Unmanned aircraft have long promised to provide critical information and unlock efficiencies across industries, but we’re only beginning to see just how large an impact that data can have as companies find new and often unexpected applications for drone technology. “This usually starts when people perceive the benefit of not hiring an aircraft for something,” says Mark Heynen, senior vice president of client operations at commercial-drone maker Skycatch. “But it quickly trickles into other places.” —C.D
Agriculture: / New sensors and data analytics are taking precision agriculture beyond simply monitoring crops for stress. Imagine farmers boosting crop yields by optimizing the fertilizer mix for different parts of a field, or winemakers precisely controlling drip irrigation down to the individual vine.
Construction: / On large-scale construction sites it can be extremely difficult for contractors to get the big picture. Drones make it simple for construction giants like Bechtel and DPR to monitor progress and supply stockpiles on a day-to-day basis.
Energy: / The energy industry uses drones for applications far beyond pipeline and flare stack inspection. In Alaska, BP uses drones to monitor its gravel-extraction activities to stay within environmental guidelines.ConocoPhillips has used unmanned aircraft in the Arctic, and Chevron has experimented with them as well. First Solar employs drones regularly to inspect for faulty solar panels.
Mining: / Mining giants like Rio Tinto are reducing risk to their human workforce by using drone technology to detect potential landslides and inspect safety infrastructure, as well as to keep a more accurate eye on how much mineral it extracts.
Film and Television: / Several American TV and film production companies recently received FAA clearance to fly camera-equipped drones in U.S. airspace, offering major Hollywood studios such as 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. the opportunity to leverage this technology on home soil—something they’ve done for years in other countries. Drone technology will bring much of that overseas shooting back to the U.S.