How can you tell if a technological advance is really going to change the world and how we live? It could just be a craze, over as soon as the next invention comes along. Experts have been asking this question as the use of drones increases, and new, ingenious uses for them appear every week. Because they can operate autonomously, that is, hover and maintain their position, the possibilities are endless. Drones do need some human input, but it’s not like flying a remote control aircraft! The commercial revenue from drones in the US is expected to reach $1.6bn by 2019, a pretty sharp rise; it looks as if a drone boom is on the way. There are several industries which look set to embed the use of drones in the future, and some exciting new technologies that could improve the functionality of commercial drones.
We’ve all imagined it, as soon as it became a news item; drones from Amazon delivering books, flying through the air to us like the proverbial stork. It’s a nice image, and Amazon Prime Air has been working on making it a reality for over a year so far. Information on the spec isn’t very specific, but they mention that “sense and avoid” technology is being used, and a wide range of drone-like vehicles are being tested. With Google on the same bandwagon, with a patent for its technology granted earlier this year, the sky could get busy. Luckily, NASA are stepping up and have begun developing a traffic system, similar to air traffic control for airplanes, to keep commercial drones from colliding. If NASA thinks it’s time to get serious about drones, maybe we should too.
Drones in entertainment
If there’s a new, exciting technology out there, you can be sure that someone will find ways to use it for fun. Beyond the joys of manning a hobby copter/drone, the entertainment uses for commercial drones have proven surprising. One example is the recent #raiseit campaign, where sports pros and amateurs challenge each other to perform impressive and imaginative physical tricks – many of which involve drones. A recent #raiseit video shows a drone bringing a toothbrush to the second floor window of what appears to be football star Ronaldo’s house, then flying away. There’s no doubt that this is cool, and could spark even more similar drone stunts. Imagine this concept scaled up. The Amsterdam Arena plans to hold drone shows, and there is already a US league for drone fliers, the Drone Racing League, which had its first tournament in Miami earlier this year. Getting beyond the more obvious fun you can have with a drone, they are also already being put into creative use too: Drone Courtship is a visually impressive short movie about two flying robots courting each other in a forest of centennial trees. Thanks to the use of drones, the crew didn’t have to resort to special effects to film it, they just constructed exoskeletons for the drones.
Drones helping us work
It’s projected that the infrastructure and agriculture industries will be the ones to benefit most from improved drone technology, with the drone being worth $32.4bn to the agriculture industry alone. It’s easy to see how useful it might be to have an unmanned craft keeping an eye on livestock across several thousand hectares. Parrot, the French drone company, have recently acquired Micasense and Airinov to help develop sensor technology for drones out in the fields. If you want to see drones doing something more glamorous than herding sheep, the good news is they’re also revolutionising TV production. Drones with UHD cameras are now being deployed for aerial shots, instead of helicopters. This has been especially exciting for wildlife filmmakers, as drones can get closer to the ground, and provide 360 degree views of hard to reach habitats. The only risk is that these spectacular views could become passé…
After this year’s InterDrone conference in Las Vegas shows, drone makers are now focused on extending the capabilities of their product. However, what all drones have so far had in common is the pay-off between weight and flight time. With all the new uses drones could have within various industries, there’s a lot of kit to fit onto a finely balanced machine. Yuneec, a leader in drone development, is set to release one of the most advanced commercial drones yet, which builds a 3D model of the world around it, to avoid obstacles. The company is focussing on high spec machines for the general public, and has already won awards for its mini Breeze 4K camera drone. Further into the future, research into biomimetic drones is underway. If a drone could be designed to look and fly like an animal, we could get closer to our environment than ever before.
The drone future is bright, no doubt about it. Frank Tobe from The Robot Report believes that the commercial drone industry is developing in a similar way to the industrial robotics industry. As different companies make advances, it’s easy to see how drones could change the way we work, and perhaps even our safety as we do our jobs. What is less certain, and much more exciting, is how the drone will fit in with the arts, how human creativity and the need for entertainment and fun will adapt to this rapidly accelerating technology. Drone film festival, anyone?