Drones are breaking into every industry, it seems. Business and commerce are no exception to the drone craze. Drones are being used to gather information for businesses and support commerce in ways such as aerial traffic studies, structural integrity, thermal activity, and even product delivery.
In this article, we’ll focus heavily on the first three beneficial uses mentioned above, and we’ll discuss in length how the future may hold drones being an everyday sighting, even if you’re not a pilot.
Drones in aerial traffic studies
Businesses such as fast food restaurants, theme parks, schools, and governments are using drones to conduct aerial traffic studies.
Fast food chains and other restaurants use drones for aerial traffic studies in order to determine several things. Namely, the time the greatest number of cars come through, the direction they come from, and where pileups occur.
Chick-fil-A has been hiring drone pilots all over the nation to perform these aerial traffic studies. Since Chick-fil-A set up to meet the traffic load placed on the property.
With a drone, the pilot can hold the drone in a static location above the property and record during peak hours, allowing management to determine where the pile-ups happen, when, and how new construction can alleviate these issues.
Chick-fil-A has been hiring pilots to conduct aerial traffic studies through middleman platforms for new pilots, or they will contact companies directly.
Since aerial traffic studies are fairly easy to perform, businesses can rely on new pilots to be able to perform aerial traffic studies.
However, sometimes entities owning large areas such as school zones or theme parks will hire a pilot to conduct the aerial traffic study. In these cases, having a new pilot conduct the study isn’t always the best option.
This is because the pilots need to be able to capture the large area but can’t because they don’t have the elevation waiver or they don’t have the wide lens to be able to capture the entire area.
Shown below is an example of an aerial traffic study of a large school zone using a wide lens to be able to capture the entire school zone.
The school was able to take the footage and analyze when and where the most cars queued up. Now, when new construction occurs, they’ll be able to build to accommodate the traffic.
Infrastructure inspections for structural integrity and efficiency
Drones are being used for inspection purposes as well. In the telecom industry, drones are being used to detect the structural integrity of a telecom tower, as well as the heat output of the tower.
The structural integrity can be visualized with an RGB camera, a multi-spectral camera, or a thermal camera. However, the heat output can only be visualized with a thermal camera.
Using drones in the telecom industry has become commonplace and is safer, more effective, and more accurate. This has allowed drone pilots as well as drone manufacturers to capitalize on this new technology and make a profit off the needs of the telecom industry.
It is common for drones to be used to inspect power lines as well. In this case, most agencies inspecting power lines work directly for the energy company that owns the power lines.
Inspecting power lines essentially deals with flying the drone down the powerline and collecting visual data on the structural integrity of the powerline as well as the poles and boxes connected to the power lines.
Another common use for drones in inspections is scanning feats of engineering such as bridges that need to be inspected. Inspecting a bridge could be as simple as collecting visual data through photos or video.
However, since the risks involved with bridges and the possibility of a weakness in the bridge is so high, drones are being used with a LiDAR payload to inspect the bridge and create a dense point cloud in which inspectors can examine any cracks or faults in the bridge’s structure.
Underwater drone inspections
Underwater drones are also being used for inspections. Dams, docks, and ships all must be examined on a regular basis in order to maintain structural integrity.
Using underwater drones, pilots can take pictures and videos to visualize any weaknesses in the structure.
This is extremely important for dams, boats, and docks. But dams, if not inspected, can lead to catastrophe. If a dam has a weakness and the weakness grows and leads to the dam bursting, the likelihood of human death is extremely high.
Not only human death, but a dam bursting wipes out virtually everything in its path. This can include bridges, forests, farmland, towns, and residential areas. Shown below is an example of a drone used to perform underwater inspections.
Drones for package delivery and logistics
Drones being used for package delivery has been highly publicized as of late. While on a massive scale this seems implausible, it is actually being done at this very moment.
Amazon, Walmart, and UPS have all teased their drone package delivery program.
Issues arise when you have complications of airspace, as well as accuracy issues, especially in crowded areas such as cities.
In parts of the USA, Walmart (in partnership with Zipline) is currently delivering packages by drone. These areas are usually very rural and remote. This is a proper use case for package delivery by drone.
Delivering packages by drone to remote areas not only benefits the companies shipping millions of packages like Amazon or Walmart. In actuality, one of the most helpful and real uses today of package delivery by drone is in the medical industry.
It all started in Rwanda when a company began building its own drone gliders and packaging medical supplies within the gliders. Since Rwanda is a small country in Africa, many places are very remote and do not possess the necessary means to offer medical care to its population.
At a moment’s notice, a hospital could contact the drone company, requesting specific medical supplies, and the drone company would be able to send a glider there and back in no time.
This has undoubtedly saved countless lives, and is now being used in the USA. A company called Zipline is currently flying medical supplies from one town to another using certain FAA exemptions to be able to fly beyond line of sight.
As the delivery of medical supplies by drone becomes more commonplace, businesses in other industries will likely turn to this solution as well.
With more businesses attempting to make this commonplace, the FAA will need to regulate or create more exemptions for businesses like Amazon and Walmart to deliver packages.
As we enter the future, it’s very possible that seeing drones many times a day will become a normal occurrence, and it’s something that the public will have to decide whether or not is the right choice.
Many citizens are concerned about invasions of privacy when you have companies as large as Amazon and Walmart flying over neighborhoods 24/7.
It is known that a large part of business and commerce is selling data, and the drones delivering packages could easily sell the data they collected during their flight, such as videos, photos, and other private data.
It’s likely that we will see these court cases come to light in the near future, but for now, drones in business and commerce seem to be doing nothing but benefiting these industries specifically and the public in general.
Unmanned Aerial Operations (link)