By Josh Pozner
June 18th, 2020
128+ Commercial Use Cases for Drones
You just got home and forgot one thing at the market. A few clicks on your phone, and within the hour there is a box on your front porch, no traffic, no hassle. Weather in the city or country there are hundreds of cases where drones provide a viable alternative to the current business model. A closer look at current business practices and needs reveals drone use for commercial purposes is closer to reality then science fiction. Drone usage is also not limited to small time hobbyists or startups; some of the largest and most well-known companies including: Uber, UPS, Amazon, and Alphabet (Google) are pioneering drone delivery.
Omid Maghazei, in a paper for the Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, segmented drone capabilities by task: “see,” “sense,” “move” and “transform.” Drones can be equipped with a large range of sensors that increase their functionalities. With these abilities, and as access to commercial quality drones increases, the case for drones, much the like the case for other types of robotic or automation assistance, becomes easier to understand. In broad terms there are seven (7) buckets of commercial use cases for drones:
1. remove people from dangerous work;
2. reduce the number of people needed;
3. reduce the number of steps in the process;
4. replace more costly methods;
5. access inaccessible (by humans) locations;
6. perform tasks quicker or more efficiently;
7. and, perform functions people do not want to perform / not strong enough labor pool.
There are current, near-term, and long-term limitations regarding commercial drone usage. It will take years for companies to build out, test, and prove their use cases. It will also take time for society to be comfortable having drones buzzing about. It’s one thing to have a plane at 30,000 feet or a helicopter at 10,000 feet but the close proximity to humans (100 – 600 feet) may prove to be a hurdle with a higher bar for acceptance than anticipated. There are also privacy issues as drones likely would use GPS, cameras, and require other data to find locations and deliver their payload.
Some of the legal and regulatory hurdles facing commercial drone usage are already being overcome In late 2019 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved UPS Flight Forward to become the first-ever drone service operating as a commercial airline. Business Insider Intelligence reported that although the drone service can only operate in suburban and rural regions, it has complete autonomy on size and scope of its drone operations.
As with the legal and regulatory hurdles, attempts to overcome the societal hurdles are being made. To increase trust in the safety of drones and their operators the FAA has required:
- all commercial drone pilots to hold a Remote Pilot Certificate and be over the age of 16;
- the drones themselves must weigh less than 55 lb (25 kg) , including payload, at takeoff;
- fly up to a maximum of 400 feet (120 m) in Class G airspace;
- at a speed of no greater than 100 miles per hour (160 km/h);
- can only be operated during daytime or civil twilight;
- must yield right of way to manned aircraft;
- and all unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) (drones) be equipped with a devise to identify and be registered with the FAA on the FAADroneZone website.
With all these requirements, hurdles, and unanswered questions what is the case for using drone commercially. As evidence of the increased future use of drones, PwC estimates the “emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at over $127B.”
Under these seven buckets we can see a plethora of industries and over 150 use cases, this article will explore the top twenty two (22) industries that would benefit, in the short term, or could craft a compelling case for commercial done use.
FOOD / RESTAURANT INDUSTRY
Whether a delivery platform or the actual restaurant, delivery is common place (and becoming more common with COVID19). Just from the reaction to COVID19 we can see where replacing the human delivery with a machine may improve safety (no threat of transmission), but there are other potential benefits of drone use. Fewer cars / delivery vehicles may reduce CO2 omissions and relieve congested city streets. In non-urban areas it may cut down delivery times or enable delivery in previously unreachable areas. Theoretically there would also be a cost savings; the total cost of ownership and use of a car seems higher than that of a drone. In terms of the labor pool, before COVID many restaurants and supermarkets were having issues filling open positions. The use of drones may allow these establishments to redeploy their labor.
Flirty and Domino’s partnered in 2016 for the first pizza delivery by a commercial drone in New Zealand. Also in 2016, Flirty began working with 7-Eleven and completed 77 delivery orders in Reno, NV. McDonalds and Uber Elevate have partnered with Uber Elevate promising drone food deliveries by 2023. It’s not just outside the walls of restaurants that drones are being tested. In Singapore, Infinium Robotics tested the use of drones inside local Singapore restaurants as a means of augmenting their staff. It should also be noted that Flirty just (May 22, 2020) received a patent for technology that controls the hoisting of packages (up and down) while the drone hovers above.
1. Food Delivery
2. Convenience Store / Grocery Delivery
3. Food and Beverage Service (i.e at pools, on golf courses)
4. Drone Waiter
HOSPITALITY & TOURISM
As far back as 2016 entrepreneurs were looking for ways to incorporate drones into the hospitality and tourism space. “HOK’s Toronto office proposed Driftscape—a mobile, self-sustaining hotel that uses drone technology to enable its guests to land modular units, called Driftcrafts, in usually unattainable locations, from vast oceanscapes to deserts, remote tropical islands to lush mountain terrain. The autonomous room pods are designed to accommodate two people and support up to three days of exploration, while the pods are serviced by an “Oasis,” a central amenity base equipped with food and beverages.”
The evolution of drone usage in hospitality isn’t just limited to big picture novel ideas. Marriott has used drones to shake cocktails for guests. Michael Cirino, a Brooklyn innovator has incorporated drone technology to shake drinks and even created a specialty cocktail named, “the Test Pilot”. Drones are also being used to perform other tasks, and when combined with AI, they can deliver packages, food, and pick up dry cleaning autonomously. Unsupervised AI and LG are two companies pioneering drone technology in hospitality environments.
The use of drones in hospitality isn’t limited to performing tasks, Marriott has launched a partnership with DJI to create the Drone Experience Program. “The program will provide guests with the opportunity to experiment with DJI’s innovative drone technology. Hotel guests will view the beauty of JW Marriott’s properties through a new perspective, and will be able to capture and share these experiences with friends and family”. The use of drones for security, property maintenance, visual marketing, and even life-guarding is currently been explored and hotel guests should not be surprised to see this proliferation soon.
5. Mobile Hotels
6. Food and Beverage Preparation
7. Entertainment / Activity
9. Property Maintenance
10. Visual Marketing
12. Transportation of Materials
As with food, drones can help reduce delivery times or allow for delivery to previously less accessible areas of critical medical supplies and equipment. Coupled with robotics, drones may allow for medical samples to be transported without human contact. In May of 2019, a 2.8 mile 10 minute drone trip transported a kidney for transplant in Baltimore. Many vaccines require storage in cool temperatures and only limited exposure to sunlight, drones may allow for central storage and quick delivery in smaller batches then traditional disbursement techniques. Drones may also be used to delivery prescriptions. Imagine all the patients in a nursing home receiving a drone delivery with medication, there would be no possibility of exposure during the delivery process. In a slightly more distant future, ambulance drones may be able to transport patients from the site of an injury to a hospital or from one hospital to another.
13. Medication / Prescription Delivery
14. Blood Donation Delivery
15. Laboratory Sample Collection and Delivery
16. Vaccine Storage and Delivery
17. Organ Transport
18. Ambulance Drone
As the complexity and availability of drones has increased so has the capabilities of cameras and other equipment used by. In addition to the ability to get aerial footage, drones can be mounted with infrared capabilities making victims easier to find. Drones could explore hard to reach areas after natural disasters and may make the exploration of confined spaces easier. Using drones during search and rescue may allow for a better deployment of human resources during the search. In 2017, “Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) has designed and engineered a bespoke version of the new Land Rover Discovery for use by the Austrian Red Cross.” TUDelft designed an Ambulance Drone with, “lifesaving technologies such as an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), medication, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) aids [which] can be designed compact enough to be carried by a drone.”
19. Search and Rescue (Infrared and Visuals)
20. Equipment Transport
21. Inspect and Explore Disaster Areas (Indoor, Outdoor, and confined spaces)
HUMANITARIAN AND DISASTER RELIEF
In addition to the: search and rescue, medical, and healthcare applications, drones could add vital functionality to humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. Immediate assessment of damage and information regarding the best way to access disaster areas could cut response time and allow more efficient deployment of resources. In 2017 drones were used to repair power-lines in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. In 2018, in the aftermath of a huge fire in the German town of Hechingen drones provided pictures and infrared images that allowed units to be sent to the right areas equipped with the correct water supply. Drones could be used to get ultra-location-specific readings that may be used to forecast fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. Using images captured from drones, AI could provide accurate real time predictions of the spread of: forest fires, tsunamis, floods, and other unpredictable natural disasters. In the aftermath of these disasters drones could help map the areas that are safe versus areas that need further investigation.
22. Damage and Infrastructure Assessment
23. Restoration of Vital Services (Power, Phone, Wifi)
24. Predict and Access Natural Disasters and Effected Areas
25. Monitor and Combat Natural Disasters (Forest Fires)
26. Distribute Food and Water
27. Create 3D Models of the aftermath
The tracking and understanding of the spread of many diseases can lead to some of the most inhospitable areas or require the capture / testing of dangerous animals. “Most recently, drones are being considered to support mosquito control. One of, if not the most dangerous creatures on Earth, mosquitos have been spreading deadly diseases to humans for centuries. The latest plague they’re spreading is the Zika virus, and current methods of preventing mosquito-borne diseases continue to be highly inefficient.” Who would want to try and catch a mosquito knowing it could potentially have a transmissible virus? What if that mosquito holds the keys to virus transmission? That calculus changes if a drone (which can’t get infected) is used and may allow answers to become available where they were not before. While it may be too soon, do you want to go bat hunting in Wuhan? Would you be ok sending a drone? Pollution control is another area where drones can provide a consistent stream of data and lower the risk to humans. Drones can capture: air, water, and land pollution levels and monitor trends / spread while not exposing humans to the pollutants. This information could be used to target specific areas for pollution control or an advisory to avoid the area.
28. Pest Control / Collection
29. Pollution Monitoring and Control
30. Disease Tracking and Monitoring
Retail may be the best positioned industry to utilize commercial drones in the near future. Many retails deliveries are already packaged for transportation. The increased number of people shopping from home has put strains on the delivery labor pool as seen in the bonuses delivery companies and retail outlets are currently offering new signups. Also, retail outlets have the added benefit of having locations near consumers and warehouses to base these deliveries from. Less than a year ago, Wal-Mart estimated that 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Wal-Mart store. This close proximity to the “last-mile”, which is traditionally the costliest of the shipping process, seems primed for cost cutting and time savings innovation, both of which drones can supply.
31. Product Delivery
32. Product Organization, Storage, and Inventory
ADVERTISING / VISUAL / NEWS
Drones allow the capture of images or the display of ads that are currently costly or difficult to obtain. DroneCast markets itself as a drone based advertising platform capable of displaying 2′ wide, and 6′ long banner. In addition to this “flying billboard” the company offers promotional stunts and the ability to drop branded items. Drones allow users to capture aerial perspectives without the use of planes, helicopters, and other manned craft. Whether for cinematography, videography, or photography the acquisition of these shots will certainly be less expensive and easier to access.
This type of photography and visual gathering may lend itself to use in journalism. Many large news organizations use helicopters or planes which have higher costs and require people on site to operate. If a journalist is covering conflict or natural disaster, drones can remove people from that danger while still allowing them to cover the story. In 2016 CNN launched a drone division, announcing “CNN will have a designated Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) unit with two full-time UAS operators to fully integrate aerial imagery and reporting . . . ” The desire for up-to-the minute pictures and access to news has helped push the immediate authorization process called LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) program.
SPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
As previously mentioned drones can help in the process of recording events both live and as part of a production. Some broadcasters are talking about replacing the sky or spyder camera with drones. If that happens drones may also play an important part in instant replay and could become part of systems like Hawkeye. If not combined with live sports drones can be used for other outdoor entertainment purposes. Synchronized light shows, floating projection screens, and drone puppeteers are a few of the other entertainment purposes drones have been used for.
Apart of being used as part of a broadcast, there are drone races and drone combat. The origins of drone races go back further then most commercial applications with reports dating back to 2013 – 2014. The Drone Racing League competes in some of the world’s best known locations and arenas and was founded in 2015. In addition to racing, drones face off in dogfighting leagues as well. The Aerial Sports League launched in 2012 as a combination of drone flying and Battlebots.
39. Synchronized Light Shows
40. Floating Projection Screens
41. Drone Puppeteers
42. Drone Racing
43. Drone Combat
44. Broadcasting Sports
45. Instant Replay / Officiating Assistance
Some of the best operating deployments for drones are in large open areas, making agriculture a seeming ideal use case. Using drones to: gather data and perform analysis (3-D maps, soil analysis, irrigation mapping, and soil composition analysis), cover large distances, provide aerial views, perform manual redundant tasks (seeding, planting, and spraying), and allow farmers to monitor their entire enterprise from one location are some of the use cases for drones in agriculture. Using thermal imaging to find dry spots in need of irrigation or to help calculate the vegetation index are other uses that come to mind. We recently wrote about the numerous ways drones are helping advance environmental initiatives. DroneSeed is a company that uses drones to assist with reforestation. They advertise they are 6x faster than human tree planting and can propagate 40 acres in a single day with drones. In large flat areas without obstacles like trees, drone seeding efficiency would probably increase. Combining drone technology with other technologies can lead to improved harvest and reduction in time diagnosing challenges. Drone companies advertise the use of drone and combination of other technologies to “identify yield threats before setting foot in the field.” Use cases can also easily be made for drones performing: pest detection and control; flower pollination, crop watering, identifying failing plants, and plant/crop inventory.
46. Predict and Analyze Crop Growth
47. Provide Aerial Views
48. Pest Detection and Control
49. Warning and Remedy of Crop Failure
50. Perform Manual Redundant Tasks (i.e. seeding, planting, and spraying)
Weather forecasting maybe one of the use cases for drones with the highest payoffs, yet requires extensive expertise. The payoff being the reduction of human interaction with extreme weather. However, this is a highly complex use case where the weather could impact the performance of the drone. Sferic DroneFlight by earth networks may help solve some of the challenges with using drones in extreme situations by providing: wind information at various low-altitudes up to 400 feet, hourly wind forecasts for mission planning, and predictive alerts at planned drone mission sites.
Using drones to capture important meteorology metrics like: temperature, wind speed & vector, humidity, and UV levels can help improve forecasting models and predictions, as noted by NOAA. Using sturdier industrial drones, with higher thresholds for temperature, wind, navigation loss, could lead to fewer human ventures into extreme situations like: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, hail, volcanic eruptions, etc. As an example, using drones, warning times from tornadoes can increase from minutes to almost an hour. Drones, especially solar powered long range drones, could allow scientists to quickly monitor weather events in faraway places, like oceanic earthquakes casing tsunamis. With multiple drones, the following of season long weather phenomena like El Nino or La Nina should be more efficient, less costly, and requiring fewer days of travel. Non aerial, water-based unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) can collect data on the surface of large bodies of water, Saildrone has developed this type of USV.
51. Follow Weather Patterns
52. Explore, Document, and Predict Severe Weather
53. Severe Weather Warnings
54. Gather Data in Inhospitable or Extreme Locations (i.e. ocean depths, high atmosphere)
Using much of the same functionality that drones in: agriculture, disease detection/control, and weather forecasting, drones can also be used to help with conversation efforts. A few examples are: the monitoring & tracking of animals, anti-poaching efforts, and the ability to collect samples. Drones can be used to research on ecosystems and the life therein. The SnotBot program using a waterproof drone is assisting with whale research and conservation. The Orangutan Conservancy has started the Conservation Drone Project to reduce the costs and increase efficiencies over air & land survives. In addition to their work with Orangutans, they were able to gather data on other animals such as rhinos and elephants and “the images from the drone are of a high enough resolution that one can not only easily distinguish land cover (forest, corn fields, oil palm plantations, etc), but also detect logging, locate fires, small roads, etc.” All of this information makes the work of conservationists more efficient and combines multiple disciplines. The use of drones for conservation has greatly increased over the last couple years and there are multiple NGOs, charities, and organizations dedicated to use drones to enhance conservation, such as https://conservationdrones.org/.
55. Monitor and Track Animals
56. Combat poachers
57. Collect Samples
58. Research Ecosystems
Maritime uses of drones are occurring not just above water but below it as well. Drones can be used as navigational aids, moving above or in the water in front of ships. Operating behind ships, drones are already being used to help monitor emissions and identify those breaking regulations. One official can use a drone, operating out of a port, to track emissions and traffic without having to leave the port offices. The same could be said for safety and compliance inspections. In 2017, the government of the United Kingdom began using drones for inspections of Royal Navy vessels. This can allow inspections to be performed while out at sea or help reduce the current labor intensive process. Accessibility to areas where people wouldn’t normally go, such as storage tanks, is another key benefit to use drone technology.
Drones can also be used in the search and rescue arena. Planck Aerosystmes has developed a system that controls for heaving and rolling of the ship deck, potential high winds, and the high precision control required during landing, thus allowing drones to land on moving ships. As with previous examples, the abilities and uses of drones combined with AI and autonomous functionality are making previously unthought-of ideas reality. Rolls-Royce is partnering with Intel to develop a self-maneuvering ship they hope to put to sea, un-crewed, by 2025. “The system is comprised of a network of cameras, LIDAR, and radar, which is all overseen by a central program. Using machine vision algorithms, this program looks for obstacles like other ships and sends automated alerts to the crew.”
59. Safety and Compliance Inspections
60. Detect Emission Infractions and Identify Offenders
61. Navigational Aids
62. Search and Rescue
63. Autonomous Shipping
Construction planning, management, and inspection are among the leading uses of drones commercially. In YoY adoption of aerial data and analysis, construction leads all other industries at 238% growth. “Of the more than 1.5 million drones registered in the United States, about one third are registered for commercial use, with home builders at the forefront of the technology’s use for things like aerial photographs for promotional materials, tracking progress during development of sites, and preliminary surveillance before starting a project.”
Surveying and digitally mapping the topography, soil analysis before projects begin, monitoring progress, and providing inspections during and at completion are current examples of drones assisting in many facets of the construction process. “Camera technology is used to monitor buildings and gauge topography and soil type throughout the construction lifecycle. Skycatch offers these services in a monthly software subscription that is designed to pair with a number of UAVs.” As the adoption of drones in construction continues, other functionality is being offered. Drones are not only used to track progress but can provide up to the minute details of the locations of workers and materials to on-site supervisors. Through the use of camera and lasers, drones are being used in building information modeling (BIM) and to build 3D renderings of parts or entire buildings.
Others uses of drones on construction sites include: security & monitoring, documenting and sharing progress with stakeholders, and providing unique experiences when social distancing won’t allow in person visits. With the locations and types of construction work varying, it is important to make sure the use of drones in legal and approved. Drones aren’t limited to support functions, they can and will be used to move materials, reach areas people cannot easily access, and possibly perform repair work. Bridge inspection & repair and the quick transport of materials are two examples. A Saskatchewan town, recently allowed all bridge inspections to be completed by drones and “the global inspection drone market is valued at 4770.9 million US$ in 2020 is expected to reach 11360 million US$ by the end of 2026, growing at a CAGR of 13.0% during 2021-2026.”
Major companies, including Verizon (Skyward is a subsidiary of Verizon), are already launching drone usage and management companies to help companies manage and fully utilize their drone fleet. Drones will see increased usage in most aspects of the construction process during and after COVID19 as they already promote workplace safety benefits while also promoting social distancing and aren’t at risk of transmission.
64. Monitor Building Progress
65. Topographic Mapping and Analysis
66. Soil Analysis
67. Surveying and Digital Mapping
69. Physical Construction
70. 3D Renderings
The Real Estate industry is another of the leading industries in drone usage and adoption since 2016. Drones can relatively inexpensively show the most important aspect of real estate, “location, location, location”. Additionally, Real Estate has put both land and air drones to use capturing images from different/unique angles, mapping: property, interior and exterior of buildings, and building 3D renderings. Real Estate agents are using drones, or the 3D renderings, to do tours and property visits for business continuity during the COVID19 pandemic. “The finished product provides potential buyers with a perspective that mimics a physical walk-through.” Resorts, partial ownerships, time shares, and similar living environments can use drone images not just for a walk-through or tour but to show the relative placement of on property amenities and off property areas of interest.
Developers and renovators are using drones to assist in the placement of buildings or amenities, merging the images with topographic data to find the ideal placement or warn of impending issues. This data could be used for insurance purposes as well. Similar to construction and infrastructure, drones are being used to conduct home inspections both for normal sale and for: repair, improvement, and in areas unsafe for people. Drones with thermal sensing capabilities can be used to determine energy efficiencies and areas for improvement.
71. Photography and Videography (Exterior and Interior)
72. 3D Renderings
73. Infrared Analysis
74. Property Tours
75. Showcase and Suggestion of Amenities, Additions, or Additional Structures
As mentioned in the previous sections drones have been adopted by many industries for inspections due: high quality images, ability to provide views either unobtainable or costly, and are unobtrusive / allow for socially distant inspection. Deloitte noted the insurance industries use of drones is centered on, “better risk management through improved data collection, analysis, and actionable insights; and reduced operational costs through improved efficiency and effectiveness in claims adjudication, claims processing, and customer experience.”
Noted uses of drones and insurance include: home and land inspection, crop inspections, motor vehicle accident inspection, boiler & other tank inspections, post disaster claim inspection, fraud detection / prevention, and combination with other technologies to build models. Drones can help with pricing, risk engineering, and risk management, along with natural disaster monitoring and modeling. In addition, the use of drones, and the relative safety of the inspectors, may help reduce insurance companies: worker-compensation, on-the-job accident, travel, and inspection costs. As an example, after a major flood, hurricane, or other natural disaster causing wide spread destruction, drones can be used to survey the area, identify the area’s most in need, and allow a focused prioritization of resources based on data while reducing the number of team members onsite to gather the data.
Last year, Allstate was recognized by the Novarica Insurance Technology Research Council due to the company’s claim cycle reduction of 30% – 40% and 50% to 60% increase in adjuster productivity during a six-month period, which the company partially attributed to increased use of drones. A major crop insurer, Country Financial estimates drones are performing better at accounting for crop damage / destruction and covering 3x as much area as an in person adjuster. The use of drones, and especially the use of drones by insurance companies, has prompted the rise of the drone insurance market, insurance for your drone. SkyWatch offers drone liability and hull coverage. Find out if Drone Insurance is something you need.
76. Inspection Of Claims
77. Fraud Detection / Prevention
78. Natural Disaster Monitoring and Modeling
79. Drone Insurance
Many of the use cases for drones in the energy sector a similar to those mentioned in previous sectors. For all energy sectors, drones are being used as a tool to inspect infrastructure and maintain compliance with regulations and standards. Drones using advanced software and precision cameras can also be used to diagnose and potentially fix certain issues. Thermal sensors on drones can detect leaks or weak points during production, transportation, and/or storage, in many cases quicker than a human inspector. Drones can operate in contaminated or hazardous areas like above oil spills and around power lines. They can help detect the spread and penetration of any leakage. Drones can also be used to explore sites on land and underwater for energy exploration, help efficiently deploy assets to explore these areas, and map out locations of buildings to determine the most efficient means of transmitting the energy produced.
As in other industries, using drones, as opposed to people, may: reduce downtime, limit safety risks, prove more efficient, and provide higher quality images or inspections. “For example, helicopters cannot [while properly equipped drones can] detect rust, missing pins, or damaged insulators on power lines. Without drones, wind turbine inspections would have to be done manually – a very dangerous and time-consuming job. If inspections were carried out using ground-based photography alone, they would provide lower quality data.” For conventional energy production drones can help reduce the number of people / hours needed for regular inspections, perform more detailed inspections without major equipment downtime, and determine the best course for power restoration after an outage.
For renewable energy production, drones have use cases in almost all sectors, in addition to those they share with conventional energy. In addition to inspection of turbines and blades in hard to reach places, drones can be used for mapping wind patterns and site development planning & construction. CNBC estimates that as of 2017 there are over 300,000 individual wind turbines around the world. Similarly, in solar, “Drones are 97% more efficient than manual inspections for solar farms and using an IR camera, drones can identify sub-module hotspots that manual inspections might miss.” Drones can be used to help throughout the planning process in solar similar to wind. Exploration of deep sea, arctic, or high intensity thermal vents are other potential uses for drones in the energy sector.
80. Infrastructure and Compliance Inspection
81. Operate in Contaminated or Hazardous Areas
82. Leakages and Spread Detection
83. Energy Exploration
84. Buildings and Transmission Efficiency Mapping
MINING AND RESOURCE EXPLORATION
The use of drones in mining cover most of the seven buckets outlined above. Exploration, surveying, mapping, safety inspections, inventory management, reducing man hours & exposure, and monitoring security are a few uses of drones in mines. Mining has been an early adopter of drone technology, even as far back as 2016, “70% of the mining majors have at least trialed drones . . . with companies such as Rio Tinto, BHP and Anglo American using the technology.” Mining has long been associated with hazard work conditions and ailments both during and for many years after operation. Using drone to reduce the number of people and the hours they spend in hazardous conditions not only can reduce ailments associated with mining but can also reduce: lost production, cave-ins, workers compensation claims/insurance, and the liability for mining companies. Airobotics is marketing an autonomous on-demand drone solution providing: stockpile volumes and end-of-month reconciliation, terrain mapping and change detection, asset management and scheduling, situational awareness and emergency response, infrastructure and equipment inspection, and security & surveillance.
86. Surveying and Mapping
87. Safety Inspections
88. Inventory Management
90. Mining Operations
It’s not just private or semi-private industry that benefit from drone usage. Urban planners and civil engineers can harness many of the same benefits of their private sector colleagues. Traffic and population studies can be done with far less impact on the residents. Traffic and congestion studies from drones, coupled with advance software could help remap traffic or redesign city centers for efficiency. Drones can help map changes in terrain, weather, water, and other resources with that data used to plan for the future or warn of impending issues. “A simple 5-minute fly-over video of an urban neighborhood at multiple elevations (displayed through an analog or digital forum), may reveal both empirical and experiential observations – the diversity of housing types, the voids of underutilized open space, the buzz of traffic patterns, the flow of natural systems, the nodes of community activity, or the light cast over the neighborhood at sunset.”
The biggest benefit, especially with the depleted local, regional, and state budgets due to COVID19, is the reduced cost of drone operations vs the status quo. Other benefits, similar to other industries, are: the reduction of man hours, removal of people from hazardous situations, and the ability to gather data from a wider geographic area. Drones can be used in real time to direct traffic flows (reduce congestion) or measure and warn of pollution levels. In 2017, Arup (a consulting firm) and the local and regional authorities in Shenzhen, a city that grew from a small regional hub to a metropolis of 13 million, used drones to help map, plan, and design pedestrian traffic in it’s hot humid climate.
91. Traffic and Population Studies
92. Terrain, Weather, Water, and Resource change Mapping
93. Traffic Direction
94. City Centers Redesign
TELECOMMUNICATIONS / ENTERTAINMENT
Telecommunications and home delivery of entertainment require vast infrastructure that must be inspected regularly. Much like other industries, drones can be used to perform these inspections and provide warnings or preventive maintenance before issues occur. Using cameras and other sensors drones can perform radio planning and line-of-sight mapping more efficiently and at a lower cost than previous methods. “PwC expects the value of drone-powered solutions . . . [to be] $6.3 . . . in the telecommunications industry, and could revolutionize the industry by ushering in a cost-effective way to maintain critical networks.”
Drones can also be used to provide connectivity services. “AT&T used LTE-equipped drones to reconnect some Puerto Ricans who lost wireless service following Hurricane Maria. Generally though, these types of devices, which AT&T describes as ‘flying COWS’ (cells on wings), can be used to help boost signal strength in the short-term for areas impacted by a catastrophe.” While not limited to catastrophe relief, the same technology could be used in rural and remote locations to provide internet and cell services.
95. Infrastructure and Compliance Inspection
96. Radio Planning and Line-of-Sight Mapping
AIRLINES AND AIRPORTS
Most of the news you hear involving drones and aircraft / airports is negative and involves the challenges of clear airspace, however airlines and airports are using drones for training, security, and pest control. Airlines are using drones to perform inspections, in hard to access areas such as the top of a fuselage and vertical fin, drastically reducing the amount of time per inspection and removing humans from a tedious and manual inspection process. Intel and Airbus have launched a partnership to conduct inspections of the exterior of aircraft and Airbus is launching Airbus Aerial to provide inspections inside and outside of the aircraft industry. In 2015 authors at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University examined “the influencing factors associated with the use of unmanned aerial system (UAS) technology to support aviation accident and emergency response.” While finding value in using drones to support accident and emergency response, there is a better case for drone use in: search & rescue, infrastructure physical inspection (apron, taxiway, runway), security (on and around airport property and remote sites like radar, NAVAIDs, approach lighting systems, antennae structures), and flight / navigation system testing and verification.
Airports are using drones in innovate ways for airspace restricted areas, such as delivery. “EIA is Canada’s fifth-busiest airport by passenger traffic and the largest major Canadian airport by land area. EIA also launched the world’s first drone delivery operations from the airport through agreements with Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) and Air Canada.” Airports are also using drones for pest control, birds presenting one of the largest safety risks for airliners. EIA also leads the industry in the use of bird-shaped drones, some of which even “flap” their wings to imitate falcons. “RoBird, a drone system designed to carry out bird control at airports, was integrated into daily operations for the first time at a major international airport in partnership with AERIUM Analytics. RoBird (formerly Clear Flight Solutions) is a remotely-operated, robotic Peregrine Falcon that the company says not only scares birds through its design, but also has the ability to lure flocks away from the airport space.”
98. Search & Rescue
99. Airport Air Security
100. Infrastructure and Airplane Inspections
101. Flight / Navigation System Testing and Verification.
102. Cargo Delivery
103. Pest Control
MANUFACTURING AND INVENTORY MANAGEMENT
Drones can and are being used in all most all facets of manufacturing. As mentioned in the introduction, Omid Maghazei, in a paper for the Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, that drones could perform many manufacturing “applications based on the drones’ capabilities to “see,” “sense,” “move” and “transform.” Most drones are used to perform stand-alone specific tasks and require human control to move from task to task. Currently drones may be used to help individual pieces of the manufacturing process but could be integrated with AI or other advanced programing to perform multiple steps such as move components to the production line, view and inspect parts during the production process, inspect the finished product, and move the packaged final good to the shipping department.
Inventory management is an important task many industries. “Wal-Mart has been testing the use of drones in its warehouses to check and flag missing items. According to the company, drones flying through the warehouse can do a full inventory check in a day, a task that currently takes a month for people to do manually.” Drones can measure inventory, using barcodes, QR codes or radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and measure waste or spillage using thermal cameras, gas-sniffing sensors, laser or ultrasound sensors, or LiDAR scanners. Drones can also be used to check final orders before being placed on delivery vehicles, identify any missing parts of the order, locate them in the warehouse, and either retrieve them or warn of an impending incomplete order.
105. Assembly Lines Inspection
106. Raw Materials Discovery
107. Equipment Transport
108. Inventory Location
109. Inventory Measurement
110. Order Compilation and Inspection
OTHER DRONE USE CASES
111. 3D Renderings
– 3D renderings have many uses from surveying through building and all steps in between. Drones are uniquely positioned to map and model, inexpensively, in 3D anything from specific equipment to entire buildings.
– Drones have the ability to follow users and record, guide, analyze their workouts. One instructor could monitor entire teams during their workouts or take pictures from different angles. Drones can be used to support athletes, like blind or deaf runners, who are in need of sensory assistance.
113. Video Games
– As video technology and processing improves realistic maps can be used as marketing feature or provide real life examples in virtual environments. Driver’s Education could use these hyper-realistic maps and models to teach in a realistic environment before the students begin actually driving.
– With the ability to move and operate remotely drones can monitor, even live stream, security feeds and replace static cameras. Combined with advanced programing drones can autonomously monitor and alert potential suspicious activities.
115. Repair Drones
116. Machine learning service
117. Spray Paint
118. Ultrasonic testing (UT)
119. Dry Film Thickness (DFT)
120. Low or High Pressure Cleaning Solutions
123. Home Delivery (i.e. Dry Cleaned Laundry Delivery)
– Wedding, Fireworks, Concerts, Parties, etc.
126. Use a spotlight
127. Carry equipment
128. Indoor drone shows
After exploring these twenty two uses industries that could, or are, utilizing drones from development, through end delivery, the ability to capture value, reduce costs, and increase efficiencies certainly exists for other industries. Businesses that have an opportunity in one of the seven buckets of usage, and require the ability to “see,” “sense,” “move” or “transform”should explore drone usage. Attention should be paid to legal, regulatory, privacy, and social issues regarding drone usage as not doing so could hamper drone usage for everyone. With that being said, professionally flown drones offer abilities and value that are not current available from other platforms. If you or your business have an opportunity to incorporate drones into your workflow here are 6 Money Saving Tips for Drone Entrepreneurs. Not at the point where you can start your own business but love drones? Once you purchase your equipment, register it with the FAA, and possess your Part 107 apply with Dronegenuity.
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