How Drones Are Helping Traditional Industries Take Flight Into the Future
Not long ago, the mere thought of drones was reserved for the military and sci-fi movies. Today, they’ve become a part of everyday conversation among friends, in the media and beyond. While drones aren’t swarming the skies yet, many companies across industries are using them more and more to increase efficiency and productivity.
“Drone technology is going to disrupt businesses,” says Elaine Whyte, head of drones (UK) at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “They’re agile, inexpensive, and rapid to respond. So, they can go and reach places that are difficult for a business to get to.”
Ultimately, implementing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make jobs easier, safer and more cost-effective, which is a win-win across sectors.
“Now, companies can afford to figure out how to implement those technologies into their existing workflows, to make decisions faster,” says Kevin Lang, vice president of Enterprise Services at PrecisionHawk, a Raleigh, N.C.-based company that provides advanced commercial drone technologies.
With the ability to fly, gather data and capture images—all without humans manning the vehicle—it should come as no surprise that drones will soon become commonplace.
Below, we look at how drones are set to streamline and possibly revolutionize industries.
While autonomous delivery technology is primed to become one of the central sources for major retailers shipping goods, it’s certainly not the only area where drones are taking flight.
“The more that regulation opens up and we find convenient ways and safe ways to fly drones that can impact infrastructure, insurance and construction industries—use cases are going to continue to grow,” says Lang. “It’s a really exciting time to be in the industry.”
Having a bird’s-eye view will reap many benefits. “Whether it’s a tall structure or a floor plan change, having the ability to have a fresh perspective allows companies to possibly make a different business decision moving forward.”
GROWING IN AGRICULTURE
Aerial drones are increasingly being used to enhance the crop cycle in a myriad of ways throughout the agriculture industry. From crop-monitoring and spraying, to irrigation, soil analysis, planting and beyond, multispectral UAVs are bringing the ancient practice of raising crops for consumption into the modern age. Soaring with the potential to increase productivity, sustainability and boost food production, drones are revolutionizing the legacy agriculture industry in ways never seen before. Farmers are also embracing drones as an efficient means to discover pest problems and other patterns that might otherwise be challenging to uncover without perfect vision from above.
Drones are shaping the construction sites of the future. The lightweight winged gadgets are taking the industry to new heights, in some case acting as the watchful eyes in the sky for larger machines on the ground.
“We see it as really useful before you even start to put a shovel in the ground, to understand what you’re getting into from a project management standpoint, and from a cost standpoint,” says Lang.
In fact, San Francisco-based tech startup Skycatch deploys the buzzy deft flyers to help construction companies more efficiently and safely guide unmanned bulldozers. Off to a promising start, Skycatch’s sensor-loaded drones have already given Japanese machinery corporation Komatsu gather, process and analyze 3D visual data from the sky in ways that enable automated diggers to more accurately complete construction tasks.
Another industry achieving more with less via disruptive drone technology is the niche structural inspection sector. More and more high-tech UAVs are being deployed to execute extraordinarily close-up inspections of structures of all kinds, skyscrapers, bridges and even industrial wind turbine blades included. In a single flight, camera- and sensor-equipped precision drones are quickly, efficiently able to thoroughly examine large, tall structures in ways that the naked human eye often cannot, at least not without considerable safety risks to inspectors at times. In fact, drones from Detroit-based Skyspecs inspect industrial wind turbine blades in fewer than 15 minutes per examination, leading to lower overall maintenance and operations costs, and to much safer inspections overall.
JOURNALISTS AND MEDIA
Recent advances in autonomous drone-captured imagery gave birth to the term “drone journalism” — and, of course, to the resulting controversy surrounding the emerging field. The use of drones to give journalists a leg up on reporting news as it unfurls is taking flight in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a few short years ago. Legal and ethical complexities are hampering widespread adoption of the emerging practice of reporting and information gathering via drone, but that isn’t stopping many journalists from exploring this exciting new arena. The esteemed Poynter Institute is an early leader in the space, offering groundbreaking “Drone Boot Camp” courses through its freshly unveiled Drone Journalism School. Students learn how to use drones to tell colorful, compelling stories in ways—and from heights and angles—not seen before. Drones can also help journalists report from on high from breaking news scenes that might not be safe for them to venture into, such as during natural disasters like mudslides and wildfires. Unique angles from journalist-guided drones’ eyes in the sky are just the beginning.
Drones are also bringing big changes to the transportation industry, modernizing how we send and receive goods at every level, industrial and consumer alike. Through every phase of transport, UAVs are trimming costs, saving time and enhancing worker safety. Drone technology is particularly effective in the transportation logistics sector, and across many modes of transport. By land, by sea, by rail and by air, autonomous drones are shaping the future of manufacturing, assembly, research and development, distribution and warehouse facilities and more.
For example, drones are streamlining ocean freight inspections. They collect key data that can be automatically integrated into existing transportation logistics systems as cargo is loaded and unloaded in real time.
There’s no denying that drones are profoundly transforming industries of all scopes and sizes, and at a considerably fast pace. They’re enabling companies—and the people who lead and work for them—to streamline operations, better collect information, prepare for and accomplish tasks faster, safer, and more efficiently and affordably.