There are a number of technologies that began as tools for the military, top-secret or otherwise, that have surpassed their armed services roots to take the world by storm. The internet, for one, and GPS for another. In this day and age those are both old news, of course, but the latest military solution to make it big is the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as the drone. These high-flyers initially zoomed into the consumer market, becoming the must-have gadget for gearheads and photography/videography junkies.
For as massive as the consumer drone market is, it’s the industrial drone market that’s brimming with innovation, the kind that’s revolutionizing operations and business processes across a number of industries.
One drone to rule them all
Even the average industrial drone is much more advanced than the toys being flown above family picnics or taking panoramic photos of a beach, but there’s one type of industrial drone that’s truly changing the game, and it’s the automated drone.
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Automated drones are drones that can automatically handle every part of their flying process – deploying, flying, and landing as well as data collection, transmission and processing for both scheduled and on-demand missions. This eliminates the need for a pilot, thereby eliminating the expense of one as well as the delays associated waiting for a pilot to respond to a request for an on-demand or emergency mission. In industrial environments, a delay in an emergency situation could be catastrophic. Automated flight also eliminates the potential for human error in the flight itself.
Automated industrial drones have to be built rugged to withstand the extreme conditions that so often accompany industrial sites, and leading automated drones can take care of their own routine maintenance including battery swapping and the changing of payloads and sensors, which effectively turns an industrial drone into a multitool, enabling it to perform a wide variety of tasks in a wide range of industries.
Blazing the trail
A few short years from now industrial drone adoption will be widespread, and virtually all industries will be better for it, but for now there are a handful of industries and drone applications leading the charge.
Mining. It’s almost impossible to have a discussion about industrial drones without talking about mining. Industrial drones are completing haul road inspections for safer and more optimal hauling conditions, helping to manage the environmental liability of tailings dams, completing efficient and accurate surveying and stockpile evaluation, and providing greater precision in drilling and blasting, including before and after digital elevation models and fragment analysis.
Agriculture. Agriculture is another drone-adopting industry, and it’s this enthusiasm for new technologies that is driving the push towards precision agriculture. Drones are commonly used to provide soil and field analysis, including 3D maps essential for planting pattern planning, crop monitoring, and irrigation monitoring.
Energy. The energy industry is full of dangerous equipment, often located in harsh or remote environments. In order to protect employees, civilians, infrastructure and the environment, that dangerous equipment in harsh and remote environments needs to be regularly (and carefully) inspected. For too long these inspections have put human employees at risk. An industrial drone’s ability to take over these inspections is more than welcome.
Construction. From initial surveying to work and equipment inspections to protecting sites against theft, industrial drones have a lot of work to do in the construction industry, and they do it all faster, safer and with more precision than could be achieved with traditional methods.
Infrastructure development and maintenance. Whether it’s building a dam, inspecting cell towers, or maintaining complicated highway and railways systems, industrial drones bring a sigh of relief. So many duties related to infrastructure development and maintenance are not only slow and costly when using human employees and equipment like helicopters or boats, but they also put those employees at great risk.
Security and surveillance. These are two applications in which automated drones excel. Automated drones are ready to fly at a moment’s notice, ensuring they can get to an emerging safety or security-related situation and immediately begin transmitting essential data such as live video or begin testing for chemical leaks or other hazards – situations organizations definitely don’t to be sending human employees into. Automated drones can also cost-effectively take the place of CCTV surveillance systems.
When militaries around the world were developing sophisticated unmanned weapon delivery systems, they likely didn’t imagine that they would be responsible for the industrial multitools checking for cracks in bridges, ensuring safe hauling conditions and helping to plot new highways. However, they were probably even further from imagining they would be responsible for aerial pizza delivery stunts and bird’s eye view videos of 12-year-olds falling off skateboards. With their ability to cut costs, increase efficiencies and protect human employees, industrial drones – especially automated industrial drones – may not have been the innovation those military researchers intended when they first developed drones, but they’re a pretty amazing innovation nonetheless.