When most people think about unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, they think of their military applications, but increasingly, drones are being used by civilian companies to perform a variety of important tasks and automate processes. According to The Motley Fool, in 2016, 2.5 million commercial drones were sold in the United States. Of these, 1.9 million were sold to hobbyists while an additional 600,000 were purchased by corporations. The industry is expecting tremendous growth. By 2020, commercial drone sales could be as high as 2.7 million annually. With a growing number of commercial applications, it’s likely that drones will become a vital part of our lives in years to come.
In recent years, commercial drones have proven to be a cheap, reliable option for both large companies and small businesses seeking to automate tasks. According to Air Drone Craze, as the price of drones drop over time and government regulations are lifted, companies may discover even more commercial uses for drone technology. Here are some of the current applications for drone technology:
• Shipping and delivery: Companies like UPS, Amazon and DHL are eager to use drones for deliveries. In 2016 DHL made 130 deliveries using drones.
• Mapping and GIS: Drones can be used to capture aerial photography to aid in GIS and mapping activities. With their ability to reach remote locations and capture high-resolution data, drones are increasingly being used to create 3D maps.
• Search and rescue: Drones with thermal sensors can be extremely useful tools in search-and-rescue operations. Drones are particularly useful in aiding search-and-rescue operations at night over difficult, dangerous terrain.
• Journalism: Drones can be important tools to aid journalists in obtaining photography or video footage for live broadcasts. In fact, drones were used to film skiing and snowboarding events during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
• Storm tracking: It’s possible to send drones into hurricanes and other violent storms. When equipped with special sensors, drones can provide researchers valuable information regarding the trajectory and behavior of violent storms.
• Disaster management: Drones have a number of important applications for disaster-management operations. When equipped with a camera and radar, drones help rescuers gather information about the disaster area. Due to their small size, drones can fit into tight places that larger aircraft can’t, allowing for a safer, efficient method for gathering information.
The Future of Drones
Officials at the Federal Aviation Administration believe the use of drones will be one of the fastest growing sectors in the aviation industry over the next four years. According to the Insurance Journal, there may be as many as 7 million drones in use by 2020. Of these, 2.7 million will be in use by private companies. Two categories of drones are expected to emerge. High-end drones, with a variety of commercial applications, could be sold for around $40,000. Smaller, low-end drones could be available for as little as $2,500.
In the coming years, industries as diverse as agriculture, insurance and real estate are expected to begin adopting drone technology. In the next five years, drone manufacturers are expected to produce as many as 542,000 small drones a year for use in commercial applications. By 2020, industry inspections, real estate, agriculture, insurance and the government are expected to be leading users of drone technology.