Recently, we published a PoV on how drones have been helping both authorities and enterprises fight COVID-19. The drone industry got a much-needed boost from COVID-19 when the pandemic restricted free movement. The COVID-19 emergency has provided real–time use cases and shown how helpful drones can be. It has changed society’s perception of drones from being just fascinating military surveillance technology to being useful technology for businesses and consumers.
Drone usage is no longer limited to transportation or surveillance; use cases span sectors
Historically, drones have been used in military applications and for remote transportation, such as for delivering medicine. Now, however, drone use cases are becoming popular in other sectors, as Exhibit 1 describes. For example, Amazon and Walmart are using drones in their warehouses to manage inventory by scanning each item and reporting missing stock. If a human performed this task, it would require weeks and months to complete. Drone technology can quickly scan and interact with software to update inventory data.
Exhibit 1: Drone applications have expanded to a large number of industries
Typical activities examples (indicative)
Defense and security service
- Surveilling operations
- Transporting materials
- Monitoring key security areas
Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk has ISTAR capabilities. It is capable of signals surveillance, such as scanning mobile phone calls.
- Spraying pesticides
- Dispersing seeds
- Gathering soil data
- Monitoring crops
- Irrigating crops
Farmers can use PrecisionAnalytics’ Agriculture platform to monitor crop health and yields, verify stand establishment, and create other analytic reports.
- Providing dramatic aerial views
XM2 designs and builds its drones and stabilizers at its Melbourne, Australia, headquarters. Many feature films used the XM2 drone, including Lion, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Thor: Ragnarok, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and Aquaman.
- Maintaining HVAC power lines
- Maintaining telecom towers
Drone services provider Delta Drone Group conducts cellphone tower inspections with multi–rotor drones with optical sensors, operated under automatic flight plans.
- Delivering medicine, organs, supplies, etc.
- Providing emergency services
EHang signed a contract with US firm Lung Biotechnology PBC to develop up to 1,000 units of its 184 drones to automate the transportation of donated organs to people all over the country in an emergency.
The TU Delft Ambulance Drone prototype integrates a cardiac defibrillator and a 2-way communication radio + video.
- Assessing mining areas
- Providing statistics such as volumetric measurement
- Managing quarries
- Managing sites
Sensefly mining drones collect georeferenced imagery and quickly transform it into a precise 3D copy of a mining site. Clients can use this digital version of a site to calculate volumes, perform site surveys, optimize traffic management, and design road layouts.
- Managing stock
- Delivering stock
The HorseFly UAV Delivery System is a custom-built, high–efficiency delivery UAV that is fully integrated with the Workhorse line of electric and hybrid delivery trucks.
Energy and utilities
- Inspecting power plants
- Inspection equipment such as turbines or solar panels
- Delivering tools and equipment to unsafe areas
- Assessing the productivity of solar panels with thermal imagery
The Delhi electric utility firm collaborated with Garuda UAV, a leading drone service provider, for visual and thermal mapping of the electrical infrastructure and end-to-end solutions for maintenance and planning.
Airlines and aviation
- Inspecting airports
- Controlling birds
- Inspecting airplanes
- Providing air deliveries
- Acting as air taxis
Airbus introduced the Advanced Inspection Drone to inspect airplanes in hangars.
AERIUM Analytics, with the help of Microdrones mdLiDAR1000, collected LIDAR (light detection and ranging) and imagery data of EIA’s runways.
- Live entertainment
- Sports broadcasting
- Advertisement through drones
- Space mission drones
- Waste management
eBlimp was equipped with simple LED panels for advertising needs.
A Mars Helicopter Drone was installed on NASA’s Next Red Planet Rover.
The WasteShark drone works like an aquatic vacuum cleaner. It’s modeled on the whale shark, a filter feeder that sucks prey like plankton into its mouth.
Source: HFS Research, 2020
Be mindful of regulatory guidelines for drone applications
The drone industry has been booming during the COVID-19 crisis, and government regulatory bodies are having a tough time keeping regulations updated. While some countries have established drone laws, many others have not. The drone landscape is changing, and some regulations need to be reevaluated and updated to reflect new use cases.
Rules for drone usage vary around the world. Regulatory requirements include
- In the USA, according to the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), flying a drone is legal, but rules differ as per work/hobby activities.
- For Flying for Work: Rules hold such as Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA, registering the UAV, UAV must weigh less than 55 pounds, should be within visual line-of-sight, speed less than under 100 mph, restriction to fly directly over people, etc.
- For Flying for Fun: Rule should such as UAV be within visual line-of-sight, not to fly near other aircraft, not to fly near emergency response efforts, etc.
- In Europe, some of the rules include of having manufacturer approval required for any changes, letting a drone fly at an altitude of more than 120 meters, the flight is not allowed over groups of people, not to fly in the proximity of airports, helipads, areas affecting, public safety or where an emergency response effort is ongoing, not to fly over large groups of people, etc.
Drone usage is rapidly growing and changing; as regulations evolve, they should improve to reflect new use cases.
The Bottom Line: New drone applications look promising; service providers should prepare themselves for potential business opportunities as these applications become mainstream.
Interest in drone technology is evolving. The pandemic created an opportunity that spawned previously unimagined drone use cases; with advancements in technology, drones will become more robust and useful. Service providers should develop business cases to expand their drone project portfolios.