22 Sep 2020

Future Applications of Autonomous Drones

Very fresh in my memory is the windy day where I crashed my RC helicopter into a tree. These toys have come a long way over the past 10 years - autonomous drones are becoming far more accessible, with prices now dropping below $1000. This industry has long been led by DJI, though with the launch of the Skydio Dock, autonomous business applications of this new technology are becoming more and more tangible. So what industries will be most heavily impacted?

Impacted Industries

Security

The Skydio Dock enables for drones to be scheduled for take-off and landing. This, coupled with programmable routes, enables for sites that need occasional monitoring without continuous footage to replace multi-camera systems with a single drone. It also allows for much larger areas of land, such as fenced perimeters, to quickly be scanned.

Agriculture

While large machines are great at spraying huge volumes of crops, drones are much more effective at indentifying troublesome areas from the air. Crop monitoring routes can be pre-programmed, allowing for information to more easily be collected.

Construction

Safety inspections are a relatively common practice that can cause a lot of headaches. Potentially compromised bridges and faulty building supports require a specialist, and getting into precarious spots is often a challenge. Collision avoidance allows for anyone to capture the necessary footage for an inspector to look at off-site.

Entertainment

Aerial videography is a huge expense, and often times requires either a professional drone pilot or an actual helicopter. By designing flight paths before shooting, multiple takes can be performed seamlessly, enabling for amateur videographers to collect awesome shots.

In the near future, multiple drones will be able to co-ordinate with one another. This will enable for shots with multiple viewing angles, or for firework-like displays to be created.

Current Constraints

Regulations

Increasing accessibility generally results in increased regulations, which are necessary to impose penalties for things like the Gatwick Airport Drone Incident of 2018, which shut down over 1,000 flights over 3 days. While regulations vary by region, a drone operation license/certificate will be necessary for individuals, and a more expense license will likely be required for commercial operations.

Battery Life

Currently, drone batteries tend to last around 15-25 minutes. Fortunately, with the current R&D being put into electric vehicles by Tesla, we can expect some improvement in drone battery technologies as well. The Skydio X2 will allegedly have a 35 minute battery life.

Limits of GPS

With range and tracking currently posing large constraints, Skydio introduced the Beacon, enabling for drones to return to a known location. I am optimistic that in the near future, similar indoor options will become available, allowing for autonomous flight to be as precise as outdoors, where flights can be guided by GPS.

Noise

Most drones currently produce about 70-80dB of noise. This is comparable to what you would hear while standing next to a highway. While this doesn’t have any impact on performance, many consumers will likely want a quieter drone for personal use.

Conclusion

With autonomous drones becoming commercially available quite recently, there are still some kinks to be worked out. However, given the current level of competition and innovation, it should not be long before fully viable drone solutions are available to businesses and consumers alike.


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