential role in modern manufacturing because of their ability to accomplish tasks which are too difficult for large, pre-programmed robots, and too dangerous for humans. These tasks occur throughout the production chain from raw material discovery to assembly line inspection. Drones can also be used during inventory management in warehouses. Research coming out of MIT outlines an inventory system that uses drones to locate and measure inventory within a network of sensors powered by battery-free radio frequency identification technology
Technology, like wearable tech and body scanners, has profoundly changed the way that people train, providing for a more efficient and personalized experience. Now with the rise of drones programmed to follow their owners, the way people get coached is also being changed. Drones like DJI’s Mavic Pro, Ehang’s Ghostdrone 2.0, and FlyPro’s XEagle Sport are driving change in digital coaching by providing guidance and collecting video data of user’s workouts which can later be analyzed.
The visually impaired can also benefit. In 2015, computer scientists at the University of Nevada’s Human Plus Lab built a prototype drone that guides blind runners by sound. This drone flies about 10 feet in front of the runner and can adjust its speed to that of the runner.
Some restaurants and food chains are looking to reduce delivery times, cut costs and increase profits by incorporating drones into their delivery services. Dominos partnered with the startup Flirtey in 2016 to make the first ever drone pizza delivery. Likewise, HBO partnered with Fooji, a brand delivery agency, and Drone Dudes, a drone company, in 2018 to deliver pizzas to fans of its show Silicon Valley. Drones are not driving change only in the area of pizza delivery, however. They are also being used to address the shortage of service staff in Singapore. In 2015, Infinium Robotics created a drone waiter called Infinium-Serve for this very purpose. Infinium-Serve is able to carry 4.4 pounds of food and drink, which roughly equals two pints of beer, two glasses of wine, and one whole pizza.
Drones are affecting the gaming industry in two distinct ways. Firstly, drone racing and drone combat are now a thing, sometimes involving augmented reality and huge monetary prices to be won. The company Drone n Base, for example, sells gaming packages that allow players engage in drone races and high-tech battles through augmented reality. The other way drones are affecting the gaming industry has to do with landscaping and world building. Video game production companies are leveraging drone technology to develop detailed and realistic maps for their games. Drones are offering unprecedented access to vast areas of terrain and other outdoor elements, enabling their stunning 3D recreation in game visuals.
Journalism and News Coverage
Drones are adding greater depth to news coverage with their unique points of view and ability to access difficult areas. The news giant, CNN, for example, is said to have the most advanced drone program—named CNN Air—among all US news agencies. CNN Air flies hundreds of missions in more than 20 countries, producing several short films and documentaries for Time Warner and Turner.
These drones are so useful because they are allow crews to get footage that would be otherwise difficult to get due to safety, physical obstacles, and costs.
Security firms are now using drones to offer more comprehensive surveillance packages for industrial, residential, and commercial properties. For example, Nightingale Security, a security firm, enables its clients to establish repeatable pathways that its drones can travel along daily to monitor key areas. They also launch drones with live streaming capabilities immediately in response to an alarm being triggered. Other security firms are looking into combining drones with sensors that could sense potentially suspicious activity and then trigger the drone to fly towards that direction.
Drones are pushing boundaries beyond the final frontier. In May 2018, NASA announced their intentions to use a robocraft helicopter in the Mars 2020 mission to find out whether there has been life on the planet. The drone will act as a scout for the rover, collecting data about the terrain of the planet and surveying areas inaccessible by the rover. This tiny device, if it proves successful, could be the first among many aerial drones being used in space exploration.
Drones Are Here to Stay
You can remain confident to see more innovations coming in with the drone revolution as more industries realize the possibilities which these slick devices present. Maybe some day not too far off it would be difficult to imagine a time when drones were little more than a hobby for a handful of enthusiasts.