Today the public at large views drones - or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) - as a useful tool for photography; especially in the commercial real estate (CRE) space where there's a reliance on drones to take aerial photos and videos to help sell property. But drones are so much more than just flying cameras; they are literally flying computers, low level satellite systems, and even flying assistants that will soon benefit our economy in so many different ways. The construction industry and infrastructure sectors are slowly discovering the benefits of industrial drones' small, yet powerful sensors that provide critical information and analytics to managers, architects and engineers. This new level of data provides management with better insights, which ultimately lead to better decision making in the area of construction, inspection, safety and cost.
Industries that Will Soon Use Industrial Drones
To date, the industrial/commercial drone industry is worth billions. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers research (PWC), commercial real estate, construction and infrastructure sectors account for $45 billion of the $127 billion in drone market value. That's a pretty substantial number for an industry that's still in its infancy. Way beyond the uses of just traditional aerial photography, industrial drones are very proficient in collecting data for intelligence, analytics and surveillance. In the not so distant future, these aerial AI machines will carry a host of new sensors that will significantly aid to the growth of the Big Data revolution. Industrial drones serve as an aerial platform of incredible versatility - capable of over 320 uses across a myriad of industries such as:
Precision Agriculture (farming)
Mapping & Surveying
Construction & Infrastructure
Utilities and Energy
Mining & Aggregates
Movies - Motion Pictures
Advertising - Commercials
Inventory Logistics Management
Research & Development
Drones and the Three D's
There's another reason why so many industries are embracing commercial drones - because they handle the task of the three D's: the dull, the dirty and the dangerous. I would personally add another D to the equation: that D is "difficult." Industrial drones can get to places and spaces that are very difficult for helicopters to reach. For example, industrial drones can take the risk out of powerline maintenance at a much lower cost than helicopters. Why risk a large helicopter, and the lives of the pilot and crew just to survey 40,000 volt power lines in tight spaces - when a smaller, industrial drone can do the same job at a fraction of the cost without the risk of human life. Drones can also do simple jobs like roof inspections. Why jeopardize the safety of someone going on top of a roof, chimney, or cell tower when an industrial drone can initially survey the area for damage with little to no risk at all? The value and utility of these drones are clear - and the use cases for them are only growing over time.
Hurdles to Overcome
Industrial drone adaptation is on the rise, especially in the commercial real estate industry. That being said, drone cost are not cheap. Cost can range anywhere from $2,000 for prosumer drones - to more than $100,000+ per unit for high-end industrial platforms. The good news? As the technology and adaptation increase - cost and physical size will decrease; thereby, making the barriers to entry a little easier. However, adhering to the myriad of regulations handed down by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proven to be a difficult and cumbersome process. As a result, many CRE firms are less likely to buy or rent drones - and more likely to hire professionally licensed drone operators to fly in controlled airspace. Attaining certifications and approvals to fly in Class B, C, D and E airspace can often be a daunting and frustrating task. To make matters worse, the laws in this new industry are constantly changing. That's why so many companies in the CRE industry hire professional drone companies who are FAA approved because these vendors have proficient pilots who are able to keep up with the ever changing drone laws.
The future of the drone economy looks bright. It's a brand new platform that will enable park rangers to find someone who is lost in the woods; help oil and gas workers determine methane leakage; help engineers detect stresses and cracks in critical infrastructure; protect nuclear plants; help electricians survey power lines without risk to human life; and provide remote communities with internet access. And by the way, drones do take pretty good pictures. But I remind you, industrial drones are so much more than just cameras in the sky; they are a formidable flying platform of infinite use to our society.