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Wireless Technologies

Commercial UAV Show: Use cases for drones in business

As the capabilities of drones increase and their use becomes more widespread, so too do their use cases. Much of what was talked about on the first day of the Commercial UAV Show in London was in the early phases of testing, but provides a good example of what can be done.

Arial mapping/photography

Probably the most obvious one on the list; photography. Drones can be equipped with HD cameras and enable you to get a better picture of the area you’re looking at.

Patrick Meir of UAViators showed how after earthquakes in Nepal, drones were used to assess the damage to buildings across a whole town, and through 3D mapping and machine learning, tests are in progress to allow automatic assessment of a building’s damage. Mining companies are also looking at 3D mapping to assess the environmental impact of their operations.

Filming is another option that makes use of the drone’s capabilities. Whether for creative, advertising or journalism, drones offer new options as to what can be filmed.

Infrastructure inspection

Whether it’s a pipeline, energy plants, wind turbines, sports ground or mining facility; if you have important assets, drones are a likely part of your future. Drones allow hi-res, up-close inspection of key buildings, no matter how large, far more efficiently than on foot.

T-Systems, for example, have used drones to inspect cell phone towers for frost – something that is almost impossible from the ground and removes the need for cherry pickers and harnesses if no problems are found.

BP have been testing drones on oil rigs to check for rust as well as smaller indoor drones for inside the rigs and shipping containers. Use for oil spill response has also been tested.

Agriculture

The farming industry is always looking for a way to increase yield while reducing man hours. Currently drones are used for mapping crops, inspecting buildings and livestock, and crop-spraying in Asia. In the future, Dr. Richard Green of the National Centre for Precision Farming sees autonomous drones and micro-drones working to optimize fields so that each area grows what is best suited to its soil.

Conservation & environmentalism

Protecting nature often involves covering large areas; whether it’s tracking wild animals or mapping areas of deforestation, the abilities of drones to cover large areas quickly is a boon. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has been testing drones for tracking wildlife using GPS; flying a drone over the animal’s habit and receiving a signal from its tracking collar or tag.  Other conservation bodies have flown drones over static cameras to download the latest videos and images it’s recorded.

Conservation Drone has been using drones to track wildlife density such as the location of Orangutan nests, habitat change such as deforestation, as well as tracking poachers and alerting the authorities to their location. The project is also testing automated recognition of animals and humans, as well as automated surveying of tree numbers – both of which could have applications in agriculture.

Out in open waters, fixed wing drones – which have a longer range and flying time than rotary versions – could be used to help prevent piracy and illegal fishing as well as track wildlife.

Delivery

You’ve probably heard of either Amazon’s or Google’s plans to use drones to deliver packages right to your door, but neither have actually gone beyond the testing phase as yet. UAViators showed how doctors in Nepal have been investigating delivering medicine via drones to earthquake-affected areas. Examples outside the show of drone delivery in a commercial setting are Swiss Post and WorkHorse in the US. One manufacturer told IDG Connect that they had custom-built one drone for burger delivery, while another had been made to deliver defibrillators.

Emergency services

Expect to see more drones flying alongside police, fire and ambulance services in the future. West Midlands Fire Service has been using drones to help assess dangerous situations for several years, and wants to expand that to include indoor reconnaissance and the ability to scan smoke plumes.

Gatwick Airport’s Runway Protection Team (a part of Sussex Police) has used drones for security patrols of the airport’s borders – something security services may well want to adopt in the future –  as well as conducting tests for search and rescue, tracking suspects and crime scene photography and incident overviews. We’re assured that the UK police has no plans to deploy drones equipped with tear gas, bean bags or pepper spray.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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