Drone technology has been around for decades, with origins in military technology to keep track of sensitive areas. Today however, drones are used in pretty much every field imaginable – from commercial and personal use to agriculture and construction. Drones have plummeted in price over the past decade, due to the aggressive development of technology. With this drop in price, drones have gone from something only utilized by deep-pocketed militaries to a hobby anyone can get involved in. Thanks to the affordable nature of drones, many other markets have begun to take an interest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology and drones are being deployed for previously unimaginable use cases.
Amazon was one of the first big companies that announced a major investment in drones for commercial use. Though it was initially believed that their primary goal was to use the drone technology to disperse their constantly growing list of offerings, recent patents reveal another possible direction. Amazon’s recent patent filing indicates it’s planning on creating roving drones that will be able to latch onto electric vehicles (EVs) and increase their range with an additional burst of power as you’re driving. Two of the biggest problems faced by the EV market are range anxiety and charging infrastructure. No one wants to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a dead car and no way of knowing how far they are from a charging station. If Amazon is successful in making these drones, it could assist in growing the EV market beyond dense urban areas and even making them a viable option for people living in the suburbs.
Another new use for drone technology thanks to the company Fleetlights is to use drone mounted lighting as a new version of streetlights based on user requests. Streetlights are something many of us take for granted, until they’re not there and the darkness begins to feel unsettling or scary. While streetlights are static and not always present where needed, Fleetlights would allow you to use their lighted drones on request. If you’re walking home from work in the dark and get a sinking feeling, Fleetlights could be there to guide your way and make you feel safe. Another beneficial use could be for search and rescue teams, who often find themselves in some pretty dark and precarious places. There would be no need for the lighting infrastructure if you could bring the drones to you with a simple mobile app. Though the idea is incredibly ambitious and has some possible technical snags, the concept is a pretty brilliant start.
In the wake of several weather related disasters in 2017, another potential use for drones is to gather information and damage reports after a storm. With the kind of flooding Houston saw after hurricane Harvey, it wasn’t easy to navigate the city and deliver supplies to those in need. Construction companies are already using drones to assist in building safety inspections, this could be expanded to include assessing damage after a major disaster. In the future, drone technology could be used to improve the often long turnaround of damage assessment for insurance companies and government officials. But more importantly, drones could assist in dispersing essentials to those unable to get to a disaster management area or even leave their own homes. As the technology expands, drones might even take over hurricane forecasting and storm tracking from the manned aircrafts sent through the storms to take pressure readings. There is potential to completely change the way we respond to disasters thanks to these UAVs.
Facing immense criticism of their on the job practices, police departments are also introducing drones as a new means of security. Just this week, the LA Police Commission approved the use of drones as part of their police force. They are engaging in a one year pilot program for drones and are the largest city in the US to do so. The drones are approved for use in tactical situations, searches, or natural disasters and will be signed off by high-ranking officers on a case by case basis. Though many people distrust police surveillance, these drones will be used in order to increase situational awareness capabilities and can hopefully allow our law enforcement to begin safer and more efficient practices.
To add credence to the growing nature of the drone market, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently begun expediting commercial drone operation approval. Skyward, a Verizon-owned drone operations management platform, secured approval to grant commercial drone operators instant access to controlled airspace. It joins 11 other pre-approved companies with these capabilities. This is a huge step in the right direction for the commercial use of drones – as it previously would take 60 to 90 days to get airspace authorization. For now, the agreement is limited to airports in Cincinnati, Reno, San Jose, and Lincoln but these locations could expand in the future as the program is tested.
One of the areas adapting drone use increasingly is the entertainment industry – specifically filmmakers. In the past it would take a helicopter with an expensive and often heavy camera to get sweeping cityscape shots or other aerial photography, but things have changed rapidly. DJI Industries, a Chinese company that produces commercial and recreational UAV systems just released a new interchangeable lens drone camera. It boasts the world’s first super 35 digital film camera which is tailored specifically for aerial cinematography. The camera shoots up to 6K definition at a frame rate of up to 30 frames per second (FPS) – a level of clarity previously unmatched by any drone adaptable camera. This innovation could completely change the way filmmakers capture views from above, and provide new options for cinematographers.
The nature of drone usage is changing rapidly as technology continues to improve and new ideas continue to blossom. Within the next decade we could see the elimination of pizza delivery drivers, instead they could train delivery personnel to operate drones and get your food to you faster and safer than ever before. While nothing in the world of technology is certain, it seems drones are the way of the future and will only continue to grow in practicality as we come up with new uses for the technology.