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How businesses are using drones

Published: October 14, 2015

It is becoming clear that drones are not exclusively for recreational use—businesses of all kinds are buying into the advantages of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). According to forecasts by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), by 2017, the economic impact of incorporating UAVs into the U.S. economy will exceed $13.6 billion and add 70,000 new jobs. While Amazon has famously proposed to use drones for package delivery, other industries are putting UAVs to work now with the help of new technology and special camera equipment to help them research, explore and predict.

Agriculture: Surveyors and farmers are using UAVs to analyze irrigation and fertilization of farm fields. The use of drones in crop monitoring can increase crop yields while reducing the cost and risk of airplane fly-over filming. Companies such as Precision Drone manufacture UAVs with geographic information system (GIS) software that is capable of drawing field boarders around each farm for a unique flight pattern. “The beauty of the whole thing is that it saves the farmer money and helps the environment, too,” says Kevin Price, plant ecologist at Kansas State University and executive at AgPixel, a drone and imaging software company. Using color-contrast, drones with super-high resolution spectral imaging are able to show precisely where the sunlight is hitting the field and how much of it is being absorbed by the crops.

Real estate: Jesse Dill, broker and owner of the Jesse Dill Real Estate team says that, “more than 90 percent of real estate buyers use the Internet to look for their next home, making eye-popping videos and photos all the more important.” Those videos and photos are easily and inexpensively taken with camera-equipped UAVs rather than by attaching a camera to a crane to capture aerial views, which is how agents often get bird’s-eye shots. Although the overhead shots are proving useful only where the landscape is attractive enough to warrant aerial photography, this technology still gives real estates agents a competitive edge in their marketing strategy. 

Mining: UAVs are helping the industry find cheaper and safer ways to map deposit sites and explore for minerals. Companies such as HeLImetrex provide mapping and surveying software for drones, giving UAVs the ability to monitor stockpiles, map exploration targets and track equipment, which saves human surveyors the trouble of climbing over rock piles. According to Nigel Court, mining program and project manager for Accenture, mining companies are using drones to take high-resolution, time-lapse images of a site to see if fractures have appeared in the rock faces over time. He says this feature increases safety on a site.

Animal protection: Because elephants and rhinos in Africa are increasingly threatened by poaching as ivory and rhino horns become more desirable, drones are being implemented to stop poachers from the sky. Companies such as Air Shepard are using computer data to predict where the animals will be and therefore will the poachers will be hunting. Drones armed with infrared cameras are then dispatched to those areas where they can monitor and sense movement from miles away. Because the drones can monitor more ground than rangers, targeting hunters has become easier, safer, and more successful. Animal welfare groups can also use drones with videotaping capabilities to investigate large livestock operations in search of inhumane factory farms. Author Will Potter recently raised over $75,000 to purchase the drones he wants to use in investigations against animal agriculture. In an interview with The Salt, he said, “I was motivated by seeing these aerial photographs and satellite imagery of farm pollution, of waste lagoons, of sprawling industrial operations."

Looking further into the future, by 2025, drones will be responsible for creating 100,000 jobs with an impact of $82 billion in the U.S. according to AUVSI. Many of those jobs may come from industries such as those listed above as well as many others where a bird’s-eye view could mean solutions and profits.