Drones: the sky’s the limit for the UAV industry.
March 20th, 2019
It was only a few short years ago that the word drone would conjure up visions of the military flying a mission in some far off land and while the primary users of drone technology today is still the military/police forces, the future of drones is set to explode across all market sectors.
So, why is this? Are drones the new disruptor? Is miniaturisation of technology driving drone investment and development? Are these new drones solving real world problems or just a luxury? How is rapid manufacturing driving the industry forward. What industry’s are pushing for drones as a big part of their future?
These questions all overlap with each other but let’s quickly look at some answers to each of the individual questions.
Are drones the new disruptor? I wouldn’t call drone technology a true disruptor like we have been accustomed to with an Uber or an Air BnB. But drones certainly disrupting the norms in many an industry and forcing companies to think about the possibilities or risk getting left behind.
Take any kind of vertical inspection work for example. Why put human lives at risk if a drone kitted out with the right technology can perform an inspection task for you? Looking at drones this way may translate to an adjustment in salaries or adjustments to insurance rates or a whole host of possibilities that did not exist prior to commercially available drone technology. Drones do disrupt the norms and have the ability to offer many market solutions where none existed before.
Is miniaturisation of technology driving drone investment and development? Without a doubt. The ability to see and record by adding imaging technology to drones is one of the biggest drivers of the entire drone industry at present. Many drones sole purpose is to use imaging technology to deliver value to the user. The smaller the imaging technology payload is the lighter it is, which makes adaptation for commercial drone use an easier path forward.
But it is not only the miniaturisation of add on technology that is driving the drone investment forward. It can be as simple as a battery that is lighter and more efficient that can bring a drone project to life, or components that are lighter and smaller via fabrication using advanced materials. It is all about weight with drones. Make the drone itself lighter through materials or miniaturised components/technology and that drone can fly farther and/or achieve a heavier payload. How to achieve a heavier payload? A big factor driving R&D in the drone industry.
Are these new drones solving real world problems or just a luxury? In some cases there is no doubt that drones have the potential to and are currently solving real world problems. In other cases there are divided opinions on drones solving problems or just being a luxury.
Example, you have likely seen the video that shows how a drone can quickly deliver a defibrillator, as its payload, in the event of someone having a heart attack. This is drone technology solving real world problems.
Example, drones that can deliver a pizza? The pizza company may believe that this is a drone solving a real world problem, but is a drone replacing a low wage delivery job really solving a problem or just a luxury for the pizza company?
As any new technology comes online and gets adopted there will undoubtedly be much more debate on the subject of helpful or annoying. Monetary gains, public opinion, and government regulations are set for a collision course.
How is rapid manufacturing driving the industry forward? Any new product, or newish in the case of commercially available drones needs fast development so one can establish their offer in the market first. Not always, but often, first to market wins and it takes something extraordinary to knock the winner off their pedestal. At HLH, we have made drones for customers using 3D printing, carbon fiber, CNC machining, vacuum casting, and injection molding. Each project is different, each customers needs are different, often times more than one rapid manufacturing service is required to bring a new design to fruition but all new drone projects need speed at the beginning, which is at the heart of rapid manufacturing.
A trend that we are seeing is the use of low-volume production runs for v1.0 to help fund the eventual final design. The ability to sell your early drone concept product offer directly to your end customer has never been easier with today’s online world. As a result, many customers are not just making 5 prototypes, instead they are quickly scaling up to 500 low-volume production pieces that they then sell to fund v2.0 of the product line.
What industry’s are pushing for drones as a big part of their future? I can’t list everything here in this blog but here are a few examples that shows a diverse range of industry’s getting into the drone game.
- Security: a quick aerial view of your property on an hourly watch or a rapid response if security sensors are tripped? Drones. The uses of drones as a security measure by police forces, commercial property owners, and home owners are just in their infancy.
- Delivery: this is arguably the biggest growth area for the drone industry. Amazon, FedEx, and the rest are all testing out the viability of drone delivery services. Not too mention the food industry who see the possibility of delivering everything from coffee to tacos. The question with this kind of drone adaptation is will the public and local communities accept drones used en masse this way? The jury is out but the development dollars in this area is strong.
- Energy: you need to inspect something vertical? Drones. You need to inspect a massive solar farm? Drones. You need to get payload somewhere hard to reach? Potentially drones. Drones will not necessarily replace human talent in this industry but it will at least mitigate risk by removing some dangerous situations and will push hard on the human workforce by arguing itself as a viable option to replace them altogether. I for one am not a big fan of technology replacing workers too quickly, but new technology always knocks on this door.
- Farming: crop inspection, irrigation inspection, a birds eye view for irregularities? Drones.
- EMS: Need to find someone lost at night? Drone with infrared or thermo technology. Need to deliver additional medical supplies quickly to an accident scene? Drones. Need to deliver a rescue line or life preserver to someone in a river? Drones.
Above is only a drop in the bucket of industries that are right now using and will soon adopt drones as an everyday part of their business model. We expect to see a ten fold increase in drone project coming our way over the next 18 months as this industry continues to explode. Not all will win market approval but there is a tremendous amount of investment in the drone industry because of the potential financial upside. The UAV (drone) industry on wide scale adoption is only just beginning and the sky is the limit.