The commercial and industrial potential of drones has just begun to become obvious.
In June, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released rules for commercial use of drones. The rules, which apply to drones as heavy as 55 pounds, are collectively known as “Part 107,” seem fairly benign: They mandate that drones only operate in daylight, don’t rise to more than 400 feet off the ground, nor exceed 100 miles per hour. Pilots must have a permit, be at least 16 years of age, maintain line-of-sight contact, and avoid other craft.
The FAA action was met with a collective sigh of relief and even cheers by the drone industry. Air & Space, for instance, called the drone rules “great news” for the industry, noting that the best element is that the original rule mandating that operators have a pilot’s license was moderated to require only a ‘“remote pilot airman certificate.” The rules were set to go into the effect at the end of August.
The industry was primed for growth even before the good regulatory news. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) released a report in May that said that the industry will create more than 70,000 jobs in the United States and have an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion. In 2025, more than 100,000 jobs will be created and the sector will have an economic impact of $82 billion.
Very early reports on commercial use of drones have focused on delivery services. There is no doubt that using drones to take trucks off the road and reach customers, especially in rural areas, is a big deal. But it is the tip of the iceberg. Darr Gerscovich, senior vice president of Marketing at DroneDeploy, points to agriculture, construction, inspection and mining as areas that likely will be benefit from drones.
Inspections are another great example of where drones can be a game changer. One use case is situations in which large areas must be assessed, such as a community after a weather event. Another is where inspections are dangerous or inconvenient for humans. New York City power utility ConEdison posted a video of a drone inspecting the inside of a steam boiler. The commentator said scaffolding would need to be erected for a human to do the job.
The potential is great, at least according to those in the field.
“The benefits of using drones at an enterprise level are almost limitless,” wrote Greg Emerick, the senior vice president of Business Development for Sentera, in response to emailed questions. “Immediately, organizations increase safety when performing infrastructure inspections, farmers know precisely which areas of a field need attention and can apply inputs appropriately, public safety officers find missing persons faster.”
Of course, the transition to drones is not a simple one. The key is not to get too attached to the exciting new technology. It is not a toy. Businesses must work out procedures.
“You want to streamline your operations better, faster and more accurately, but the delivery and storage of data can add friction to the process,” wrote Simulyze CEO Kevin Gallagher. “While drones are new, the management of data delivery and storage is not. Companies should start by planning how they will efficiently deliver that data back to the necessary systems or subject matter experts for analysis, as well as how they will manage that data over time.”
Challenges will present themselves, no matter how promising a technology. This may be especially difficult with drones: Executives, whose jobs are on the line, may be reluctant to put too much stock in something that is mostly known as a toy or hobby – and carries significant security concerns. “While drone technology has been around for decades, implementation of drones as a commercially available, operational solution is a relatively new concept for many businesses and farmers,” wrote Emerick. “The biggest challenge for businesses won’t be anything tactical like flying a drone. Instead, the biggest challenge will be in decision-makers taking the leap from thinking of drones as a toy, to thinking of drones as a true value-engine for a company, or farm.”
Commercial entities and the government are all are pushing drones. Gerscovich is an optimist, at least when it comes to drones. He suggests that the biggest problem could be enthusiasm.
“Companies' ability to scale fast enough to meet internal demand [will] place a strain on organizations to develop process, procedures and trainings fast enough to keep up with the internal demand,” Gerscovich wrote. “We've seen this happen across all our large clients. In fact, many are now moving fast to develop Part 107 training programs for their employees and customers.”
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.