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What Are Commercial Drones Used For?

Commercial drones are being used for a wide variety of fields in the commercial world. By replacing conventional aircraft and pilots, drones allow businesses to save thousands of dollars, reduce their carbon footprint significantly and prevent work accidents.

Farmers, infrastructure inspectors, and surveyors: these are just a few of the many commercial end-users already using drones during their daily tasks to save costs and time.

Use of commercial drones by different commercial segments

Growing public acceptance, lowering manufacturing costs, and improvements in autonomous capabilities are helping drones become a mainstream tool for several commercial segments, including aerial deliveries, infrastructure inspections, agriculture, and mining, among several others. 

While drone regulation for commercial activities has been slow at first, regulators across the globe are seeing their potential and making favorable rules encouraging their use.

Many businesses are hoping for rules that enable the use of drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of operators, which are needed for many of the applications involving drones. While BVLOS operations are still restricted in most countries, regulators are now more willing to hand out waivers allowing businesses to bypass this limitation. 

This article will discuss how businesses are using drones to improve work efficiency and save costs, as well as which regions are the most relevant for each of the main commercial segments.

Despite all applications being relevant, acceptance of drone solutions varies for each sector and by region. For instance, though medical deliveries with drones are rising across sub-Saharan Africa, this application is seeing slower growth everywhere else. 

The reason behind the different implementation rates depends on the needs of each area, the availability of commercial drones locally, as well as regulations and permits.

This makes each of the main applications worth looking into.

Agriculture

Farmers are using drones to monitor the health of their crops, as well as to spray fertilizers and pesticides more efficiently. Brand new drone technology is even allowing farmers to set up the whole process automatically, without having to pilot the drone or process the data to analyze it.

Drones being used in this segment range from low-cost models for crop health monitoring tasks to high-end models being used for spraying applications. 

Although these applications are common worldwide, the main region where drones are being used for agriculture is Asia-Pacific, mainly due to easy access to low-cost models, flexible regulations, and the need to use drones to compensate for the lack of regular workers.

Mining

Drones are being used in the mining sector for mapping quarry sites. Equipped with measurement sensors, drones are being used to capture images from different points of the mine. These images are then processed to create a 3D map to be analyzed by operators. 

This method of data collection is more efficient and faster than standard surveys, where surveyors are exposed to dangerous areas in the quarry while collecting data, a process that can take several days, depending on the size of the mining site.

Fixed-wing drone models are the preferred type for this kind of work since they can cover extensive areas in a shorter time frame than standard multi-rotor drones. 

The use of drones for mining operations is especially common in Chile and Peru, both countries which rely heavily on mining activities for economic growth. Favorable trade policies from both countries are also making it easier for companies to import drones from abroad.

Oil & Gas

The use of drones in the oil and gas industry is largely related to worker safety and cost saving. Drone adoption also helps companies skip certain safety requirements that normally slow down operations.

Drones are being used to improve worker safety by exploring areas that may be too dangerous for workers and inspecting massive assets, keeping inspection engineers out of danger.

Drones equipped with advanced laser-based sensors are also being used to detect potential oil leaks early. 

This heavy industry represents a large percentage of the US economy, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities for operators and drone manufacturers in this segment. Companies like DJI and Delair are already producing drones designed specifically for these applications.

These use cases enjoy widespread adoption worldwide, mainly in the US, with massive oil and gas firms like Chevron and BP already using drones on their sites.

Infrastructure inspection

Drones are an important tool for visual inspections of civil and energy infrastructure. High-end drones can add value to this use case using LiDAR sensors to gather complex data for 3D modeling. 

Common structures being inspected with drones include bridges and solar energy farms, offering a cost-effective solution capable of spotting faults in infrastructure in a much faster way than conventional tools.

Autonomous features are one of the main drivers for drone adoption in this segment. Autonomy is helpful for this segment as it will make inspectors require less training and lower entry costs for businesses looking to start using drones.

The use of drones for infrastructure inspections is common worldwide but is especially important in the US, where legislation has enabled businesses to use government grants to use drones for inspections.

Aerial deliveries

Logistics and retail companies are starting to adopt drones for deliveries to increase efficiency and lower operation costs. 

Customers have always been reluctant about drone deliveries. However, recent surveys have shown that public opinion on drone deliveries improved drastically worldwide after state authorities started using drones for contactless medical deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drones offer a cheap, carbon-neutral alternative to conventional transport methods such as freight or trucks. Congested supply chains, produced by rising fuel prices and driver shortages, are one of the main reasons why drone deliveries are on the rise. 

Drone deliveries are already common in regions where the lack of infrastructure makes drones the ideal solution, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa. The use of drones for deliveries is slowly picking up in the mountainous regions of South America, particularly in Ecuador, through the work of companies like Aerialoop.

The use of drones for food deliveries is also picking up in the US and Europe, where companies like Flytrex and Manna are already using drones to deliver food from restaurants to customers in nearby suburban areas.

The future of the commercial drone industry

Constant improvements in drone technology, availability of drone pilots, as well as clear regulation, will guarantee growth in the use of commercial drones across all commercial segments.

Farmers and logistics operators will need drones even more as worker shortages increase, infrastructure inspectors will require drones to inspect energy and civilian infrastructure even faster, and surveyors will keep using drones to save time. 

These are just a few use cases showing the potential of drones in the commercial world, which will expand as the technology evolves. More capable software will allow complex data to be processed faster, and longer battery life will reduce downtime and make drone operations even more efficient.

While growth will vary depending on the region and many local factors, such as public acceptance and regulations, commercial drone technology adoption is expected to continue rising worldwide for many years to come.