In an industrial backdrop, drones are forming a core part of automation. Drones are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) that can be controlled remotely or can fly autonomously with defined coordinates working with onboard GPS and sensors. The basic functionality of drones is to collect specific information about an environment and relay it back to the controller.
Industry 4.0 sees several use cases for drones. UAVs are the next-generation technology for industrial sensors and IoT. Industrial drones operate under difficult conditions – in regions where humans cannot physically inspect the environment such as in hazardous or hard to reach areas. While they are primarily sensors, they are also being programmed to act of the information gathered.
So what are the industrial applications of drones?
Some industries are more enthusiastic about the application of drones. In the global Ecosystm IoT Study, organisations that have implemented or plan to implement IoT in the next 12 months were asked about the adoption of drones for asset management.
Industrial IoT is opening up opportunities for construction organisations. IoT devices have the potential to increase efficiency of construction sites and drones are one of the devices that can enhance safety and site operations. Instead of deploying heavy machinery and expensive tools, drones offer the capabilities to survey industrial sites to providing greater accuracy to building maps, QC processes, documenting project details – while reducing costs and project duration.
KIER, a construction and property group in UK is utilising drones to capture project progress, take 360 photographs and use it for photogrammetry (using photographs to model real-world objects and scenes). The benefits that the company reports include digital asset management and data insights, which in turn lead to cost reductions.
Drones will become an integral part of the Construction industry, to a large part because of safety and compliance requirements – and the industry needs to be prepared for it. UK’s Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) has launched a training course and program for industrial drone operators to attain and develop the skill to safely fly drones and operate industrial equipment that has specific operational hazards and constraints.
Energy and Utilities
This is another industry group that can benefit in a similar way from drones. Drones can perform hazardous jobs otherwise performed by humans such as surveying transmission lines, inspecting plant boilers, monitoring the health of solar panels, assessing storm damages and even repair faster. The industry has been traditionally using helicopters but drones are a lower-cost alternative – both for procurement and maintenance.
It is easy to see why Laserpas, one of the largest Utility Asset Management Companies in the EU is using drones for their workflow automation initiatives. Laserpas surveys power grid infrastructure, including power lines, transmission towers, adjacent areas and so on, with the help of drones. The drones are gathering data for AI-driven data analysis to increase the efficacy of their high-precision monitoring solutions
Laserpas is by no means alone – AT&T is using drones to avoid service disruption through aerial monitoring of towers, replace faulty parts and create portable cell towers in mission-critical areas.
Perhaps the earliest adopters of drones were a military defence in several countries. However, the use cases in Government are not restricted to that – it involves public safety and logistics in several Government agencies. They have become the means for agencies to gather data – both for situational awareness and scientific purposes – in a more efficient manner.
The ability of UAVs to cover large areas in a short time is helping emergency teams in search and rescue operations. The example from UK where a man involved in a crash was rescued from freezing temperatures by police drones, is a case in point. The emergency unit equipped a drone with a thermal camera that was able to locate the man in a six-foot deep ditch more than 500 feet from the crash site. There are examples of Public Health as well. In a municipality in Spain, mosquito control programs are using drones to conduct surveillance in likely breeding sites that are hard to reach. Once larval habitats are identified, drones are also programmed to spray pesticides to the area. Transport drones are also being used by Public Health agencies. Ghana’s government uses drones to supply blood and other critical medical supplies to remote areas. It has had a positive impact on the nation’s overall medical supply chain and the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority have plans to create an air corridor for the drones to prevent collisions with larger aircraft.
Perhaps the biggest use case for drones in Government will come from public safety measures. The Washington State Patrol has built up a fleet of 100 drones and using them for maintaining law and order in the state and for wide range of purposes including surveillance of armed and barricaded suspects and search and rescue operations. This will probably see a higher uptake than other solutions in Government.
Hospitality, Retail and Logistics
Though the adoption of drones in these industries is not yet as widespread as in others, there is tremendous potential in inventory and supply chain management. Walmart has conducted pilots on drones for warehouse management which has now been moved to implementation. Using drones reduces the need for heavy assets such as forklifts and conveyor systems.
UAVs are the best new way of tracking inventory using tracking mechanisms such as RFID and QR-codes UPS has set up a subsidiary that uses drones for delivery. Companies such as DHL, Amazon, and Google are developing and experimenting with drones to speed up delivery, especially for lightweight consumer goods. Drones not only help with inventory management but also ensures last-mile delivery.
The Hospitality industry has gone beyond logistics in their business application of drones. Examples are broad including creating marketing videos for properties, aerial site maps to help guests and staff members navigate sprawling grounds and surveillance. Drones make it possible to create a 3D virtual environment for security teams to monitor hotel perimeters, parking lots and outdoor venues effectively. This is more economical than hiring a full-time security crew for surveillance cameras and 24/7 monitoring. The Seadust Cancun Family Resort has a lifeguard drone that helps real lifeguards by supplying safety equipment and emergency floatation devices.
Drones are a major component of smart farming techniques and operations where farmers can benefit from real-time information about large tracts of land.
“An ‘eye in the sky’ by way of a drone, can save days for farmers and help them in checking stock, crops, and fences, battling weeds, and even mustering cattle. Simultaneously, they can provide data to help farmers make more informed decisions around applying fertilizer, disease detection, and about managing health and safety on farms,” says Jannat Maqbool, Principal Advisor Ecosystm. (Read Jannat’s Report on IoT in Agriculture: Drivers and Challenges)
Yamaha is working with farming communities in several countries to use UAVs to spray weed killers. Drones are utilised to spray the crops applying small quantities of pesticide or fertilizer to crops, orchards and forested areas. GPS coordinates create flight paths to aim for maximum coverage. This is leading to process automation in Agriculture – an essential component of smart farming.
Drone have started to prove their worth in various industries across applications and organisations across the globe are working to integrate drones into their operations. As laws mandating them to become clearer, more industries will look to leverage drones for automation.
Which are the other industries that will see a steady uptake of drones in the near future? Tell us your thoughts.