A decade ago, drones were still considered fancy gadgets only fit for military use and moneyed private enthusiasts. In the intervening period, they’ve gone mainstream in a spectacular way. Also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), today’s drones are deployed daily for commercial and civilian use.
These are the most popular uses for drones in the world:
1. Aerial photography and Videography
The real estate sector was among the first to identify the possibilities of drone technology. Today, it isn’t uncommon for listed properties to include breathtaking aerial views of the house, lawn, swimming pool, and other amenities. It gives potential buyers a wholesome and realistic view of the property.
Drone videography has also become a mainstay of weddings, music video shoots, YouTube vlogs, movie filming, and journalism. They add a welcome perspective to video presentations that viewers never had in the past. This is supported by factors such as longer battery life, the ability to deploy faster, more maneuverability, and support for larger and higher quality cameras.
Best drones for real estate, social shoots, and vlogging:
Farming is one of the most practical uses for drones. It received a major technological boost with the advent of UAVs specifically manufactured for agricultural use. The most advanced drones are capable of doing soil analysis, crop spraying, mapping and surveying, spot treatment, monitoring crop health, and livestock management.
They incorporate technology such as LIDAR to increase the drones’ precision and reduce overall operating costs.
Best drones for agriculture:
3. Construction and industrial activities
Construction projects that use drones to monitor progress usually end up with significantly lower accidents and structural mistakes than the rest. Drones are also useful in inspecting infrastructures such as power lines, bridges, dams, roads, wind turbines, and communication towers.
In the past, construction projects would have to hire helicopters to monitor progress. All that changed with the more affordable and nimble drones. They can maneuver into nooks and crannies that humans and choppers would never access. Their aerial photographs and videos give a realistic report of progress that can be used to adjust schedules.
Best drones for construction and industrial tasks:
4. Entertainment and sports events
You’ve no doubt watched a drone light show. These spectacular displays are created using several LED-equipped UAVs flying in precise formations that create amazing images in the night sky. This is just one of the many possible uses for drones and is already a staple of most New Year’s celebrations. It allows one person with a computer to control several drones.
UAVs are also being increasingly used in sports mainly because of their spectacular aerial shots. They’re also used by advertisers, coaches, and extreme sports enthusiasts.
Best drones for entertainment and sports coverage:
5. Mapping and survey
This aspect of drone technology has been boosted by a combination of longer battery life, high-tech cameras, and cutting edge software. RGB cameras and LIDAR technology are used to provide accurate assessments of the area under survey.
RGB cameras take multiple images of the coordinate. Photogrammetry software is then used to combine them to form 3D images. Drones are more accurate because they can fly at lower altitudes, hence take clearer shots.
LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging or Light Radar in the past) uses light pulses to determine distance. Because the speed of light is constant, you can calculate the distance using the time it takes the pulse of light to hit the target and bounce back to the LIDAR sensor.
LIDAR applications include forestry and environmental conservation, archaeology, topographical mapping, mining, and agriculture. Although highly accurate, this technology is still relatively expensive.
Surveyors use drones for cartography, urban planning, distance and volume measurements, and implementation of infrastructure projects.
6. Parcel delivery
Drones are expected to have a central role in logistics. They’re already being used to fetch and sort items in warehouses. That explains the sizable investments by companies such as Amazon, FedEx, Walmart, and DHL. Although still hampered by FAA regulations, drone deliveries are becoming increasingly viable.
It won’t take long for UAVs to start delivering pizza, medical supplies, mail, and other packages. You’ll be able to order an item on your app and have it sent to your exact location in minutes. Most investors are conducting research that will allow drones to undertake beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) tasks. That means they’ll potentially make deliveries to customers who are miles away from the warehouse.
Other concerns for UAV-powered parcel deliveries include privacy concerns and safety issues due to obstacles such as power lines, humans, and other moving objects. Innovations include the integration of AI technology. It allows the drones to identify and avoid these objects, as well as diverse terrains.
As UAVs collect more data, in the future they’ll be able to use machine learning to suitably adapt to unique situations.
7. Law enforcement, surveillance, and emergency services
The only reason drones haven’t been widely adopted by law enforcement is due to privacy concerns. At the moment, they’re mainly used for border patrols and crowd surveillance. Other uses for drones include anti-poaching efforts, monitoring prisoners, and accident investigations. In emergency services, they’ve become a crucial part of most operations.
Other than performing hazard assessments, they can evaluate structural damage and help with disaster relief. Through LIDAR, drones can help with accurate calculations of the extent of floods, fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. They can also help combat fires in hard-to-reach areas, as well as deliver medical supplies.
8. Weather forecasting and monitoring
Weather forecasting is emerging as one of the many uses for drones. They can access active hurricanes, volcanoes, and areas experiencing heavy rainfall better than humans. Their high-quality sensors and cameras can also collect, analyze, and interpret more data.
UAVs can also help identify climate trends by constantly collecting data on changing weather patterns. They’re the perfect solution for meteorologists looking to better understand the field and provide long-lasting solutions. The only setback could be strict flying requirements by the FAA and other aviation authorities around the world.
9. Drone racing
Also known as FPV (First Person View) racing, it involves drones through gates and obstacles. It’s called FPV because you view the race through the drone’s camera. For the system to work, it needs to have a UAV, a video transmitter, decent camera, remote controller, and goggles. Once the system is set up, you wear the goggles just like VR gamers do, the only difference being you’re engaging in a live event.
In the past, FPV racing was high latency, meaning it would take longer for commands issued via the handheld controller to be executed by the drone. This lag would cause frequent crashes because by the time you saw an obstacle, it would be too late to respond.
More research into the niche, as well as support from leading manufacturers such as DJI, have reduced latency significantly. Today, you can have a smoother racing experience because the views and controller commands are almost instant.
Support for FPV racing has also led to the creation of drone racing leagues. The best examples are MultiGP, Drone Racing League (DRL), DR1 Racing, RotorMatch League, and FPVR. There are several amateur FPV leagues spread across the world.
This article only covers the more apparent uses for drones. As technology gets better, UAVs will provide solutions for more of our problems. Although commercial researchers are at the forefront of identifying and implementing new applications, civilian hobbyists are also playing an important advisory role.