It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a drone?

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“That”

I decided to write my second to last blog on the toy everyone wished they got for Christmas: a drone. While they are fun to play with and fly around (I know from first-hand experience), drones have important business and life-saving applications that I decided to explore and share with you. While, to my knowledge, none of the companies we are visiting are using drones extensively, I would argue that may change in the near future.

First, a little history lesson:

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones were first used in France in 1782 as an unmanned balloon ride. By 1848, the Austrian military implemented them into their battle strategy by using bomb-filled balloons to attack the city of Venice. Thanks in part to work done by Nikola Tesla, drones continued to evolve. By the turn of the 20th century, drones equipped with cameras were rolled out. This was important because it allowed soldiers to see behind enemy lines without risking anyone’s life.

Fast forwarding to the 1990s, drones were used extensively in the military and started to monitor the climate and environment. In 2014, the toy drones we are all familiar with started to enter consumer markets. Today, the global drone market is a $1.2 billion industry and is projected to reach almost $13 billion by 2025.

Delivery

 

The most well-known business application of drones is their ability to deliver items. Companies such as Domino’s and Amazon have tested the concept but have not been able to scale. While these companies are praised for their efforts due to the potential of decreased greenhouse gas emissions, they have faced many issues. Packages must be a certain size for drones to safely deliver them and the regulatory issues that come with implementing this system are nothing short of a nightmare.

The best use of drone delivery I have read about was in Dan’s blog post when he profiled a startup called Zipline. In case you missed the post, Zipline delivers medical necessities (think blood, vaccines, and medicine) to remote areas. As Dan mentioned, if Zipline is able to overcome logistical and regulatory issues and grow into all developing countries, countless lives will be saved.

Surveying and Mapping

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Drones play a big role in land surveillance because they provide eyes that can cover large areas in a short period of time. Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) drones can survey construction sites to identify optimal building placement, provide topographic and hydrographic maps, produce the factors necessary to determine flood insurance prices, and much more.

Furthermore, these drones have sensors put in place that measure, transmit, and store a variety of data. The information collected is much more accurate and detailed than a human alone could produce. By using drones, surveyors are able to safely work in a remote location. After conducting this research, I can’t imagine why a company would not dedicate their R&D budget to this technology.

Inspection

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Above, you can see my tweet from a couple of weeks ago about this specific topic. When I heard this from one of the partners at Accenture, I was in awe. Altering process time from 3 months to an afternoon is absolutely game-changing for businesses. The client, in this case, was a major player in the oil and gas industry. That said, I can see this drone function being applicable in other industries like farming and manufacturing, as well.

While similar to the ability to map land in great detail, inspection using drones is much more of a risk for businesses. If an issue is not identified, the consequences could be great. For that reason, I don’t think the use of this technology will completely eliminate jobs. However, in a few years, I may be retracting that statement.

Search and Rescue

Recently, drones have become an important tool in search and rescue efforts by the police, the Coast Guard, and other organizations. Drones are much less expensive than helicopters and can reach previously inaccessible locations. Also, drones can fly at all hours, use infrared or night vision technology, and keep rescuers out of danger in disaster situations.

For example, park rangers at the Grand Canyon are now using drones to search the nearly 2,000 square mile park when someone is reported missing. Currently, they have five drones and four certified operators and are planning to expand the program as technology develops.

“Our historic model was to take the helicopter to look and see,” said Grand Canyon chief ranger Matt Vandzura. But now, drones can offer “that same close look but without putting any people at risk. It has dramatically increased our ability to keep our people safe.”

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Trends to Watch + Conclusion:

Some key industry trends to follow in the near future:

  • Software will dominate technological advancements. The physical aspects of drones can only be marginally improved. This means that the software used with drones will be a major focus for growth opportunities.
  • Like in many industries, Artificial Intelligence will be a disruptor. This is especially important as it impacts image recognition.
  • The effect of drone data will soon be made clear on companies’ financial statements. Once this data integration occurs, I imagine companies will invest even more in drone technology.
  • Regulations on Regulations. As some of these applications of drone technology develop, I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more battles between companies and regulatory agencies. In my opinion, privacy is a big concern that needs to be flushed out before this technology becomes widespread.

Through reading this post, I hope I have convinced you that drones are more useful than just being able taking cool pictures. (Although, that’s something pretty amazing as well!) In the tech industry, I wonder who will emerge as the leader in drone technology. On the trip, I want to ask companies such as Walmart and Google if they plan to enter the space. As of now, I would say Amazon has the lead but it’s certainly still anyone’s game.

Questions

  1. For True Ventures / Sequoia: Would you make an investment in a drone technology company, given the imminent regulatory hurdles?
  2. For Walmart: We all have seen Amazon explore drone delivery service. Is that a space you can see Walmart entering in the near future?
  3. For Airbnb: I have always been amazed at the quality of pictures of some famous listings. Could drones be used to take even better pictures, if they aren’t being used already?
Sources: Business Insider, The Balance, World Economic Forum, Chicago Tribune, CNET, Drone Analyst, Red Cross, Droney BeeComputer World

13 thoughts on “It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a drone?

  1. Love this post, Kipp!
    Drones have such a wide variety of applications, combined with their accessibility, I agree that they may be the next big thing. After wide destruction in Hurricane Irma, companies were using drones throughout my family’s neighborhood to assess roof damage and give households repair quotes in a much more timely manner than if human employees were inspecting each roof.
    However, I feel that the challenge of regulation may really hinder this industry. From a legal standpoint, privacy and airway ownership may limit the usefulness of drone search ability. From a delivery standpoint, I’m curious where drones would land in cities and concerned about how easy it may be to steal packages/take down drones.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool idea for a blog post! Though my only personal experience with drones is taking pictures and videos, I have always felt strongly about their ability to have a massive impact across all industries. My grandpa was one of the head engineers of one of the first military drones (the Ryan Firebee) that took its first flight in 1951, and his enthusiasm on the subject always sparked my interest in the technology. One of my favorite applications you mentioned in with search and rescue, as UAV technology supplements human efforts in such an impactful way with missing hikers, climbers, boats, etc. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kipp, awesome post and thanks for the shout out! I am a huge proponent of drone technology, and I believe implementing drones effectively could improve efficiency of logistics and the value chain of companies, while also having positive impacts on society (just like Zipline’s mission and drones’ application in search & rescue). Another cool application I read about recently is companies using drones in warehouses to track their inventory levels more accurately. Looking forward to seeing how drone technology develops in the near future!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was intrigued by the title and was more fascinated by the post! It is definitely exciting to see drones helping with surveying and mapping! When I visited a top Chinese university couple years ago, the Geography and Meteorology department talked about using drones but back then it was not quite a reality yet. It is also assuring to see drones helping with search and rescue.

    I agree with you that I am a little unsure about data privacy in the age of drones. I was just thinking the kind of personal data it will collect if it is used for commercial delivery. Although many companies have my address for delivery, I think the idea of me being exactly pinpointed on a map by delivery companies is a bit too much.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Awesome post! I couldn’t believe the initial use of a drone was all the way back in 1782. I think there are certainly a lot of amazing uses for drones, as you pointed out in your blog post and I am excited to see where the future lies for them. I am not sure how the privacy and regulation factors will be handled as they become increasingly used and versatile in our society; you definitely bring up a great point with that. Privacy and regulation is common theme with many of the new, disrupting technologies we are learning and hearing about in the news of late.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice post. It is so cool to see that the applications of drones extend past cool shots on Youtube videos, let alone help saving lives. It is also interesting to see that the drone market is projected to increase from $1.2 to $13 billion dollars. Kipp, do you know what the main driving factor behind this is? Is it the usage you listed above, recreational, or some other form of commercial usage? Thats a huge jump and I’m personally super excited to see the industry take off.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. So cool, Kipp! The widespread consumer use of drones makes people forget their awesome and practical potential. I love that you had a shoutout to farming—digital precision agriculture is absolutely fascinating to me. As less people are farming and as the population grows, the world will need to effectively double food production by 2050, and drones can definitely help with that using the GIS technology you mentioned. Aggregated images can create contour maps to track where water flows, determine variable-rate seeding, and create yield maps of areas that were more or less productive. Long read but very interesting about tech and drones in farming: https://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2016-06-09/factory-fresh
    Like Abby mentioned, I’m also curious how this industry will be regulated, and what effect those regulations will have.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great topic choice! Personally, I’m waiting for drones to replace cars, but I think the applications are going to be abundant in the future, particularly when the AI gets good enough to begin letting them act on their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I mean, really interesting topic!! I tweeted last night about your blog post, but I really think it’s fascinating to see how quickly we’re adapting to changes and utilizing new technology as they seem to develop in astronomical speed. I am also concerned with data privacy when it comes to using drones because as much as drones can freely rome around, the harder it is to keep them under control. In some countries drones are being used to take paparazzi shots or of residents of apartments and private property of houses. spooky! I personally think that some of public usages of drones might be reviewed, but commercial usage doesn’t seem to bother public that much!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post Kipp! Many view drones as just another tech toy, but your post shed light upon the immense potential of drones to transform society. I anticipate the day that Amazon implements mass-scale drone delivery—and more same day delivery with that?

    Another interesting use of drone technology has been undertaken by Uber with the company’s flying taxi initiatives. Uber hopes to have the technology available within the next decade. Here’s an article about it if you’re interested in learning more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/09/26/uber-plans-self-flying-drone-taxis-to-beat-city-traffic/. I’m curious to see how air traffic will be affected by the impending storm of drones and flying objects.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey Kipp, loved the post… especially the part about search and rescue. For our “senior project,” my friends I took off on a 2 week road trip through the deserts and highlands of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California. As part of our “protocol” for whenever we lost people in the desert (yes this happened 3 times, twice to myself), we would start looking for them by sending up my friends drone to see if we could spot the lost person that way.

    I’ve also been an enthusiastic follower of recreational drones. When I was back in high school, I was really excited about the launch of this drone called the lily. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vGcH0Bk3hg. Unfortunately, the technology was just not there at the time and probably still isn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Awesome post, Kipp! I can see how drones could become the next big thing. They can be used in a number of different scenarios to help improve processes from disaster relief to doorstep delivery. I definitely think they have challenges on the horizon in regards to privacy and safe fly areas. Regardless, I think I’ll be adding one to my Christmas list!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Awesome post Kipp! I think drones are so cool and have friends that have actually created businesses by leveraging their drones!

    I loved your breakdown of the various applications of drones and your insight to potential future uses as well. I am interested in how privacy will be protected as the usage of drones expand and how to maintain the security of drones as well. I know in Boston they limit the licenses to fly drones in Boston for a variety of reasons, making usage limited. However, you could also argue that drones (used in delivery application) may not be as necessary when everything is so central and deliverers can get there quicker.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this post. Who knew that drones have been around for so long! I wonder if France had any idea of how much their invention would evolve. Thanks France and Kipp!

    Like

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