In recent years, drones and drone technology has made a big leap from niche roots in automated warfare and hobbyist clubs into a broad range consumer and commercial of applications. According to FAA estimates, 7 million consumer and commercial drones could be shipped in the U.S. by 2020, compared to just 2.5 million in 2016. Hobbyist drones are expected to rise from 1.9 million to 4.3 million during that same period, and commercial drones from 600,000 to 2.7 million. Although these growth stats are pretty aggressive, they shouldn’t come as a big surprise. The buzz is hard to avoid- drones have become a top trend in consumer electronics, the media is often reporting on companies experimenting with drone technologies, there’s been a proliferation of UAV hardware and software startups, and drone footage is flooding the internet.
Drones have gone mainstream. The world is buzzing with new and exciting applications of drone technology. While there are big things to come in the future of drones ( passenger drones, drone delivery networks), UAV technologies right now are expanding perspective, creating new value, and disrupting industries. As a hobbyist myself, and given the topic has (and I’m sure will continue) to come up in class, I thought I’d give a bit of a drone-spiel and touch on some real ways I see drones impacting the world today.
I got hooked on Drones in during summer 2015. It started with spending an absurd amount of my free time watching YouTube videos- I couldn’t get enough. Not only footage captured by drones – but videos on different brands and models, their capabilities, and differnt piloting techniques. Drones hit the intersection of three of my favorite things: photography, technology, and things that move. Come the fall and DJI’s timely release of their new Phantom 3 model, I figured I spent so much time watching videos that I needed to pull the trigger. I got a lot of questions around what I planned to do with it and how I could possibly justify investing that much money into a “toy” (ha).
I knew it wasn’t a toy – but it wasn’t until I actually had it in my hands that I realized how powerful the technology is. It’s handles like a sports car- incredibly dynamic, can reach speeds of up to 35 mph, and has a range of around 2 miles. It connects to a network of up to 16 satellites that enable it to stay completely stabilized and empowers a host of intelligent flight modes. The camera is attached to 3-axis gimbal, shoots in 4K, and streams live video in 720p. Not only was my model not crème the of the crop drone offered by DJI at the time, but today it’s a two year old model. Obstacle avoidance technology now comes standard on all DJI models along with numerous other new features that I’ll spare listing. What I’m aiming to highlight is the growing capabilities of drones, alongside growing avaialblity, is big deal for consumers like you and I. Drone technologies are extending previous capabilities and challenging perspective to an extent that few consumer technologies have done before. We’re now able to capture Hollywood-level footage from a unlimited number of perspectives. A more profound example is the drone footage captured of Aleppo, Syria that gave the world a raw look into the devastation left by the war. From the consumer perspective, drones have created both a new industry and a understanding of what’s possible.
From a commercial perspective, however, its a bit of a differnt story. Despite difficulties the world’s biggest and most innovative companies like Amazon and Google have had, there are companies that today are leveraging drone technology to drive value in unique ways.
A California startup company called ZipLine has built a fleet of fixed-wing drones that are deployed to deliver blood across remote areas of Rwanda. It’s the world’s first national drone delivery service – and it is serving one of the poorest nations in the world. The drones are launched via catapult and fly below 500ft to avoid commercial airspace. They have an operational range of over 93 miles and can carry up to 1.5 kilograms of blood. As a motorbike was the primary means of delivery before ZipLine came along, the fleet of 15 drones is cutting waiting time down from hours or sometimes days to a matter of minutes -and saving lives in doing so. Hospitals are able to order blood via text message and have it parachuted to their location in an average of 15 minutes. For now, the service is just delivering blood and basic medications – but the company plans to expand to other medical areas such as pharmaceuticals and vaccines
Airware is a software company that has created comprehensive, highly effective operating system for commercial drones. Airware provides drone solutions for industries inducing insurance, construction, mining, telecom, utilities, oil & gas, landfill, and waste management to optimize operations and cut costs. For example Telecom companies use Airware drone solutions to conduct inspections of their cell towers, which (for humans) is rated one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Airware technology enables difficult jobs to get done safely, quickly, and comprehensively. Airware has been a pioneer in enabling drones to drive real, tangible value in the commercial space in a time where other’s have had difficulty figuring it out.