Drones will Take Innovation Center Stage in 2016
The Cusp of a Massive Technological Shift
Whenever society is on the cusp of a massive technological shift, we tend to become uneasy or anxious. When computers were still an office novelty, we endured an age of “computerphobia” in which sufferers were reluctant and intimidated to use computers in the workplace for fear of the unknown (and the potential of being replaced by machines).
Computerphobia might sound strange today, but perhaps we’ll look back decades from now and see our drone-related anxieties in the same light. Like fire extinguishers, duct tape, and microwaves before them, drones began as a military invention but have quickly found use in civilian life. In fact, drones are already building a safer, smarter world in the hands of humanitarian organizations like the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
With wide-ranging applications and increasing numbers of Federal Aviation Administration exemption approvals, 2016 is set to be the year of the drone.
Industries where Drones are Driving Innovation
Increasing numbers of Fortune 500 leaders are now exploring how drones can help grow their businesses. At the vanguard of this movement sit four industries that have already turned to drones to drive safety and efficiency:
California produces almost half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S., so if you enjoy eating a healthy, balanced diet, then the state’s drought could have huge ramifications for your food bill. Short of adequate rainfall, drones could offer a workable solution.
Winemakers have already embraced the technology. Surveying their crops from above with drones allows farmers to spot irrigation problems, soil variation, and pest and fungal infestations that could threaten their livelihood. This is all part of the rise of data-driven agriculture, which is fueling efficiency and helping to ensure there’s enough food to go around.
Poisonous gases, tunnel collapses, and toxic metals make mines extraordinarily dangerous job sites for humans. But in Western Australia, British-American mining company Rio Tinto is sending drones instead. By hovering the drones over open pits, Rio Tinto can monitor the safety and progress of its diamond-mining operations in real time.
Safety inspectors can check machinery without entering harm’s way, and managers can use volumetric software to measure accurate stockpiles remotely. After capturing actionable data, the drones immediately transmit the information back to operators without human intervention. With this data and innovative software, operators are now able to extract daily intelligence at a lower cost and a lower risk.
Energy giant BP paved the way for commercial drone use when it was granted FAA approval to patrol its oil fields with drones in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Instead of appointing humans to do the job, the company can now dispatch a drone to monitor maintenance of roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure, drastically cutting down its response time and decreasing the risk to human life on icy Alaskan roads.
The utility industry has also been an early adopter of drones. In March, San Diego Gas & Electric joined Southern Company of Atlanta, Commonwealth Edison Co. of Chicago, and a number of others in adopting drones to survey pipelines and power lines. By using advanced sensors to detect gas leaks, identify warning signs of burst underground pipes, and canvass rugged terrain, drones are proving to be an invaluable accident protection tool.
Drones are Solving Community Challenges
It isn’t just heavy industry that’s benefiting, either. Drones are also playing a vital role in humanitarian efforts and the developing world.
After this year’s calamitous earthquake in Nepal, relief workers employed drones to locate survivors and transport emergency supplies to thousands of displaced victims. In Vanuatu, the World Bank has employed drones to survey the damage from Cyclone Pam, and disaster management personnel did the same in the Philippines in 2013 following Typhoon Haiyan.
Drones’ topographical surveying abilities can also help us prepare for volcanic eruptions and even assist in the preservation of UNESCO world heritage sites. By creating 3D maps of these historical sites, Skycatch’s software enables architects and archaeologists to rebuild sites to original specifications.
Conservationists use drones as an inexpensive alternative to helicopters when tackling poaching, and cartographers utilize drone technology to produce high-resolution maps for various reasons to support development plans or settle land disputes.
We’re in the midst of a revolution in the way that information is collected and analyzed in the wake of humanitarian crises. Drones are helping humanitarian organizations from the U.N. to the World Bank save lives and rebuild communities.
2016 and Beyond
Whether you’re building infrastructure or operating heavy machinery on complex job sites, sight is imperative. Drones offer inexpensive visibility — without risks to human life. While business leaders were once hesitant to disclose commercial drone use, they’re now eager to discuss drone capabilities for growth and expansion.
This change reflects both the more fluid approach of the FAA toward drone regulation and the public’s increasing recognition that drones can drive economic growth and benefit society. Next year, we’re going to see even more industries discovering new and existing benefits from the enhanced visibility drones provide.
Construction is pioneering this movement. Drones started out as tools for building inspection, but now we’re seeing them linked to automating construction fleets, helping to make construction safer, quicker, and cheaper.
Although we’ve seen some incredibly inventive and profitable uses of consumer drones, commercial companies are accelerating industrial implementation in operations ranging from mines to construction. Companies are hungry for this surfeit of data that will help minimize costs and maximize profits.
We’re set to see some astonishing developments next year, akin to the early days of the Internet. At that time, nobody really imagined the web could revolutionize how we work in the ways that it has. Drones present a similar opportunity — 2016 could be the start of an equally massive innovation transformation.
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Christian Sanz is CEO & Founder of Skycatch. Backed by premier VC’s and used by some of the largest companies in the world, Skycatch is a platform for capturing data using small autonomous aerial robots. Since inception, Skycatch has been innovating in multiple different technology areas including photogrammetry, data analytics, and advanced aerial technology, and is now the fastest growing company in the autonomous aerial mapping market. Follow Christian and Skycatch @csanz
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