You may have heard of software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), and platform-as-a-service (PaaS), but have you heard of drone-as-a-service (DaaS)?
Drone technology has been around for decades, but it has taken some time for governments and societal acceptance to catch up with these innovations, which is why drones have only recently seen new regulations put in place to utilise their effectiveness in industries like agriculture, surveying, first responders, real estate and healthcare, among others.
Drones as a service include use cases like inspections, like cell tower inspections, which are considered to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and risk falling from heights as far as 60 meters. For large enterprise companies that need to inspect a portion of the more than 4.8 million communications towers in the world, it means that hundreds of thousands of people will be injured inspecting them annually.
While drones can step in to solve this problem, they tend to be very expensive and require a high level of expertise to implement, which is why drone operators selling drones as a service has become increasingly popular as organisations wish to benefit from their ease of use while saving on the costly investment for a service that may only be needed occasionally.
In this article, we’ll go over the following use cases and industries that currently employ drones as a service:
Drones can be used to create virtual replicas of real-world objects and systems that can be uploaded and used for virtual simulations, testing and analyses. These virtual replicas are called digital twins and are used most often in the construction, manufacturing, logistics and utilities industries.
One of the biggest challenges with creating digital twins is the time and effort required to scan and upload precise replicas, which can involve a lot of data collection and monitoring with advanced technologies or teams. For larger objects, virtual replicas can be even more challenging due to their scale.
Drones, thankfully, can be equipped with high-resolution cameras and LiDAR sensors, which are lasers for light detection and ranging. That means drones are capable of capturing detailed images and data of physical objects, regardless of their scale (although larger objects would take longer or require more drones).
Some drone operators have also started to equip their drones with thermal imaging and cameras to capture data on the temperatures of different physical assets, which empowers more accurate digital twins to be created. For manufacturing, this can be especially useful as some machines can break down when reaching higher temperatures, and having data in place for a digital twin can help predict potential downtime from overheating.
Drones are able to take aerial photos and footage for a fraction of the cost of a plane or a helicopter due to their size and improved efficiency as most aren’t powered by fossil fuels. By taking drones and equipping them with different aerial imaging and sensor technology, they can collect data about a specific field or area.
Field scanning is useful for a number of different use cases, including search and rescue efforts, wildlife preservation and tracking, detecting pest infestations in agricultural areas and environmental tracking, among other uses. A drone operator is able to plan a flight path to ensure that they capture the required data and send this information to a remote location, so even more dangerous areas like volcanos can be scanned without any risk involved for humans.
Many of the use cases currently are done by teams of people and require tremendous amounts of fossil fuels, involve high-risk situations or require effort by human teams to complete them. If we take the example of search and rescue teams, it might mean hundreds of people walking through a forest to find a lost child or finding people during environmental disasters like an earthquake where there might only be a limited amount of time to locate and evacuate survivors.
Drones, on the other hand, are capable of being operated remotely and can be sent into dangerous situations without risking the additional loss of life. In the future, it might be possible for drones to be operated by AI, which means dozens of drones can be sent out in groups to collect information on the environmental impact of forest fires or droughts to better support the effort to limit the impact of climate change.
One of the main uses currently for drones is inspecting critical infrastructure, which is becoming increasingly more common as organisations see the benefits of remote drone inspectors compared to sending teams to different locations, which takes time and can sometimes be dangerous depending on the type of inspection.
Drones can be equipped with cameras or sensors, so a team can manually control them and perform the inspection from the ground or remotely. As advancements in artificial intelligence continue, it’s likely that AI will be developed to find discrepancies like temperature fluctuations, cracks or rust that signal a need for human attention, which can make inspections even more efficient.
Critical infrastructure doesn’t just involve powerlines, telecommunications towers and bridges. It can also involve tunnels, pipes and nuclear power plants that have narrow spaces that are difficult for humans to navigate. Drones with cages around them have been created, so they can move within these difficult-to-reach places and save human teams the time and effort of crawling into these areas needlessly.
Another benefit of drone inspection for critical infrastructure is that LiDAR sensors can be used to get a more accurate picture of the object being inspected. For example, if a human team were to inspect cables inside of a dark pipe, it might be covered in dust, and they would need to clean the area in order to properly see if there were any discrepancies, but with LiDAR sensors, the lasers can inspect through the dust and give a more accurate picture faster.
An additional benefit that many overlook is real-time data analysis, which is an end-to-end service that can already be implemented today with AI-powered drones. This can help factories not only identify when a machine is about to require maintenance but also anticipate these several weeks in advance due to variables like temperature changes, speed of production or alignment of parts.
Inspections, while machines are running, are also difficult for humans to do without putting themselves at risk, which is why machines need to be shut down for planned downtime to avoid potential harm. With drones, the machines can continue to run while humans look at the collected data from a safe distance.
One of the most popular use cases for Drones as a Service (DaaS) is for the real estate industry, which you might have already noticed if you were recently looking for a house. Drone photographers and videographers are generally hired to take aerial photos and videos of a property for a real estate agent, which can provide an elevated aesthetic to potential buyers.
Drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras that can capture stunning images that would otherwise be too costly to do practically. This service can help highlight the amount of property that will be purchased with a home, but it can also help improve property inspections and land surveying techniques. For example, one drone company specialising in selling drone services to the real estate industry might have a package where they create visual content for the marketing teams of their clients.
The same company could also provide another package for land surveying to create a more accurate map of the property through high-resolution aerial imagery and data. For larger properties where this information might be more difficult to gather, it can be especially useful to reduce the time and cost of traditional surveying methods.
Finally, drone service providers can also offer property inspection services to both real estate companies looking to purchase properties to add to their portfolios or interested individuals looking to purchase a new home. A drone can do a quick survey of the property, including the condition of the roof, gutters and other hard-to-reach areas quickly. This means property inspectors only need to use a ladder or climb into dangerous areas when something is wrong, which reduces the risk of injury.
Just as in the other use cases mentioned above, drones can be equipped with a number of different technologies that can be used to improve things like crop management techniques and crop yields. This can be done through cameras, sensors and other imaging technologies, which are used to collect data about crops, soil and other factors that affect the growth and health of crops. The data is used to make better decisions about planting strategies, fertilisation needs and harvesting times.
Larger drones can be outfitted with tanks to carry water to dry fields. For countries where rainwater harvesting has traditionally been used, this technology can help prevent the low crop yields that have been seen in recent years due to drought without the need to build entire irrigation systems to existing fields.
Farmers are also able to use high-resolution maps of their properties to see detailed information about the topography, soil moisture levels, potential pest outbreaks and other factors that can impact crop growth. This information can help farmers optimise their planting and water management strategies to improve yields while reducing waste.
Drones can also be used in precision agriculture, which is a process where farmers target specific areas of a field for pest and disease treatment. Just like drones can be outfitted with tanks to transport water, they can also be filled with pesticides that can be sprayed onto specific areas of a field to reduce wasting pesticides on otherwise healthy crops.
One of the most impressive use cases for drones is in the healthcare industry. Drones are already being used to transport vital medical supplies to hospitals in Switzerland and in rural areas where those supplies are limited and needed to save lives. This includes delivering lab samples, medical equipment and even blood across long distances and difficult terrain.
For example, if someone has had an accident in a remote location and the nearest hospital isn’t equipped with the supplies necessary to help them, a drone can be dispatched to another medical supplier or hospital quickly to retrieve the supplies and make its way back quickly without the need to deal with traffic or road conditions. Fast transport also means lab samples can be processed quicker, which can help speed up the time until a patient receives a diagnosis.
During natural disasters, local hospitals might be damaged or not have enough medical supplies to help the people affected, which is why drones can be dispatched to deliver essentials from other hospitals or medical suppliers nearby, which might not be possible via traditional transportation methods if the disaster is caused by a disaster like a flood or an earthquake.
Drones as a service (DaaS) is growing rapidly and can provide a wide range of use cases in many industries, including agriculture, real estate, healthcare and critical infrastructure inspections, among others. Drones empower organisations to gather data more efficiently and cost-effectively than traditional methods, which can improve the overall speed of traditional methods, the accuracy of processes and the strategic decision-making ability of teams.
As drone technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more applications for drones as a service (DaaS) in a variety of other industries at scale, including food delivery, advanced air mobility and cargo delivery services, among others. However, it’s important to note that there are also concerns related to safety, privacy and regulation that need to be addressed before these services can be scaled efficiently.
Organisations looking to implement drone services are recommended to look into official trainings to better understand the regulatory frameworks in place before adding drone services to their strategic roadmap.
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