The rising popularity of drones has been fueled by their increasingly commercially viability. Before the last decade, drones where too impractical to be sold in the mainstream market, they were too expensive. Since the invention of the smartphone, progress has been much more rapid as this technology has been heavily utilized in drone production.
The first change smartphones spearheaded in drone development was ditching the heavy, weaker NiCad/NiMH batteries for much lighter lithium cobalt oxide batteries which have made flight easier to achieve at a cheaper cost.
The second advancement which really helped drones take off was also down to the smartphone. For a drone to hover, it needs gyroscopes and accelerometers, both of which were expensive just a few years ago. Since smartphones began utilizing both pieces of tech for phone orientation, the price has dropped. Within the last decade, a suitable MEMS gyroscope or accelerometer's price has fallen from in excess of $100 to about $5.
There are a number of other technological advancements which helped unleash the drone market; more advanced computational power, more accurate sensors, permanent brushless motors and advanced GPS systems etc. Drone technology is here to stay and only getting more advanced.
The most recent and exciting addition to drones in the last few years is AI. It is understandable that the general public's initial reaction is to cower in fear at the thought. But, it is making real, positive changes across a number of industries. Innovation Enterprise charts 5 industries that AI-powered drones are already revolutionizing.
Construction was among the earliest adopters of drone technology. The ability to observe properties from an aerial point of view can be valuable to many professionals in the industry, including architects and builders.
California-based company Skycatch has built drones capable of using machine learning to map sites and assist in planning. The drones can guide other autonomous construction vehicles to allocated positions on an active work site.
Over the last three years, building sites across Japan have begun incorporating Skycatch drones. This is because it can take one of the drones 15 minutes to complete what would take a team of humans days. They are faster, cheaper, and significantly reduces the risk to human life. Drones have proved popular with more than 5,000 work sites currently utilizing the technology.
The agricultural industry is always looking for new innovations to help improve harvests and AI-powered drones are showing a lot of promise.
Companies such as startup Gamaya, have been using AI drones to provide farmers with highly accurate field analysis and monitoring which can help increase crop yield. Drones can also assist in long-distance crop spraying and can work with other automated farm systems such as driverless tractors and automated irrigation systems to optimize conditions for crops with little to no input from humans.
The world population is estimated to be 9 billion by 2050, so technology like this is slated to become more prevalent as corporations and government look to feed all those extra mouths.
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This is the field which triggers the most fear in the general public, but it is already a reality. Teams from the UK and India released a paper called Eye in the Sky which details how they are using automated surveillance with machine learning to analyze live video footage.
The paper shows how by using a Parrot AR quadcopter, algorithms trained with deep learning use a number of physical indicators, ranging from posture to facial expression, to determine whether an individual poses a threat. This is similar to software the Chinese government recently released to help monitor school classrooms, albeit less advanced. The drone simply uses a mobile internet connection to send the video footage to the machine-learning system in real time.
These drones can be utilized anywhere that requires some level of security. Long term, it will be cheaper than hiring a full team of security staff or installing an intricate CCTV system. Another benefit is that they can be deployed to monitor high-risk situations without putting lives in danger.
Autonomous delivery drones are one of the most recognizable drone developments. This is mainly due to Amazon's announcement in 2013 that planned to launch Prime Air, an autonomous drone delivery service. While that initial idea went through a number of iterations and delays, the company delivered its first successful Prime Air delivery in 2017.
Since then, a number of other companies (including pizza company Domino's, which made the first drone delivery in 2016 in New Zealand) are attempting to utilize AI drones. Amazon alone is hoping to launch more than 40 aircrafts operating the drone-based delivery system by the end of 2018. Their ultimate goal is to be able to complete 30-minute deliveries, but between U.S. FAA regulations and a wary general public, progress has been stalled temporarily.
Drones have proven to be versatile within the maritime industry because they are cheaper than other forms of aerial transportation such as helicopters and quicker than most boats. This means they can be used in a variety of scenarios, providing assistance and supplies to ships, helping provide visual security at ports, which can span a large area and can be notoriously hard to monitor. They can also assist with cargo and ship inspections.
Aside from commercial purposes, companies such as Drone Major Group are also using them to help monitor and survey the maritime environment, and assist in search and rescues which again, are infamously difficult due to the price and limitations of other air transportation.
Other startups such as Natilus are even looking to replace cargo ships altogether. They plan on building "large autonomous drones that can carry around 200,000 pounds of cargo and transport goods 17 times faster than a cargo ship." According to Natilus. Currently, the cost to fly one of the Natilus drones means cargo ships are better value for money, but in a few years, the cargo ship could be a thing of the past.