According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), 2.85 million drones could be flying by 2022 and 450,000 of those will be commercial. And it’s an incredibly lucrative industry: the predicted value for drones used by all kinds of sectors this year (2021) will be about a $100 billion, $13 billion of which could come from business use alone.
So what are drones used for, if not for friendly photos or videos?
Since drones can collect large amounts of aerial data, insurance is one industry that has taken to the sky: drones allow companies to better execute risk assessments, and to easily spot damaged assets as well as the scope of damage. Insurance-tech company Betterview, for instance, has used drones to inspect more than 6,000 rooftops in the UK over the past two years.
Agriculture and farming are other industries that have been positively affected by the growth of drones. Farmers can now analyse crops, gather data from the soil, and identify diseases and pests by drone images, rather than having to walk through the field and rely on human observation. Identifying diseases at an early stage of crop growth can enormously minimise the use of pesticides, which has a knock-on effect on the environment. So our food becomes more healthy and the waterways and soil will have less of the negative side effects of the use of pesticides.
Amazon, the provider of everything to everyone, is certainly an avid user and promoter of commercial drone use. They are at the forefront of this rapidly-changing industry. The multi-billion dollar company has recently developed Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery system which promises 30 minute delivery services for packages up to 5 lbs. It’s a completely unchartered area which has huge economic potential. Up until now, delivery has been the area of businesses most untouched by technological advances (car, van and truck deliveries, not least because air delivery can be a tricky thing to navigate (excuse the pun).
Like any rapidly-advancing technological phenomenon, the emergence of drones into mainstream business and consumer culture comes with risks, as well as benefits.
Drones pose significant threats to safety, security and privacy. Since they collect data and can be used for surveillance, there are concerns from a population already reeling from multiple data invasions from social media companies such as Facebook.
Having said this, their environmental impact cannot be underestimated. Since they are powered by batteries, drones are far more green than delivery trucks and significantly reduce the reliance on fossil-fuel emitting vehicles as transportation.
And these mechanical flying beasts even have a charitable side to them. Drones have been used to deliver blood packages to those in crisis: in hunger-games style, Zipline - a company which delivers life-saving goods to those in need- catapulted drones filled with blood to hospitals across Rwanda in 2019. The operation took less than 15 minutes, compared to the couple of hours it would have taken via traditional transportation.