It used to be that when someone heard the term “drone” the first thing they thought of was militaries flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) over hostile territory to record valuable information or potentially even deploy weapons. With the advent of recreational drones, the focus has shifted, with many associating drones with fun, outdoor activities.
Now, with significant increase in the consumer and commercial drone markets, there’s an entirely new set of potential implementations for the technology and the people utilizing it.
North America Consumer Drone Market By Technology, 2012–2022 (USD Million)
Consumer Drone Market Analysis By Product, Grand View Research
The market for consumer drones has been growing consistently over recent years, especially after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US was brought to court in response to an original decision requiring recreational owners to register their drones. Upon review, a federal appeals court deemed the program unlawful and stated that recreational drone users would not need to register their drones. Now, a recent bill from the Trump administration requires owners to register, yet again. However, even with the on-again, off-again relationship with the FAA, drone enthusiasts are still involved in their hobby in large numbers. In 2016 it was reported that drone sales tripled in one year alone, according to research from The NPD Group. Ben Arnold, executive director and industry analyst for The NPD Group said in a statement along with the published research that the growth can be attributed to many new uses for drones.
“The drone category is continuing to take shape as new products and features such as 4K cameras, Bluetooth and built-in GPS, reveal an expanding range of use cases. The market is maturing in that respect.”
With the growing market size and increased amount of uses across the board, drones aren’t just for fun anymore. Though they’re still great for capturing that perfect shot of the family campsite, here are 5 industries that drones are transforming.
The film industry is one area that likely isn’t going to come as a surprise to most. Out of all the possible uses of drones, filming with the small unmanned aircraft is one of the crucial functions of such devices. As camera and recording technology continues to improve and be made smaller, lighter, and easier to attach to aerial vehicles, the benefits of using drones in the film industry grow nearly exponentially. For filmmakers, there are two distinct advantages of drones on sets: versatility and cost-efficiency.
Unlike traditional filming from the sky (think camera crew in a helicopter), drones can film in extraordinary spaces and capture unique shots not previously accessible. Filmmakers are able to use drones to get distinct shots in narrow spaces like alleyways and canyons and operate much closer to the ground than a traditional aerial film crew (for example: drones can record flying through windows and doors then smoothly transition to an aerial shot). Good luck trying to fit an H125 through a dense forest or office window.
The other advantage drones bring to the film industry is cost-efficiency in a major way. Because of how much more affordable drones are (you can pick up a Phantom 4 “Ultimate Bundle” for under $2,000 on Amazon, whereas an H125 starts in the high six figures and low seven figures), so production crews can purchase the equipment on their own without breaking the bank. Or, if their budget is even tighter, production crews can hire licensed drone operators who specialize in filming for an even lower price to film the footage needed. While drones can’t handle all conditions and recording needs, there are plenty of times during shooting where a helicopter‘s job can be done instead by a drone. Combine that with the cost savings and the barrier to entry for the aerial filming, and the market is drastically reduced, opening up opportunities for smaller production teams.
In the financial space, so-called “alternative data” is growing in popularity. Alternative data refers to any kind of data investors can use that comes from a nontraditional source and provides additional insight into a prospective investment. While companies will hand over relevant information to investors, there are additional ways of gaining insight come directly from the standard financial paperwork.
Drones are playing an increasingly important role in the growing sector for alternative data because of their versatility. Alternative data includes a wide array of information like parking lot traffic at any given retail location, the status of mining operations, land development, and nearly anything else investors may be interested in. It’s clear that drones can collect impressive amounts of data, though currently this drone usage is still in its infancy. With the ability for drones to offer cost-effective, highly accurate data to investors, this is one area that Quandl, one of the leading providers of alternative data in the financial sector, is keeping an eye on for future developments.
Drone footage is able to provide an incredible amount of not just data, but also detailed information about geographical locations as well. Unlike satellites, which are expensive and greatly affected by weather conditions like rain, clouds, and darkness, drones are versatile, more cost-effective, and can collect geographical data in less than ideal conditions. Because of the benefits of operating drones, it’s now much more practical to collect real-time, accurate information.
Drones are already in use offering detailed images and information for HD mapping, a necessity for the incoming wave of autonomous vehicles that require more sophisticated maps. As Leslie Hook with the Financial Times puts it, these cars “need a map, but not just any map — these cars need a three-dimensional representation of the environment around them, one that is updated continuously and is accurate down the centimeter.”
Companies like Sanborn are using a combination of drones and on-board devices to create detailed maps that will be a necessity in the near future to aid self-driving vehicles, while others like Ford are studying the use of drones to actually guide the vehicles in question.
Outside of the realm of autonomous vehicles though are new ventures such as Soar, which is leveraging the usage of drones to develop the geospatial industry as well, though taking a bit of a different approach. Soar is a blockchain-based startup looking to create the world’s first decentralized global super-map using drone content contributed by users in the network. Users on the platform can use their own drone footage and information generated to update a massively detailed global map (i.e. a “super-map). Being blockchain-based, all information about the timing, location, and content creator of recorded footage will be immutably written on the blockchain for future reference ensuring accountability. This decentralized, blockchain-based approach is using drones and the global community to crowdsource the creation of the most detailed super-map of the Earth. It’s quite an ambition, but drones are one of the key driving forces that can make it happen.
Currently, the closest we are to a “Super map” is Google Earth, which is great for getting a large view of the globe and some streets, but when introducing drone content to the equation, users will have a far more detailed picture of the entire globe with offerings unavailable from traditional satellites.
Though it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about drones, the new UAVs are making their way to the manufacturing process as well. Often we might think about robots taking over the production process of good (think robotic arms assembling vehicle components), but there’s room for drones along the way as well. What we’re seeing now is the introduction of drones for nearly every step of the manufacturing process including warehouse organization, inventory control, and supply chain management to aid the rest of the process.
Some of the biggest examples of drones in the manufacturing process include inspecting and monitoring quality. In the warehouse, drones measure inventory and keep records up-to-date using a variety of methods including barcodes, QR codes, or RFID. And that’s really just the beginning of their use. With the internet of things (IoT) constantly developing and becoming more integrated, we could likely see drones running all kinds of tasks in the production process to maximize efficiency and safety for workers. Just look at where Amazon is potentially headed in the near future.
Last but not least is the agricultural industry. Agriculture has been one of the top industries to capitalize on the advancement of drones and the opportunities they provide. With their ability to collect alternative data, create detailed 3D maps, and perform tasks in a much more cost-effective manner, the uses for drones in agriculture are numerous.
According to MIT, of the vast number of drone possibilities in agriculture, some of the biggest benefits that stand out include soil and field analysis, planting, crop spraying, monitoring, irrigation, and health assessment. New drone-related startups have created drone-planting systems that are estimated to save producers on planting costs by up to 85% because of their efficiency. In fact, the startup BioCarbon Engineering, which is working with the Worldview International Foundation in Myanmar, is supplying drones capable of planting as many as 100,000 trees in a single day. That’s an efficient process.
In addition, drones are able to report real-time information about the health and development of crops as well as record information using hyperspectral, multispectral, or thermal sensors about which areas of the property are dry and need improved irrigation. This information can then be used to make proper adjustments to ensure the highest efficiency possible and reduce waste.
There are vast implications for the growing tech trend outside of recreation that mean big things for the rest of the economy. From the film industry to agriculture, there are uses for drones in essentially every industry imaginable. Beyond these five fields, drones are being used by governmental organizations, building and monitoring infrastructure, transporting goods, and really any other business you can think of. Have you thought about drone implementation in your industry?