Drones are everywhere, literally. After becoming one of the top presents at Christmas last year, they have also seen their use by businesses rapidly increase over the past few years.
Following the rise in popularity of drones, there have been an increasing number of concerns about their use and regulations around them. It’s understandable. There have been drones used by film crews that have crashed into spectator stands at sporting events. Drones which have flown into private areas, such as the White House lawn. Paparazzi have tried using drones to capture celebrities in their homes.
There are clear security and safety concerns surrounding these flying, sometimes autonomous vehicles. As a result, from December 21st, 2015 (today), the US Government wants every drone owner to register that they own a drone. There are also calls by politicians here in the UK to get the EU to track drone usage and ownership.
In Europe alone, it is estimated that by 2050 as many as 150,000 jobs will be created by drones being used across various industries. With a large amount of interest in the potential of drones, we thought it would be a good time to look at some of the ways they are currently being used, and what the potential for the technology is.
1. When Typhoon Hagupit hit the Philippines in December 2014, Aeryon Labs offered a drone to disaster response charity, Global Medic. Using the drone, Global Medic was able to capture a series of images to create a map of the affected area and help response teams focus their relief efforts.
2. Last year, Doctors Without Borders in Haiti, and the World Health Organisation in Bhutan also ran trials using drones to carry diagnostic samples from rural villages to a central lab. Also in Bhutal, trials ran in August 2014 to carry Antibiotics from a hospital in the Himalayan capital of Thumphu, which is 7,710 ft above sea level, to a remote mountain health clinic. These trials were due to be put into full deployment this year.
3. In October this year, West Mercia Police, covering Herefordshire and Cumbria Police announced that they were going to be trialling drones to help tackle crime. The idea in both cases is to have a cost-effective method to deploy drones in situations where deploying patrols would put members of the public, or officers at risk. Drones would be used to capture footage that can be used to help prosecute and identify where criminals may be, or to search for missing people.
4. This year, researchers in Zurich also demonstrated the ability to use drones to build a suspension bridge, strong enough for someone to walk across. The team, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, equipped the drones with ropes, with the drones working in harmony to weave a bridge.
5. We’ve also seen Amazon increase its trials of drones for delivery with Amazon Prime Air. Amazon recently unveiled its latest drone, capable of landing to deliver packages for people. The company recently announced that it is to test its drones in Chiba City in Japan.
6. Closer to home, the British government announced in September that it is working with Nasa to come up with a realistic plan for monitoring drone usage. Nasa hopes to have a system that monitors all low-flying drones within the next five years.
7. In the oil industry, drones have a huge amount of potential to help companies. Shell, for example, has been using drones in some of Europe’s largest energy plants. The company is planning on rolling them out in hard-to-reach places at oil and gas facilities, as it is safer, and more efficient, than sending people.
8. In the rail industry, Network Rail is looking to use drones to get a better picture of the transport network. The firm would use this for its ORBIS project, which will see the railways in the UK digitised with 3D cameras and visualised online to analyse maintenance and field worker distribution. Currently, they are using aerial cameras.
9. easyJet has been testing drones at Luton airport to carry out safety inspections of its aircrafts. There are parts of the plane which are more challenging to reach and check manually, so the company is using drones to improve its operations. It plans to carry out a full deployment next year.
10. Norman Foster, the famed architect and head of Foster + Partners has recently unveiled designs for a drone port in Rwanda. The port would be used to transport urgent medical supplies to remote parts of the country. The aim is to have the project completed by 2020, bringing an affordable alternative to medical deliveries in a country where infrastructure makes it a struggle to make deliveries. It is estimated that drones flying from the port would be able to cover 44% of the country.
Interestingly, it is likely that in the vast majority of cases that involve drones, mobile devices will be involved at some point in the journey. Whether it’s using GPS coordinates from a phone to set the delivery point, stream the video or images, control the drones (in some cases) or be part of the computational element for processing what the drones capture.
As regulations with drones continue to come into place, the industry around it is maturing. There are a huge number of industries and use cases for drones within enterprise. The use of drones, especially for professional services, requires licenses and special permits. This is where many of the jobs will come from, where specialist skills will be required.