Smart World

Drones: Show me the money

Electronics Bazaar - - Contents -

The CIA first used un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles (UAVs) over Afghanistan in 2000, and post the 2001 ter­ror at­tacks in the USA drones have be­come a part of the US mil­i­tary. How­ever, since then the con­sump­tion of drones has evolved con­sid­er­ably. From mil­i­tary to com­mer­cial sec­tors, drone tech­nol­ogy is fast be­ing adopted by in­di­vid­u­als, cor­po­rates and gov­ern­ments.

In fact, ex­perts are hope­ful that the com­mer­cial use of drones will soon turn it into a boom­ing sec­tor, thus mak­ing these avail­able for mass con­sump­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Price­wa­ter­house Cooper LLP last year, the global com­mer­cial mar­ket for drones is ex­pected to reach US$ 127 bil­lion by the year 2020. Cur­rently, the global com­mer­cial mar­ket for drones is at US$ 2 bil­lion. While this is some­thing that will hap­pen in the fu­ture, there are a few busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that have al­ready caught the eye of drone en­thu­si­asts.

UAV train­ing

UAVs are ex­pected to be avail­able for mass con­sump­tion by the end of the next decade. With in­dus­tries across the globe bet­ting big on this tech­nol­ogy, it has be­come im­per­a­tive to cre­ate en­gi­neers who are pro­fes­sion­als in op­er­at­ing UAVs. Thus, a lot of drone tech­nol­ogy firms are ven­tur­ing into the UAV train­ing space, which will ul­ti­mately cre­ate de­mand for the tech­nol­ogy. And with the Di­rec­torate Gen­eral of Civil Avi­a­tion (DGCA) ex­pected to come up with a clear set of reg­u­la­tions for op­er­at­ing drones com­mer­cially, In­dia is ex­pected to wit­ness a sharp rise in the num­ber of drone en­thu­si­asts. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by 6Wre­search last year, the In­dian UAV in­dus­try is pro­jected to hit US$ 421 mil­lion by 2021.

“Drone tech­nol­ogy is the fu­ture, but we can­not ex­pect ev­ery­one to have ac­cess to auto-op­er­ated drones as these are very ex­pen­sive. Hence, we need pro­fes­sion­als who un­der­stand how to op­er­ate drones, their tech­ni­cal­i­ties and fea­tures, among others,” says Ja­gadesh Chan­der Mu­ni­vel, di­rec­tor at Maa­van Aero­nau­tics, a drone train­ing in­sti­tute in Chen­nai.

Cur­rently, the in­sti­tute has more than 50 en­gi­neers train­ing on the var­i­ous as­pects of op­er­at­ing a drone. The in­sti­tute has cour­ses in UAV de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing, flight dy­nam­ics, pi­lot train­ing, au­topi­lot train­ing, aerial map­ping and im­agery. The ini­tial cost (to set up an in­sti­tute, which in­cludes buy­ing drones, rent among others) is es­ti­mated to be US$ 38,000, with an ad­di­tional in­vest­ment of US$ 30,000 to US$ 40,000.

Across the globe, the big­gest chal­lenge con­tin­ues to be the high prices of drones, which make it dif­fi­cult for train­ing in­sti­tutes to im­part hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence to their stu­dents. Most in­sti­tutes ini­tially train their stu­dents on sim­u­la­tors as han­dling of drones is an un­war­ranted cost.

Aerial map­ping

In the com­mer­cial space, a lot of sec­tors such as min­ing, real es­tate, in­fra­struc­ture, agri­cul­ture and oil have been re­ly­ing on drones for data that is oth­er­wise dif­fi­cult to ac­cess. As per a study by Al­lied Mar­ket Re­search, aerial pho­tog­ra­phy via drones is es­ti­mated to

UAVs are ex­pected to be avail­able for mass con­sump­tion by the end of the next decade While glob­ally, drones are used for aerial map­ping ex­ten­sively, In­dia is still at a nascent stage

reach the US$ 2.8 mil­lion mark world­wide by 2022. For in­stance, Mum­bai based drone startup Air­pix spe­cialises in us­ing drones for aerial map­ping of ar­eas that are oth­er­wise dif­fi­cult to reach. “We pro­vide data ac­qui­si­tion and analysis so­lu­tions us­ing UAVs for mul­ti­ple in­dus­tries. The so­lu­tions and re­ports pro­vided by the com­pany help its clients in project de­sign, progress mon­i­tor­ing, vol­ume cal­cu­la­tions and in­spec­tion of crit­i­cal as­sets,” says Shinil Shekhar, co-founder of Air­pix.

Shekhar adds, “Drones are just a plat­form. What you make of them de­pends on how you se­lect the sen­sors based on your project re­quire­ment and what kind of in­sights you de­rive after pro­cess­ing that data.” Cur­rently, the com­pany’s client port­fo­lio in­cludes the In­dian govern­ment and the In­dian Rail­ways as well as a few pri­vate firms such as Larsen & Toubro, Shapoorji & Pal­lonji and JSW Steel.

While glob­ally, in­dus­trial use of drones for map­ping is done ex­ten­sively, In­dia is still at a nascent stage. In­dus­try play­ers hold the cur­rent reg­u­la­tions re­spon­si­ble for the slow growth in this busi­ness cat­e­gory. “For drones to be­come a great busi­ness, healthy reg­u­la­tions have to be in place—reg­u­la­tions that will pro­mote the tech­nol­ogy, safe­guard na­tional se­cu­rity and en­sure pub­lic safety,” notes Shekhar.

Aerial cin­e­matog­ra­phy and pho­tog­ra­phy

This is one cat­e­gory that took flight im­me­di­ately after drones made their de­but com­mer­cially. Drones are be­ing ex­ten­sively used in film­ing, news re­port­ing, real-es­tate and wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy. In In­dia and the rest of the world, high-pro­file events such as wed­dings have been us­ing drones to cap­ture aerial views of the event for quite some time. And with Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FAA) le­gal­is­ing the use of com­mer­cial drones last year, drone pho­tog­ra­phy and cin­e­matog­ra­phy are an­tic­i­pated to grow.

Cur­rently, drone pho­tog­ra­phy is be­ing pur­sued on an am­a­teur level. But with the guide­lines in place, this cat­e­gory is ex­pected to gain a lot of at­ten­tion from in­dus­tries, as pho­tog­ra­phy is piv­otal to aerial map­ping as well.

At present, the ini­tial cost of proper drone pho­tog­ra­phy is less than US$ 10,000.

Dron­ev­er­tis­ing

Mar­keters across the world are al­ways look­ing at con­nect­ing with their con­sumers in­no­va­tively. And since drones are rel­a­tively a new tech­nol­ogy in the com­mer­cial space, brands are look­ing at ways to ex­plore it. In fact, the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia has made it manda­tory for brands to try some­thing new.

In­ter­est­ingly, a few mar­ket­ing agen­cies have been mush­room­ing across the world that spe­cialise in drone ad­ver­tis­ing, which is pop­u­larly called dron­ev­er­tis­ing. DroneCast, Hoovy and In­tel are three ma­jor play­ers in the seg­ment. Big shots such as Pep­siCo, Coco-Cola and GE have al­ready used drones in their brand cam­paigns to con­nect bet­ter with their con­sumers. The ini­tial in­vest­ment is some­where be­tween US$ 20,000 and US$ 25,000.

The mind­set of mar­keters in dif­fer­ent re­gions is a huge chal­lenge. While brands in the West are more ex­per­i­men­tal and are pre­pared to shell out more on a new tech­nol­ogy, the same can­not be said for brands in In­dia.

How­ever, with the tech­nol­ogy ex­pected to be­come cheaper in the fu­ture, it may not be too far-fetched to say that drones would be the next log­i­cal step after dig­i­tal me­dia, and dron­ev­er­tis­ing may be the big­gest trend in mar­ket­ing in the fu­ture in In­dia.

Drones for de­liv­ery

We can­not ig­nore the most ba­sic func­tions of a drone—de­liv­ery. Ama­zon is de­vel­op­ing a fleet of drones for its air­borne ser­vice, Ama­zon Prime Air De­liv­ery. The e-re­tailer’s drone de­liv­ery ser­vice has suc­cess­fully de­liv­ered goods to two of its cus­tomers in the UK. And while it is still in its nascent stage—drones can only de­liver goods that weigh less than 2kg and need a he­li­pad to land—we can ex­pect drone man­u­fac­tur­ers to come up with new user-friendly de­signs that will soon make de­liv­er­ies eas­ier.

Since In­dia along with the rest of the world is mov­ing to­wards dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion, and it is one of the fastest grow­ing on­line re­tail mar­kets, cheap air­borne de­liv­ery may just be the next idea wait­ing to be com­mer­cialised.

Cost of in­fra­struc­ture for drone de­liv­ery is a ma­jor chal­lenge as com­pa­nies in this space have to in­vest in ad­di­tional in­fra­struc­ture sup­port such as he­li­pads. How­ever, drone de­liv­ery is ex­pected to be a core part of the lo­gis­tics sec­tor in the fu­ture.

— This story first ap­peared in the May 2017 is­sue of Elec­tron­ics For You. It’s au­thored by Purba Das.

Aerial map­ping us­ing drones (Im­age courtesy: Air­pix)

UAV train­ing in ac­tion (Im­age courtesy: Maa­van Aero­nau­tics Pvt Ltd)

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