13 Commercial Drone Applications and UAV Progress Insights

There was a time when drone applications were confined to the military, but their uses as data capturing devices are on the rise and commercial uses of drones are growing fast. With the dawn of the 4th industrial revolution, drones will make an impact in biological, technological and physical fields.

​A report from Business Insider reveals that the drone applications continue to expand as cost goes down and the technology progresses. Among the industries and fields where drone technology uses are thriving include security, construction, agriculture, entertainment, land management... and the list keeps growing.

​The report from BI suggests that the innovative uses of drones will expand most in the civilian and commercial sectors. However, its use is also going to increase in other industries such as mining, energy, utilities, infrastructure inspections and other growing fields. The report also estimates an annual growth of 20%, outpacing that of military use.

As drone uses for business flourish, those who fail to take advantage will face difficulty keeping up with the competition that's recognizing the importance of unmanned machines as data capturing devices. If you’re still on the fence about drones and their practical applications, the following information demonstrates their full capabilities.

1. Recreational Use

When we talk about personal drone uses, the first thing that comes to mind is those used for fun and recreation. Besides quadcopter which is most popular configuration type among drone users, there are also other configurations that you can start exploring with like tricopters, hexacopters, octocopters, and get the feel before you decide to upgrade on more advanced level.

There are a lot of things you can do with these “toy drones” depending on the model and your reason for buying. At the very least it’s a cool plaything. You can use it for inspecting your rooftop, or orient yourself in the woods by flying the drone above the trees, proving that a recreational drone can be more than just a toy.

As competition among manufacturers grows, more features are added. It might seem like these small multirotors are just another remote-controlled vehicle at first glance. But as we have shown it’s lot more entertaining and great learning device for kids. To help you distinguish between beginner quads we have a section on budget drones; starting with top quadcopters under 100.

2. First Person View

Drones with an integrated FPV systems has given rise to numerous potential uses. Most popular in consumer sector are FPV Freestyle and Drone Racing. This can take many forms, but basically, it combines racing and drone flying with a first person perspective. What makes this different from racing with RCs is you’re seeing it from the viewpoint of your drone, giving new meaning to the term virtual racing.

​The reason it’s caught on is you feel like you’re flying. The moment the race starts and your drone flies off; you’re going to see what your drone sees as it slowly rises up in the air, flying past the trees like a bird. You’ll also see the other drones try to catch up with you – or you with them – so it’s like you’re the one’s flying.

​If you’re interested in FPV racing, check out this beginner’s guide. There are two ways to go about it. The first is to buy a RTF FPV drone so you just need to charge the thing and it’ll fly off.

​However, there are also DIY building kits available. If you’re an advanced user with experience racing drones, this is probably the better option as you’ll be able to customize its controls and specs to suit your racing style. We made a QAV 250 build guide where you can follow the process and implement it in your builds.

3. Aerial Photography and Videography

This pictures demonstrate how great UAV photography can be for creative ways of showing various data. It is no surprise therefore that more and more companies and businesses are using drones for photography and aerial videography. Aside from news coverage, drones also provide artists with unique and inspiring views to stimulate their creative juices.

Photo and aerial video are also being used by marketing strategists, real estate agents and cinematographers. For real estate agents, UAV video presents them with a golden opportunity to provide a detailed look at the property they’re selling. Check our Drone Photography Guide where we go into much more details.

By combining aerial drone photography and video, a real estate agent can provide a “fly through” of the property and showcase various features of the house that would be difficult to see in photos alone. The combination of photo and video makes it easy to highlight the landscape, the swimming pool, playground and other attractions in and around the area.

The same benefits are available to cinematographers. By using a drone, they can quickly scan the surrounding area and find the most attractive or suitable locations that can be used in a film. This is also true for advertising as the drone can be used to highlight areas and locations. Tour operators, travel agencies and airlines take full advantage of this technology.​

4. Infrastructure Inspections

The growth of UAV industrial inspection can be seen in their use in various industries. An article published on Today’s Energy Solutions shows how drones are now being used to inspect and maintain solar panels, ensuring their efficient operation. According to SunPower Corporation, they plan to use drones to collect data about their solar power plants.

This is not an isolated case, as UAVs are also used in inspections of aircraft parts, powerline installations, telecommunication towers and wide range of utility inspections. The oil industry also relies on drones to assess pipelines and other facilities. In many cities in the US, drones are now being deployed to ensure transmission lines operate smoothly, and power companies also use the same technology to alert them of problems.

UAV pipeline inspection and aircraft inspections are two of the most common uses for unmanned commercial drones. In the past, these tasks were performed manually, which is time-consuming. Today, trained personnel use drones to check pipelines and aircraft.

Airbus demonstrated the importance and benefits of using drones at the Farnborough Airshow, where the company showed how it works. The drone, controlled by a pilot, moved along a predetermined path, taking images of the craft. Once the images are retrieved, the pilot can easily look for signs of damage or dent.

The same technique is used for pipeline inspection as well as other industrial structures. Using these methods, companies stand to save time and money. In the Airbus drone demo, the done took just 15 minutes to complete the task, whereas other methods take 2 hours or longer. This is true for other industries as well.

5. Surveying & Mapping

The use of drones in GIS mapping, photogrammetry, cartography, geophysical mapping and surveying continue to increase as the technology grows. All of these fields can be generally categorized as geographical information system (GIS), or the gathering of data of the Earth’s surface.

​There are a lot of methods used for GIS, but there’s no question that drone technology is at the top of the list. Experts in land surveying agree that drones have become essential because it leads to quicker turnaround times and more accurate modeling. UAVs are also more cost effective and time savers.

​UAV mapping is also efficient for LiDAR 3D Mapping. LiDAR 3D Mapping is dependent on GPS systems for accuracy, and that’s where a drone comes in. By equipping the UAV with a GPS, there is no need to use an aircraft with expensive photogrammetry tools. A properly equipped UAV is accurate up to 1 to 2 cm, which makes it a reliable system.

Another reason why GIS UAV are gaining traction is being eco-friendly. Traditional geophysical mapping methods involve material sampling, drilling and other methods that could affect people in the area. Drones however, are non-invasive. As it flies through the area, the system takes videos or photos, collects and organizes data, all without disrupting the environment.​

6. Swarm Intelligence

The term drone swarm used to refer to military moves, but not anymore. Nowadays they are also about light shows. Recently, a team of Intel Engineers created a beautiful swarm consisting of 500 drones. These drones earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records Most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) airborne at the same time.

​As cool as those swarms of UAVs are, their function is not limited to it as the same technology can be used for wireless communication. The idea of using drones for WLAN is not as far-fetched as it sounds. In fact, Facebook plans to use drones to provide Internet access in remote locations around the world.

​A cluster of drones can also be used for large area monitoring. This can be for large public events, gatherings, rallies, protests etc. Any of these activities are ideal, and in many cases, essential. Other methods of large area monitoring are tedious, but drones simplify the process and make them more practical.

There are many benefits to using drones for monitoring. They are quiet and won’t attract attention. During certain events, the noise generated by other monitoring equipment can be disruptive, which makes them impractical. In contrast, drones and UAVs are small and efficient. They can take photos and videos of the event and spot any problems that may be taking place.​

7. Science and Research

Since drones are all about collecting data, it should not come as a surprise that drones in science are used extensively. Recently, scientists at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment have made the switch from using aircraft to drones for their coastal climate studies. According to David Johnston, assistant professor at Duke University, drones provide data in just hours whereas with aircraft it would take days.

​The use of scientific research drones is applicable for archaeological research, analyzing volcanic eruptions, meteorological studies, plant species studies and more. Ecology, oceanography and marine science are other scientific fields which benefit from it.

  • ​Archaeologists, for instance, use the images provided by drones to determine which areas are covered by vegetation and soil.
  • For volcanologists, a UAV is the safest method of measuring a volcano’s lava flow, which allows scientists to predict its path. Drone technology also makes it possible to study volcanic ash clouds and gas.
  • These same drones are also useful for collecting data about glaciers. NASA recently gifted the University of Kansas and its students a UAV so they can create a radar system to study glaciers.
  • Drones can also be used to collect data about wildlife, air pollution, map excavation sites around the planet, the possibilities are endless.

8. Search and Rescue

A team of researchers from NCCR Robotics, the University of Zurich and the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence have developed a technology that allows drones to navigate forest trails, which makes them even more helpful in search and rescue operations.

​Drones used for search and rescue, post-disaster operations, emergency supplies delivery and first aid emergency response are increasing around the world. In South Korea there are plans to expand the use of drones for life-saving missions, and it’s a trend that’s taking occurring in the US as well.

​Drones can be used to make high resolutions maps of the site, which helps the response team navigate the site and take the proper approach. By making the drone surveillance part of the operation, rescue teams will be able to respond more quickly. A report from CNBC explains how drones are now being used in various rescue missions, and it’s a trend that will continue.

​Drones are particularly useful for firefighters and various emergency response teams. These UAVs give firefighters a 360-degree view of the area and allow them to concentrate their response in the appropriate location. It is also possible to equip drones for large-scale rescue missions.

9. Security and Surveillance

In 2015, the Michigan State Police began using drones for security and surveillance. According to the police, the use of aerial surveillance drones is going to provide assistance in maintaining security. With today’s UAVs, the benefits are obvious.

  • Drones can be used to check traffic so authorities can quickly determine the location of an accident or traffic jam.
  • Major sporting events and spectacles will benefit from having a drone overseeing the situation from above. This also provides law enforcers with a bird’s eye view of what’s going on.
  • Drones are also effective for monitoring borders and civil security assistance.

The benefits of UAV security go further than that. With their ability to inspect areas at various angles and locations, drones can detect land mines, allowing for their safe removal. Researchers at the University of Bristol are studying how drones can be used to inspect land areas and clear them of landmines.

​This technology can also be used to detect radiation in the area. A properly equipped UAV gathers data about the location and the operator determines the level of radiation present. This method is not only quick but safer since people don’t have to go anywhere near the site until it’s declared safe.

10. Precision Agriculture

There are many uses of drones in agriculture, and when properly used lead to bumper crops and higher yields. A report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch published in the Motley Fool says the agriculture industry is going to make up the bulk of the commercial drone market in the US in the future.

​Drones agriculture operates the same way as other UAVs but they’re specially fitted to serve the industry’s needs.

  • Drones for farming for instance, can be used to scan the soil and locate potential problem areas. Farmers can also use drones to evaluate farm fields rapidly, and it’s more efficient than manually scanning the fields.
  • UAVs and agriculture are also cost effective. We have mentioned how much they save time. But aside from that they are also cost effective, and as this report shows, leads to the creation of jobs and produce a positive economic impact.

​We have also mentioned how drones and GIS mapping integrate, and those same elements can be used by farmers to enhance their yields and crops. Thanks to the data the drone is able to collect, farmers can plan ahead, cut costs and move forward.

11. Cargo Systems

Google recently announced their intention to use drone package delivery systems beginning in 2017. They’re not the only ones as Amazon has stated they’re going to do the same thing. Indeed, drones are considered the future of urban and rural deliveries, as they’re cost-effective and practical.

​Intralogistics is all about optimizing, managing and automating the flow of goods and cargo. This is the goal of all business enterprises and UAV is more efficient at this than other methods.

​A report from Ark Invest and also from Deutsche Bank illustrates the efficiency of delivery drones. A standard shoebox delivery costs from $6 to $6.50 for FedEx or UPS, while the rate for mid-tier carriers is $5. The charge for USPS is $2 for the final mile, not including the rest of the journey. In contrast, a drone costs about $0.05 for each mile of delivery.

​With cost so low, Amazon and other companies stand to gain from the reduced shipping, and this is passed on to consumers. Drones are fast too, capable of delivering packages in half an hour in most cases. The use of drones for delivering cargo, goods and merchandise are in its early phase, but the benefits are already evident.

12. Construction

The $8.5 trillion construction industry is increasing its use of drones. In an article on Fortune, it’s been pointed out that several tech companies are developing systems to meet the demand, and it’s easy to see why construction firms want drones.

  • ​Drones are less expensive than manned aircraft. They are easier to operate and collect more data.
  • UAVs can be used to survey the construction site and send information back. This usually takes a long time and require use of various equipment and personnel. Drones are cheaper and they’re more accurate in terms of data gathering.
  • Your company can use drones to provide client updates. If they’re unable to personally inspect the site, you can send images and videos and show details of the construction progress.
  • Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles are also ideal for monitoring the site. Rather than invest in loads of expensive manpower and equipment, a construction company can purchase a few drones and have them scan the area and collect information.

​UAVS are also useful for maintaining the safety standards in the construction site. An operator gets a first person view of the area and they’ll get an idea of the progress and if they’re meeting target goals, all the while being cost effective.

13. Mining & Aggregates

A report from Mining Weekly reveals that the use of UAVs in mining industry continues to be on the rise. According to the report, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPASes) companies in South Africa are fast tracking hiring and training of drone pilots to meet the increased demand from mining companies.

While the report is about South Africa, the same thing is taking place around the world, including the United States. One of the reasons why is its cost efficiency. According to Mike Hutt of the U.S. Geological Survey, it usually costs $2,000 to rent a helicopter for an hour, while sending out a couple of drones and their operators is only $200.

The low cost of drones construction is the reason why mining companies prefer them. However, there are other reasons why they’re now being used, such as improving safety, taking of soil samples, and raw mineral extraction, all of which is made easier by drones.

CONCLUSION

The above-mentioned information goes to show how important drones are. From being used by the military, they quickly found a market for fun and recreational use. But as we’ve shown they’re also practical for business and commercial applications. With cost going down, a drone has become a worthwhile investment in growing number of industrial sectors.
The coming 4th industrial revolution will alter how people and companies interact, work and play. With the rise of the digital age, drones will change the way farmers grow crops just as it’s going to revolutionize the way mining firms assess their projects. From construction, scientific research, commerce, entertainment, drones will play a significant role.​

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