Remember when the iPhone and its app store opened a world of possibilities but not everyone saw their potential until the right applications came along? A drone today is a bit like what a smartphone was just over a decade ago: a well-known device but widely underestimated in terms of innovation and business potential.
In the same way that a smartphone combined a small portable telephone with a larger computer, to most people outside of the industry a drone seems like a mere combination of a camera with a small airplane or helicopter. But drones do a whole lot more than that. Both the hardware and the software that are used to build drones have reached very advanced levels, so the key question now lies in drone applications. Drones already play a key role in all industry verticals, and they might be indirectly helping citizens with everyday services.
Originally published: May 2021
As our graphic shows, some of the primary uses for drones are currently 1) mapping & surveying and 2) inspections. In the Energy sector, roughly 83% of the time drones are used to carry out inspections that could be life-threatening to a human or would cost companies millions of dollars in lost revenue. Perhaps this is one key reason why drone application in the energy sector is expected to reach a global market value of up to US$6 billion by 2025. Another industry where drones are mostly used for inspections is Real Estate, Rental & Leasing, and Industrial Plants (67%).
Meanwhile, in Construction, drones are mostly (80%) used for mapping and surveying (e.g. aerial planning, inventory management, topographic mapping, 3D reconstruction of sites or ongoing construction projects). This enhances worker safety, provides digital data that was not available before, makes project management more efficient, and speeds up projects while decreasing cost in terms of time and money. Not surprisingly this represents the majority of drone applications in other industries such as Agriculture (59%), Mining, Quarrying and Oil & Gas Extraction (55%), and several other industries, though these applications are more diversified.
The third major drone application within industries is photography and filming, which many people outside the industry are very familiar with. This application represents 74% of drone usage in the Information industry as well as 60% of their use in Arts, Entertainment and Recreation.
One example of drone application in the Energy sector is gas flares (flare stacks) in the oil & gas industry. Companies such as Rectrix in the UK, or Terra Drone based in Tokyo, Japan carry out inspections of flare stacks that burn at over 900°C. Other cases of drone application in the energy sector include surveying of powerlines and wind turbines, which companies like Aeromedia and Sulzer Schmid carry out. By using a drone instead of a person, the inspector is not placed in dangerous situations, and the flare/powerline/turbine that is being inspected usually does not have to be shut down to guarantee human safety, which means it continues to operate and generate revenue. In Construction, drone applications currently have a market value of almost US$3 billion and two examples of this are OFO Tech in Malaysia and their digital twin modelling of the Pan Borneo Highway or the drone-geomagnetics and drone-photogrammetry service provided by Asdro in Germany.
Examples in Agriculture include drones that count trees and livestock, spray fields, analyze crops, and carry out dozens of tasks throughout acres of fields in a matter of hours. This means that productivity is increased because crops can be monitored better and treated in a more targeted manner throughout the year, which leads to better yields during harvest season. Some examples of this are radaz in Brazil or xmobots (also in Brazil), which was recently granted permission for BVLOS flights up to 30km for their crop analysis and spraying operations in hard-to-reach areas.
In Healthcare, the Swedish company Everdrone has created a program that coordinates with SOS Alarm (Sweden’s emergency system) and within minutes delivers emergency defibrillators to people who have suffered cardiac arrest. Right here at our home in Hamburg, Germany, there is a project being tested to deliver tissue samples during surgery. And in California, there are drones being used for controlled fires to prevent larger fires, while in Luxembourg drones are used for flood-modelling. All of these are examples of drone applications towards Scientific Services to understand the environment and measure the impact of climate change.
And yet all these drone applications into major markets are still only the tip of the iceberg.
These are only a fraction of the cases and companies that are revolutionizing the world of business by bringing in drones to carry out tasks more efficiently in terms of higher safety and lower costs. Whether it’s Germany, Sweden, Brazil or Malaysia, drones are innovating business development in a similar way to what smartphones started to do in the early 2000s, and the key is neither hardware nor software but a combination of these into a valuable application.
Twenty years ago, many people thought there was no need for a minicomputer in their pockets, and now most people own a smartphone because its applications revolutionized communication, entertainment, and banking [among other things]. Today, hundreds of companies are finding that a good drone operator with the right drone can do things faster, at a lower cost, and with greater safety for everyone involved. Good hardware and software are still very important, but integrating these into a drone application focusing on a specific mission is key to be successful and scale drone operation.
To learn more about these, and many more fascinating cases of drones bringing innovation, check out our Drone Application Report 2021, which includes a database of 237 examples and 37 real-life case studies, making it the most comprehensive database of drone applications in all industries.