Depending on how old you are, you may have watched programs, such as “The Jetsons,” “Xenon: Girl of the 23rd Century” or even the movie “Bladerunner.” In all these examples, drones were working to get things done. Drones could be seen bringing people food and business papers and conducting scientific experiments. Since the FAA adopted regulations for drone use, and the price for owning one has dropped, drones have been used in a variety of settings in business, and some were more cost-efficient than others. Researchers estimate that more than 170,000 drones will be sold for business use this year alone, and it is estimated that businesses and governments will continue to buy drones in excess of $13 billion by 2020. Here is a glance at some areas of business where drones have become something an industry does not want to live without.
Agricultural Uses of Drones
Drones are a boon for agribusiness, especially when you consider the sheer size of some of the farms and grazing lands American farmers and ranchers work with on a daily basis. Farmers can use drones to survey their crops and bring back information in real time about the water table, the health of the crops, an analysis of the soil conditions, and animal or pest issues. In the past, airplanes were needed (at great cost) to survey large tracts of land. But, drones can do it more quickly and cheaply.
Research done by the agricultural industry has noted the average return on investment on farms can range from $2 an acre to $12 an acre, depending on the crop. The current agricultural market for drones from now until 2020 is projected to be nearly $500 million, with an increase to $3.5 billion by 2025.
In the agribusiness field, startups have combined with well-established companies to create new and exciting technologies to build agricultural drones and software packages that can analyze data from soil content and yield per acre to how much fertilization and pest control is needed in one spot within a huge crop. The more drones that are used in agriculture, the lower the costs for the farmers, and the higher their profits.
One of the most cost-efficient uses of drones is to inspect existing pieces of infrastructure for problems and damage, especially in hard-to-reach areas. For example, utility companies have been using drones to inspect cell phone towers to check for damage, especially in rural areas. That means that the companies do not have to send a specialized team of workers to go and check it, and they can save thousands of dollars per call. Using drones to inspect maintenance also saves lives and cuts down on insurance costs. This is especially true with cell towers and other large tower inspections. It is estimated that nearly 50 utility workers lost their lives in tower accidents from 2013 to 2017.
Power companies have used drones to inspect power lines for storm damage. Wind turbines have been inspected using drones, and drones have also been used to check solar farms to ensure maximum output with minimum downtime. Drones can also inspect large pieces of equipment and infrastructure as well, such as bridges, buildings, dams, oil platforms, and grain elevators. It is expected that, in the future, drones will be able to be submerged and conduct the same kind of inspections on underwater infrastructure as well.
Drones That Can Replace Infrastructure
In addition to drones that are inspecting traditional infrastructure, there are also drone companies working to market drones that can act as an infrastructure replacement. So far, AT&T has successfully tested a replacement cell tower drone that can be used after natural or manmade disasters, as well as at large events to either replace damaged towers or to add to existing towers to increase capacity.
In addition, there are applications that are looking to pair with cell phone companies and Internet companies to bring phone service and Internet service to places that do not have them. It is estimated that of the nearly 7 billion people on the planet, 4 billion people do not have Internet service. Using drones with technology companies is a possible way to get the entire world on the Internet.
Drones are used heavily in construction for site surveys, especially when companies are checking for mistakes. Research has shown mistakes that caused accidents can be decreased by up to 91 percent if a drone is used. Technology companies are paired with drone services to send technology back to companies so mistakes in construction can be captured and fixed. Drones are also used for roof inspection, utility construction, and mining operations.
Warehousing and Inventory Drone Applications
Drones can also be used to scan thousands of items at a time in warehouses for inventory control. Companies that already use drones report drone technology is able to scan and report on inventory in a large warehouse within one day, while it usually takes a month for people to be able to do that by hand. In addition to inventory control and reporting, drones can also be used for checking on specific inventory within a large warehouse.
In the future, drones can be used to select specific pieces of inventory and either take them directly to where they are needed or they can be taken to drop off locations for people to pick up. This advanced use of drones is seen as the wave of the future. Also, inventory drones can alert other technologies as the inventory on a particular item gets low, and can also reorder the item that is in danger of going out of stock.
Perhaps the greatest use of drones and the greatest number of possibilities where drones are concerned are as delivery drones. While many people have talked about deliveries in large cities where delivery trucks have a hard time getting through because of traffic, drones can be used in tall buildings to deliver to higher floors. In addition, drones can drop off packages to a central location within an office building or an apartment building.
In addition to delivering in large cities, drones can be used for rural deliveries in locations that are difficult to get to, such as villages in the Alps, Alaska, and locations farther afield in Asia. Medical supplies are especially difficult to get to rural areas in a timely manner, and drones can help with that. Technology has also allowed drones to be heated or cooled depending on the needs of the product. Future technology improvements will allow drones to figure out when additional supplies are needed, and move the merchandise there.
Clearly, drones can be used for a variety of purposes currently and will become even more important in the future, as automation in delivery, inventory, and logistics continues to stoke the need for drones in the consumer and manufacturing arenas. Drones make logistics much simpler and streamline the process of delivery and support. In addition, drones can be used to make sure that humans are able to stay on the ground in safe locations and let the drones do the difficult work. It is a certainty that drones will continue to be important in the years to come.
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