It wasn’t all that long ago that the word drone conjured up an image of a bee rather than a remotely piloted UAV. Although drones have been used for years by the military, the word hasn’t exactly been part of our everyday language. We stopped by CES 2017 this year to take a look at what the future has in store for commercial drones.
While the market for military UAVs is forecast to continue steadily through 2020, commercial applications still in early stages of development are expected to grow robustly, with rates similar to that of smartphones when first introduced. However, the military will continue to be a key developer of drone technology.
In addition to military and retail models, a number of commercial applications featuring drones are poised to take off in industries that include real estate, engineering and construction, architecture, media, conservation and agriculture.
The use of drones to market commercial and residential real estate seems to be on the verge of taking off. For this industry, drones may be deployed to create panoramas of properties and buildings to show to potential buyers or investors, and also to conduct property inspections remotely. Small UAVs can even go places where humans can’t—tall roofs and exteriors, for instance, that are hard to access. During inclement weather, the prospect of such usage is especially appealing.
Engineering and construction
Engineering firms are beginning to use drones for projects like close-in pipeline inspection, transmission cables and maintenance inspections. They will also be useful for road construction and maintenance, airport planning and infrastructure projects. In the case of surveying work, drones can expedite work in significant ways.
For construction, drones can be used to survey job sites and build maps. Instead of using human resources, heavy machinery and expensive surveying tools, projects can be completed with drones in half the time, at a fraction of the expense and with more accurate results.
Architectural firms are also benefitting from the use of drones. Drones will enable the quick and affordable creation of aerial shots that can be used to create 3D renderings of structures they’re planning to build. This capability will allow more accuracy in the creation of designs and understanding of how they fit within properties.
Once the domain of only the largest news organizations, aerial footage for news coverage is being captured by drones for local journalists and small-scale media to use. Coverage of sporting events is another area in which drones can be invaluable for capturing flyover shots on sports fields and golf courses. Drones also have the capability of getting into tighter areas, lower to the ground than a helicopter is able.
Drones can be used to inconspicuously keep watch on ecological environments, for example, overseeing animal populations without disturbing them. Such monitoring offers important insights into conservation efforts, migration tracking, habitat management and flood evaluation. UAVs also are able to collect data on the health of vegetative and animal populations, and identify species in difficult to access regions.
Drones can be useful to farmers by assisting in the identification of plants that are beginning to fail, taking crop inventory and enabling the study and mapping of acreage and irrigation systems, saving countless hours. They can also be used to water crops and spray pesticides and fertilizers, and are far more affordable than crop dusters. In addition, drones can monitor livestock and gather and track information about animal health and population.
In the case of commercial drones, the technology is ahead of the regulation. The capability is here, but the legal and regulatory environment are not yet in place. However, following Part 107 Regulations, allowing for the commercial use of drones under certain circumstances. With this, the FAA has cracked open the door for the use of commercial drones in daily operations.