Drones: Applications of the future

Late last year, Amazon announced its first successful Prime Air drone delivery, suggesting autonomous aerial delivery could become viable sooner than we thought. But the benefits could go way beyond shopping convenience.

A new blog post by Verizon looks ahead to the “amazing things the drones of the future will do” in areas as varied as agriculture, insurance and maintenance.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that the digitalization of telecommunications could unlock $2 trillion of value over the next decade – value for the telecommunications industry and society as a whole. The report finds, for example, that technologies such as drones, satellites and balloons are extending affordable internet access in regions with low population densities and that for telecom operators, these innovations can overcome significant cost barriers in reaching remote areas across developed and developing markets. The research estimates that the potential value to society of the extending connectivity initiative is $400 billion over the next decade, or almost half of the sector’s potential overall societal impact.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are quickly becoming cheaper, more advanced and more accessible, both for consumers and companies. “And thanks to increasingly cutting-edge technology and favorable regulation, the drones of the future will be able to do things we can barely imagine now,” Verizon says, looking at a few likely scenarios where drones will become more integrated into our lives.

Helping in emergencies

UAV technology will be a critical tool for emergency response in the future, Verizon says. Drones are already being used to look for lost hikers, for example, but soon, they could do much more than just provide data.

“Imagine a tornado or hurricane situation where infrastructure is damaged, and you can’t get to people to rescue them,” envisions Saida Ruscitto, Senior Manager of IoT Connected Solutions at Verizon. Not only could drones perform visual searches, sending back images to rescuers in real time, but in the future, Ruscitto says, “You could, for example, dispatch a group of drones to the rescue that can work together to design and print temporary shelter on the spot using technologies such as Additive Building Manufacturing or put together something as simple as a rope bridge thereby providing access to people.”

Agriculture and construction

UAVs are already being used in industries that involve large or inaccessible areas of land, such as agriculture and construction.

Last year, Juniper Research predicted that almost half of all drone sales in 2016 would be for agricultural use, noting that farmers are using them to monitor their fields and livestock, for example. High-quality video shot by a drone can show farmers how all their crops or livestock are doing at a given point in time without requiring the farmer to traverse the fields. This not only saves time and money for the farmer but also has important benefits for the environment and society as well.

Today farmers typically blanket crops with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides whether they’re all infested with a particular pest or not. Using high-quality drone imaging, farmers can examine their crops remotely and decide precisely where to spray chemicals.

Amit Gupta, Project Manager for UAV IoT Solutions at Verizon, says drones are changing agriculture by providing farmers with data that was once difficult or even impossible to get. “You can use different cameras to figure out crop yield, or a thermal camera to detect the insufficient irrigation issues,” Gupta says. “There are even cameras that can figure out the height of a plant from the air.”

Gupta also points out the value of drones to measure progress in construction — “The client could get an aerial view of a construction project to find out exactly how much work has been done, and make payments based on real-time work,” he says.

Insurance and inspections

Drones could provide a novel way of doing things that have been done for a long time but more efficiently and with reduced risk – the insurance industry is one example.

“Insurance companies get a lot of requests for roof inspections due to damage from natural disasters like hail, wind or ice,” says Gupta. “Instead of having a person climb up on the roof, which is dangerous, they can now send a drone to capture images of the damage and decide on the claim.”

Smart cities and IoT

Gupta uses the example of a smart street light to illustrate what a drone could do with AI in a smart city environment: “The system will already be monitoring things like street lighting, and will know when, say, a bulb goes out,” Gupta says. “That system will be able to notify a drone, which can autonomously fly to it and replace the bulb using a robotic arm.”

Rope bridges

It’s scenarios such as this and the “rope bridge concept”, in which a drone or group of drones are not just providing data, but are actually using AI and machine learning to physically change the infrastructure around us, that will be the most cutting-edge uses of UAV technology, Verizon says. Gupta and Ruscitto point out, though, that these concepts will require developments — in hardware, software, battery life, and, especially, FAA regulation, to come to fruition. But they’re both excited for a future in which drones are an integral aspect of the Internet of Things.

“As a consumer, I’m looking forward to the day when a drone will be cleaning my gutters, and cleaning my house,” says Ruscitto. “And if I am driving in my autonomous car, and I need to pick up food, the restaurant will send a drone that’s communicating with my car to drop the food on the roof,” she says.

“It sounds wacky, but with autonomous cars coming and machines talking to each other, I think it will happen.”

Drone as a service?

A TM Forum Catalyst proof-of-concept project is looking to demonstrate how communications service providers could deliver drones as a service.

The Catalyst, which is operating under the moniker Do drones dream of electric sheep? – a play on the Philip K. Dick sci-fi novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – is working on 5G slicing for Internet of Things (IoT) applications, including offering unmanned aerial vehicles (often referred to as UAVs or simply drones) as a service for precision farming. Find out more here.

In another recent post, Arun Kapoor, TechMahindra, looked at some other interesting drone applications, as well as some of the hurdles to implementation, such as:

  • Airspace allocation (licensing) and Interference with controlled airspace (air traffic concerns)
  • Achieving ultrahigh reliability, navigation and accuracy.
  • Monitoring unauthorized drones
  • Avoid remote hacking and hijacking
  • Human error, environmental (weather, birds, collision) issues and technical errors
  • Safe and smooth communications

He says, “Overcoming these challenges will pave the way for explosive growth in digital airborne services and another era of soaring digital transformation. Drone technology is exciting but very challenging and complex. Time will tell to what extent is its wider applications are realistic.”


    About The Author

    Freelance Writer and Editor

    Sarah is a freelance writer and editor with an interest in new technologies and how they impact our everyday lives.

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