A mere 10 years ago, drone technology was still in the lab. Five years ago it remained very expensive. Today you can buy a drone off the supermarket shelf, put cameras in the sky, and make it commercially useful, writes Chris Anderson in the Harvard Business Review. Drone data is now used in agriculture (crop mapping), energy (solar and wind turbine monitoring), insurance (roof scanning), infrastructure (inspection), communications, and across many other sectors.
“Measuring the real world is hard,” Anderson says. “Drones make it much easier.
He adds that are better sensors in the sky than both satellites or planes. They gather higher-resolution and more-frequent data than satellites – whose view is often obscured by clouds – and they’re cheaper, easier, and safer than planes.
“Drones can provide anytime, anywhere access to overhead views with an accuracy that rivals laser scanning – and they’re just getting started,” Anderson argues. “In this century’s project to extend the Internet to the physical world, drones are the path to the third dimension – up. They are, in short, the Internet of flying things.”
Plus drone economics are disruptive, with the airborne technology able to accomplish in hours tasks that take people days. And they can provide deeply detailed visual data for a tiny fraction of the cost of acquiring the same data by other means.
Drones are set to become as ubiquitous as automatic sprinklers, he adds. And it is in the prosaic applications that their real impact lies.
Handy drone: Leading drone maker DJI recently launched its Spark mini drone which is able to shoot 12-megapixel photos and 1080p videos. It boasts an obstacle sensing system and automated flight modes, and can be controlled by hand gestures alone.