Advances in technology have meant that drones have gone from being futuristic military machines to one of the must-have Christmas presents from last year. Businesses around the world are using the technology to improve customer service, for maintenance and to even capture the news. But how could a drone help you in your business?
Almost overnight unmanned aerial vehicles, (UAVs, or drones as they’re more commonly known,) have gone from being an expensive toy to something that could help in your business.
In the UK, the number of permits for drones issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has grown by 80 per cent since the beginning of 2014. Jonathan Nicholson of the CAA says:
"The future for drones is potentially limitless and they are already being used for some really useful and exciting purposes. But if we are to see drones live up to their full potential then we need everyone to fly them safely."
To help do this the CAA has developed the 'Dronecode' in response to the upsurge in personal and commercial usage. There is also an app, Drone Assist, developed by the UK’s main air traffic control provider, which provides an interactive map of nearby airspace.
In big business and government, drones are being used in many ways, including border and port surveillance, scientific research and environmental monitoring by NASA. Companies such as Amazon, UPS, Network Rail, easyJet and Domino’s pizza are already using drones, or trialling schemes for delivery and surveying. Devon and Cornwall police have recently revealed they are setting up a new 24-hour flying drone unit, the first of its kind in the UK. BT has experimented with drones to provide temporary internet coverage to battlefields, disaster zones and hard to reach areas and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to use them to bring internet access to the developing world.
But how might a drone help your business efficiency now? We look at five innovative uses.
Stock control and inventory counting
Drones can automate the warehouse inventory and stock checking process without any human intervention. They can be used to check the goods, as well as their location, on a more regular basis in order to improve stock control through the year. The drone photographs or scans barcodes then sends the data back to a stock management system, reducing the people and time required to carry out inventories.
Drones are increasingly being used in innovative ways for advertising. They can be turned into flying billboards carrying banners engaging directly with the local audience. Drones can even be used to carry promotional items and drop branded prizes into crowds.
TV, film and even wedding videos
Drones can go where helicopters can’t and they’re far cheaper to use, so have become popular with film and TV companies, with incredible results, such as in the BBC’s Blue Planet series. UK-based Flyweight Filming works with film companies, businesses, local authorities, the residential sector and wedding planners to provide aerial footage using drones. Co-founder David McKenna explains the attraction of drone filming; "They can go from intimate to grand in a few of seconds. We decided to start using drones because they provided the miraculous ability to inhabit the space between ground and aerial filming."
Surveys and site monitoring
Surveying with drones can be quicker, safer and far more cost-effective. Drones can capture high resolution images, which can be used to make decisions about maintenance and repairs. Sites can also be monitored remotely. Network Rail is using drones as part of its ORBIS project to digitise the UK’s rail network in 3D, to enable better planning of track maintenance and renewal.
Conservation and environmental monitoring
Drones can keep an eye on the environment by monitoring animal populations without disturbing them and provide data on the health of flora and fauna. Illegal activities such as the dumping of harmful substances and fly-tipping can also be monitored from afar.
The future of drones
Although around half of current drone usage is by media and communications companies, their affordability and ability to go places that people can’t, make them suitable for all sorts of uses not initially imagined. David McKenna of Flyweight Filming predicts it won’t be long before drones are a familiar sight in our daily lives. "With a technology this new, the full spectrum of applications is not yet known. I can see the day where their payloads enable them to perform repairs on dangerous and remote structures."