Global research and development budgets for drones is expected to hit 4 billion dollars by 2020 according to Statista. This, says freelance writer Jocelyn Brown, signals the increased application of drones, across various industrial sectors.
Leveraging the ongoing IoT revolution, drones have experienced accelerated transformation in their use from being hobbyist toys to complex IoT devices. Furthermore, the rollout of 5G technology is expected to enhance the ability of drones to react to commands in real time enabling instant feedback. This is expected to increase their capabilities and performance. Drones increase efficiency and productivity while reducing workload and costs. This factor makes them an invaluable addition to various sectors.
Applications in agriculture
The global population is expected to hit the 9.6 billion mark by 2050. To be able to feed this population, innovative and more progressive agricultural practices are needed. Among them is the use of drone technology. Traditional farming practices rely on intuition and experience. Using smart drone tech will enable the application of precision agriculture techniques by farmers.
Drones will be able to carry out comprehensive monitoring of crops resulting in high yields. Using drone sensors, farmers will be able to collect data on the state of a crop, water amount and soil type in a farm. Through deep learning, they will also be able to identify pests, weeds, diseases, and nutritional deficiencies early on. After analysis, the drones will provide recommendations to the farmer on optimal productivity conditions and interventions that need to be made. This will lead to increased productivity in farming and consequently increased yields.
Inspection and maintenance of industrial facilities typically pose a lot of challenges as well as health risks. Sections such as boilers, furnaces, mines, power grids, and tunnels are hard to access and pose health hazards to inspectors. However, with inspectors learning how to use smart drones, maintenance can be expedited and in a way safer manner. Using sensors and cameras, the drones gather data which is then relayed in real time to an inspector.
In this sector, Intelligent drones will also be used in wind turbine inspection and maintenance in the future. They will fly to the turbine blades, run checks and where necessary carry out minor repairs such as deicing, painting, and cleaning. This reduces human machine intervention resulting in reduced costs and reduced safety hazards.
Revolutionising delivery of goods and services
Intelligent drones are also expected to change how deliveries are made. Where other modes of transport are not viable, drones will come in handy. This will reduce challenges associated with delivering relief and medical supplies in disasters and emergency situations. A pilot project has already taken off in Rwanda with medical supplies supplied to remote hospitals using drones.
Drones are also expected to change responses to emergencies. Apart from performing visual searches and sending feedback, drones will also be able to work together and build temporary shelters for the survivors. This will be enabled by advancements in technologies such as 3D printing using additive building manufacturing technology.
In addition, drones are also going to be used to help firefighters determine exact locations of a fire as well as locating injured people. Police will use the intelligent drones to spot violent behaviour and release tear gas or pepper spray to disperse crowds.
Application in construction
Investment in drone use by construction companies is already on the rise. Estimates from Goldman Sachs report shows that by 2020, construction companies will have spent $11 billion (€9.9 billion) on drones. Using drones, construction owners are able to see what is happening on the site from the comfort of their offices.
Drones will also be helpful in giving the first-hand view of an upcoming structure as well as monitoring its progress. This will reduce the time and effort used in making regular site visits, especially when with clients. Inspection of roofs, mining operations, and utilities will also be enhanced with the use of drones which in turn reduce accidents and thus increase safety in any construction site.
Drones are able to access places that are ordinarily inaccessible and in the process record and relay real-time data. With technological advances, drone users will continue to discover new uses. Challenges such as battery power life and flight time, notwithstanding.
The author is freelance writer Jocelyn Brown.