Drone technology has expanded its functionality, from purely a hobbyist’s latest gadget to other practical uses, including commercial and industrial service. When the technology was at its early stage of adoption in 2013, it raised security concerns and other issues prompting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to release a roadmap for the new technology. This roadmap outlines a five-year plan focusing on how to phase-in the safe integration of Unmanned Aircraft (UA) or drone technology into the nation’s airspace.
Prior to this, there has been limited use of UA technology, mainly in military operations and national security. Today, a lot of industries have identified more uses for drones, turning these systems into one of the most sought after tech equipment at the moment.
Some of the industries that have integrated the use of unmanned aircraft systems or drones include aerial photography and videography. The use of drones brought more visual and spatial dimension to capturing photo and video stills, which was totally unheard of before the technology took off. Drone racing has also emerged and is already becoming mainstream as ESPN reached a broadcasting agreement with the Drone Racing league. In addition, the NFL just gained approval from FAA to use drones. The football league won’t be allowed to fly the drones during football games, but will be using the technology for closed-set locations.
Humanitarian response is another area where the use of drone technology has been explored. The United Nations World Food Programme and the Government of Belgium recently teamed up to explore the use of drones or UAs in disaster response. The initiative looks at the possibility of improving data gathering and monitoring during emergencies. Agriculture is another sector that could potentially benefit from drone technology. The UAs could take aerial photos of the land, prior to the planting process, to create multidimensional maps for soil analysis. Drones with thermal photography capabilities can also assist in determining which parts of the land are dry. Health assessment is another area where drones can help farmers determine the health and density of their crops.
The retail and cargo transport industry is also exploring the use of drone technology to broaden their range of services to their customers. Several years ago, Amazon started testing octocopter drones to facilitate delivery of orders in less than an hour after a customer purchased an item. Equipped with a bucket, the original Amazon octocopter was designed to carry up to five pounds of weight. After several years of technology testing, the program finally took off. Dubbed Amazon Prime Air, the program recently made its first delivery in December in just a little under 15 minutes.
Just recently, UPS also tapped into the technology as a way to deliver parcels in remote locations, and potentially, to cut other delivery costs. To provide inventory management support, UPS also plans to deploy a rolling warehouse to store items and to provide a docking station before and after the delivery of goods.
While regulations on unmanned flights continue to go through a fine tuning process, more applications have been identified by various industries since the FAA released their five-year blueprint. Some of these challenges involve security and flight requirement issues. Once these regulatory hurdles on commercial and public drone operations have been addressed, these aerial systems will become a more ubiquitous part of daily living.