Drones have, as with most technologies, a wide spectrum of usefulness. What one uses to pick fruit, another will use to kill a human being. Companies are increasingly looking to drone technology to solve big and small problems but what does the future hold for this helpful and lethal technology?
Kevin Bolen, Principal, Innovation & Enterprise Solutions, KPMG is paid to know such things and spoke recently about the regulation reviews surrounding drones; "Both the US and UK have similar regulations in place around the flying of drones, which restrict commercial applications. Drones must weigh less than 55 lbs, and be flown within line of sight of the pilot, in daylight, below 400 feet and away from restricted airspace (e.g., airports). A pilot can only control one drone at a time. With so many restrictions, the primary utility now is for video streaming/recording; cameras are lightweight, and drones can easily access areas that are costly or unsafe for humans. [Streaming/recording] can prove helpful for inspection of large assets (e.g., oil rigs or bridges) or conducting an inventory of livestock or other materials."
Despite limitations, drone use is increasing and could add to GDP of most countries (2% for the UK alone per PwC research). When asked, Bolen agrees companies will likely rent more drones rather than buy them. In some cases owning will make more economic sense but the key is to think beyond your needs right now and partner with the right people; "As the demand for drones increases, the scale and efficiency of the companies servicing this demand will grow and they will continue to optimize the performance and range of offerings faster than an individual firm could handle on their own." Bolen also believes that specialized licenses will be commonplace for drone operators as with the trucking industry.
Bolen is bullish on the privacy, security and safety angles posed by drones and believes the most significant risk is the over the collection of data (facial, locational) and believes firms may find themselves in violation of shifting privacy laws without the proper strategy and insights. More exciting use cases for drones will emerge once regulatory issues subside according to Bolen. From replacing cranes to precision metrics during construction, replacing damaged communication infrastructure autonomously (natural disasters, old-age) to lifting hoses for firefighters, drones offer organizations a new era of utility and creative solutions to old problems.
Practically-speaking, starting with drones is easier than other emerging technologies thanks to low price-points and the simple nature of drones - i.e. it's not like implementing Block chain. Bolen recommends brainstorming a range of data points you wish to have that you don't have access to today and engage a service provider to run a few experiments to see if the drones are indeed able to source the data. From these tests, Bolen argues that ROI is more straightforward to determine than a lot of emerging technologies; "...you can also determine the time and cost to capture the data, the frequency required, as well as the utility of the date itself to gauge the ROI and assess whether a subscription or ownership model is most economical."
The critical thing about drones is often to change your mindset or perspective. "Not all drones fly,"Bolen says; "Hospitals have used drug delivery drones, and autonomous cars are large drones. I think we need to consider an environment where we are interacting and being served by intelligent drones moving goods alongside us on our roads and sidewalks. In the water, you could envision automated refueling stations that will come to you mid-voyage when summoned."
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