When someone hears the word “drone,” a variety of thoughts can cross their mind. For many, the first use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that they think of is with the military. Other people instantly think of Amazon and the potential gratification of getting their package air delivered to their door or to their person immediately. Others may think about an outrageous Super Bowl halftime show or an NBA All-Star weekend dunk contest.
Drones have outgrown the previous perception that drones are inaccessible or years away as more industries find uses for the technology and the explosion of drone e-sports. With commercial UAV sales expected to more than quadruple by 2020 (driven by the forecasted 600k commercial operators), and hobbyist drone sales set to more than double to 4.3M units, drone usage is becoming more prevalent.
Here are some of the top industries leading the way:
Drones may enable energy and utility companies to improve the efficiency of inspection and maintenance operations while also eliminating risk. Imagine a utility worker operating a drone to inspect powerlines from the ground, as opposed to inspecting from a bucket truck just inches from live electricity. Or having a maintenance operator map oil well or pipeline leaks using thermal imaging cameras mounted on a drone instead of travelling miles in a vast oil field to do the same. A single worker operating a replaceable drone outfitted with a camera and a variety of sensors to evaluate infrastructure can drastically improve efficiency. Companies remove the risk of having personnel in dangerous environments while also saving on costs by using substantially less expensive equipment with fewer personnel, with some companies finding that drone-led inspection operations cost 80% less than traditional inspections.
Drones adoption may revolutionize the agriculture industry by increasing farmers’ efficiency in crop evaluation, with the capability to quickly collect high quality data and provide a low-cost alternative for farmers to get Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) imagery. The agriculture drone market segment was valued at $864M in 2016 and is expected to skyrocket to $4.2B in 2022. This growth is spearheaded by crop spraying, with farmers accomplishing the task 40-to-60 times faster than traditional methods and increasing yields while reducing the wastage of crops and fertilizers & pesticides. Imagine doing anything 40-60 times faster than you do it now.
Yes, Amazon is working on getting everyone their order in thirty minutes or less and they have plenty of competition. The adoption of drones as a delivery method will only increase as it is a more convenient solution that dramatically decreases shipping costs, with Amazon reporting that drone delivery will slash delivery times but also their internal rate of return on drone investments should exceed 50%. However, that only scratches the surface on an addressable market that Pricewaterhouse Coopers values at $13B. Drone delivery can also be a solution for quick delivery of critical goods to hard-to-reach areas. Zipline is a company that initially started in Rwanda as a way of delivering life-saving materials and medicine to remote areas, and has since expanded to the US. The transportation industry has only just begun to leverage drones for quick, efficient delivery of important goods and services, like burritos.
The use of drones is not limited to the above mentioned industries, as adoption has begun in the Security, Media, and Telecommunication markets among others. Implementation rates will continue to increase as more companies see the financial, safety and performance benefits that unmanned vehicles provide. The decreasing costs of drones, coupled with the FAA setting pilot standards, have made using drones a realistic option for enterprises across the country.
This begs the question….who is training these drone operators?
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