Many people will be vaguely aware that the use of UAVs – unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly referred to as drones – has been widespread in conflict and military applications across the globe for a long time now. In fact, it’s often stated that wartime drone use began as far back as World War I, when the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane project emerged as a very primitive precursor to the eventual development of the cruise missile.
Even earlier than this, balloons and kites were commonly deployed (albeit with generally limited success) as a method of trying to send unmanned crafts into remote or hostile areas, although neither would strictly meet today’s definition of a true UAV. Numerous technological advances continued through the 1960s and 1970s, but it wasn’t until after the 1991 Gulf War that the wider potential for drone use as reconnaissance and delivery vehicles really began to be explored more seriously.
Skip forward to today, and the rapid growth of the hobbyist and recreational drone market has been widely publicised in recent years – not least due to the increased urgency it has placed on the need for frequent updates to legislation around the licensing and use of UAVs by civilians. One area of this technology that has tended to receive less high-profile press coverage, though, is the rapidly accelerating process of commercial adoption.
Business funding UAV tech advances
As a company working on the forefront of drone software development for business applications, we’ve seen first-hand how the UAV industry is now expanding to almost every sector of the modern economy. Today, drones are being used to help boost efficiency and accuracy across industries as diverse as agriculture, videography, journalism, architecture, and emergency response. What most people don’t realise, though, is just how quickly all of this has come about.
Indeed, outside of large-scale livestock farming and governmental disaster responses, evidence of serious research into focussed commercial drone adoption was scarce prior to 2013. That’s the first time Amazon went public with the concept of trialling UAVs for future product delivery schemes, coinciding with the release of the now-iconic DJI-built quadcopter, the GoPro-mounted Phantom 1.
As recent as those milestone moments were, we’ve already leapt ahead in the few short years since, to a point where rapid annual advances in personal and non-military drone design are now being funded chiefly through big business investment. The need for ever-more-capable UAVs is increasingly being seen as an urgent one by major commercial players across all fields, as the true potential of these technologies to power 21st-century enterprise – especially when paired with complementary mobile app development – becomes ever more apparent.
Potential and challenges
As we’ve touched on in a previous blog about the development of drones for new industries, the obvious commercial opportunities afforded by UAV technology are abundantly clear in 2019. They’ve already been deployed in agricultural settings for longer than in almost any other sector, with various types of (re)search and delivery companies typically leading the rest of the pack.
Today, almost every other sort of business imaginable is now starting to follow suit, thanks largely to the fact that drone software dovetails perfectly with the increasing power of big data management in commercial applications.
Monitoring, imaging, hazard detection, access, technical maintenance and behavioural analysis are all key areas that stand to benefit from continuing advances in UAV systems and software, with the only real limitations to date having been technological ones.
Historically, UAVs built small enough to be commercially (and legally) viable for business uses weren’t always able to deliver the sorts of battery life, imaging resolutions or data storage capacities needed to make them a cost-effective long-term solution. Today, that’s changing fast: an ever-expanding roster of drone-building companies are making huge strides in development, thanks largely to a steady escalation of both corporate and government backing.
In 2019, UAV flight controls and stability are improving in leaps and bounds, onboard sensors and cameras are becoming smaller and more sensitive almost by the month, while data collection and management systems are starting to feel the benefit of powerful new machine learning algorithms, vastly enhancing the efficiency of processing analytics for a meaningful commercial advantage. Logically, the next hurdle to be faced by the wider corporate sector will be large-scale integration of these systems into their current business models.
However, the very same advances in technology that are powering the development of improved UAV function are also making the challenge of wholesale adoption far easier. As experts at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems point out, advanced drone function and data collection programming is already beginning to ‘blend seamlessly into the overall business design for data collection, analysis, and application’, meaning that companies of all stripes can now ‘drill-down into drone data and discover unexpected use cases, developing enterprise software based on [their] specific needs and tasks’.
UAV technologies and software may not have had a very extensive history of commercial use to date – but we at IT Craft certainly expect them to have a long and bright future.
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