A new type of drone, neither military nor civilian, is emerging
TO MOST people a drone is one of two very different kinds of pilotless aircraft: a toy or a weapon. It is either a small, insect-like device that can sometimes be seen buzzing around in parks or on beaches, or a large military aircraft that deals death from the skies, allowing operators in Nevada to fire missiles at terrorist suspects in Syria. The first category, recreational drones aimed at consumers, are the more numerous by far; around 2m were sold around the world last year. The second category, military drones, account for the vast majority (nearly 90%) of worldwide spending on drones. But after a pivotal year for the civilian drone industry, an interesting space is now opening up in the middle as drones start to be put to a range of commercial uses.
Once you have a flying camera, there are lots of things you can do with it. Industries such as agriculture, construction, inspection, as well as public safety and other civil-government, will benefit. Agriculture, and measuring the health of crops in particular, was identified early on as a promising market for commercial drones. Crop health can be assessed by taking pictures using special multispectral cameras which “see” more than the human eye. In construction drones can help avoid projects going over budget by catching mistakes made translating the digital model to the reality on the ground early in the process. In essence, all the commercial applications being pursued today use drones to gather data. As the machines become more capable, they will start moving things around, which will give rise to a vast range of new uses.