Posts tagged "Commercial drones"

In my last post, Five Biggest Commercial Drone Trends of 2017 and the Challenges Ahead, I used data from our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report to illustrate the major trends of the past year and describe the major challenges ahead for the drone industry. That post looked back, but this one looks forward, offering our specific predictions for 2018, including investments, technology improvements, ecosystem partnerships, and software innovations.

(Listen to this companion Drone Radio Show podcast here for our complete assessment.)

1. Investment and testing will continue in earnest on Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.

With regulations moving at the speed of government and dissenting views on Drone ID, it seems like UTM (air traffic management for low-altitude drones) is an elusive dream. However, there is hope that testing being done on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations in drone corridors will provide the necessary inputs to integrate drones into the national airspace. Expect news this summer from the vendors and service providers conducting tests at NUAIR in New York as they release results and performance-based navigation standards begin to coalesce.

2. You’ll see more news on improved sensors, hardware integration, networking, and processing.

Already, we’ve seen announcements like this one for new thermal imaging drone payloads. Expect to see further Ethernet / IP sensor integration efforts as more and more remote managers demand immediate access to data from local operations. Expect more news on LiDAR / drone integration like this one from Delair-Tech as more land surveyors and construction professionals demand further time and money savings over traditional methods.

3. Look for more partnerships, software, and innovations coming from the DJI Enterprise ecosystem.

We noted in our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report just how much DJI dominates the industry with its 72% market share. All the major mission-planning and mapping applications—like DroneDeploy, PrecisionHawk’s PrecisionMapper, Skycatch, and dozens more—now run on the DJI SDK. What our report didn’t mention was DJI’s focused efforts to further expand its commercial ecosystem. DJI Enterprise’s AirWorks Conference is but one example, an event whose purpose is showcasing applied drone solutions for the commercial industry’s most challenging obstacles. Expect many innovations from DJI’s partners in the hardware, software, and service sectors.

4. Software will dominate advancements.

Along with the new imaging sensor announcements in 2018, we expect to see imaging software advancements as companies seek to combine RGB, thermal imaging, orthomosaic, and radiometric data.

We also expect to see more aerial imaging and mapping software firms announce artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Right now, most of this is cloud-based machine learning (aka deep learning and predictive analytics) where data sets are trained by specialized teams. You may see some edge-based AI announcements for image recognition/machine vision, but be cautious when you do. We think it’s still early in the technology development cycle and AI is at peak hype.

We think the big news for 2018 will be the integration of drone data and workflow into asset management systems. Capabilities include documentation, tracking, and GIS data integration. It may bring a yawn to some but we believe when you can connect the dots and show the effect of drone data capture on the balance sheet, CFOs and CEOs will take notice and drive further enterprise adoption.

Parting thoughts

As I speak to clients, I always like to remind them of two things about the commercial drone market. First, it’s not a drone market, it’s a data and information market. The drone is just a data capture device. Second, drones are aircraf, not consumer products and as such their operations are regulated by aviation authorities.  All technology advancements aside, this is a regulated market, so always expect lumpy, bumpy growth.

We hope you keep those in mind as well and wish you best success in the coming year.

Listen to the companion podcast here

If you have questions about what’s in the report I mention or would like to comment, write me at

Image credit: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

Insituís INEXA Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS) Snowball Edge demonstrated the ability to process and move terabytes of remote sensing data with no internet connectivity. This LiDAR image was taken in less than one hour of flight, during which more than one linear kilometer of a wall was mapped, providing the customer with easy-to-access, actionable data that can be shared across its state-based operations in Australia. (PRNewsfoto/Insitu)

COSTA MESA, Calif., January 23, 2018 – Insitu, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company, recently celebrated a successful trial deployment of Amazon Web Services (AWS) Snowball Edge in Queensland, Australia. AWS Snowball is a service that accelerates transferring large amounts of data into and out of AWS using physical storage appliances, bypassing the internet. AWS Snowball Edge is a 100 terabyte (TB) data transfer device with on-board storage and compute power for select AWS capabilities.

INEXA™ Cloud, part of Insitu’s INEXA comprehensive suite of professionals, tools and services, was deployed by the Insitu Commercial team in conjunction with Insitu’s ScanEagle® unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to collect, process, and move terabytes of remote sensing data in collaboration with AWS. In its successful trial deployment, the ScanEagle linked with AWS Snowball Edge, preconfigured with Insitu’s proprietary, high-performance three-dimensional (3-D) reconstruction algorithms, to generate a high density, precise, 3-D model of an infrastructure in a remote location with no internet connectivity. The data was preprocessed and its integrity validated within hours of acquisition at the isolated site, allowing operators to immediately move the data to the customer’s INEXA Cloud business account running on the nearest AWS Region for deep analytics and data storage.

“One of the biggest challenges for remote site inspection and data management is the word ‘remote,’” said Jon Damush, Insitu’s Chief Growth Officer. “By definition, remote implies ‘removed from infrastructure,’ which in our world means little to no internet connectivity. The scale of this type of work means we needed to collaborate with a company that could help us find a path forward, and AWS was that company. With the combination of INEXA Cloud and AWS Snowball Edge, our customers can load terabytes of data, process the data on-site, pre-check and validate the results, send it to INEXA Cloud, and evolve the data with ongoing analysis, confident that the data’s integrity has been corroborated.”

Insitu’s INEXA Cloud platform delivers secure, integrated and extensible services, tools and application program interfaces (API) to present data to a growing repository of applications. These applications process many data types including images, day-and-night video, multi-and-hyper spectral imagery, and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). The data also can be exposed to a growing family of algorithms which extract precise information such as 3-D Digital Surface Models (DSMs), volumetric assessment, automatic object detection and classification, vegetation encroachment and change detection, machine learning, and deep learning. Informed decisions then can be made rapidly, particularly in mining, oil and gas, energy, water, and other large critical infrastructure management industries, resulting in optimized business operations and increased safety.

“Thanks to this collaboration, customers can easily and quickly move huge amounts of data to INEXA Cloud, avoiding the expense of building and maintaining high speed networks, or building, securing, encrypting, maintaining and shipping rugged storage devices and computer systems,” explains Rahul C. Thakkar, Director of Insitu Commercial Cloud. “This new capability can solve a major problem that large enterprise customers operating in remote areas have faced on a daily basis. We are pleased to offer this simple, powerful, and cost-effective solution to our customers.”

As a pioneer, performer, and leader in the aerial and remote sensing spaces for more than 20 years, and since acquiring 2d3 Sensing in 2015, Insitu continuously expands its extensive computer vision and machine learning capabilities to develop custom, autonomous, end-to-end solutions for customers.

About Insitu
Insitu is an industry-leading provider of information for superior decision making. With its headquarters in Bingen, Wash., and offices in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, the company creates and supports unmanned systems and software technology that deliver end-to-end solutions for collecting, processing and understanding sensor data. We proudly serve the diverse needs of our global customers in the defense, government and commercial industries. To date, our systems have accumulated more than one million flight hours. Insitu is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company.

For more information, visit

Drones come in many names to different people: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and the Flying robots, just to mention a few. The arrival of drones over past few the years has paved the way for innovations and use of the device by many experts and in the yea…

Last year at this time, I reflected back on the news and trends of the commercial drone markets of 2016 and wrote about the mixed state of affairs ahead for 2017. Throughout the year, I offered my perspective on how the drone industry was still motivated by hype and how assessing forward momentum required hard data on the performance of the various sectors of the industry. To that end, we did research over the summer that surveyed 2,600 respondents on drone purchases, service providers, business users, and software services. In September, we published the data in 2017 Drone Market Sector Report 2017.

In this post, I’ll use that data to illustrate the major trends of the past year and describe what I think are the major challenges ahead for the drone industry.

Listen to this companion Drone Radio Show podcast here for the complete assessment.

Trend 1—Growth

By all measures, the drone industry in 2017 was marked by significant growth – growth in aircraft sales, software licenses, the number of service businesses entering the market, and the number of industrial businesses setting up commercial operations.

Here are a few statistics:

  • We project U.S. sales in 2017 to be about 3.3M units, which is 36% above 2016 figures. That’s all drones, all sizes. It’s about 1.3M units for the >250gram category.
  • As of October 31st, there were about 837,000 hobbyist users and 107,000 non-hobbyist drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • As of December 1st, there were about 66,000 Part 107 FAA Pilots.

This represents a big change in the commercial market since Part 107 regulations supplanted Section 333 as the means for commercial operations in the U.S. What this and our survey data tells us is the number of service providers currently outpaces demand, and as a result, service prices are coming down significantly.

Trend 2—Consumerization

We said in our report that more consumer drones are being used for commercial work than ever before. For example, our data shows that more than two-thirds (68%) of all drones weighing over 250 grams are purchased for professional purposes—either governmental or business.

Why is this significant? Because the impact of consumer-originated technology on the enterprise is something that can’t be ignored. Enterprises want to take advantage of powerful, yet easy-to-use products (like DJI’s popular consumer models), and put them to work on the job. What this means for operators or businesses is that a shared core technology benefits all users and enables companies to scale the best experiences to everyone. Enterprise customers get the added simplicity and usability of the consumer product that has been built to meet the demands of thousands of customers around the world.  The average individual pilot gets to benefit from the reliability and scalability inherent in the product and demanded by enterprise users.

Trend 3—The DJI effect

Our data shows DJI is the clear market leader in drone aircraft sales and almost every software category. For example, DJI is the dominant brand for drone aircraft purchases, with a 72% global market share across all price points and an even higher share (87%) of the core $1,000–$1,999 price segment. Additionally, in the three categories of software we evaluated, DJI is the market-share leader in two: flight logging and operations, and automated mission planning.

This is significant because by building on top of its existing technology platform, DJI has fast-tracked development and has benefited from economies of scale. By migrating a successful technology stack and feature set upmarket, DJI never has to reinvent the wheel—it just needs to improve upon the original design and save engineering cycles for real innovation.

The upshot is that to stay relevant, all the other major vendors have had to partner with DJI (see Trend 5 Partnerships, below). DJI’s sales success has taken market share from others and has led to layoffs at 3DR, Autel, GoPro, Parrot, and Yuneec. However, fears about data security remain. And this has some speculating about whether DJI can sustain its leadership role in the future.

Trend 4—Investments

According to CB Insights, investments shifted in 2017 from aircraft hardware to software. In 2016, there were 106 deals totaling $542M. Most of these were for hardware. In 2017, VCs focused on software, end-to-end solutions, and counter-drone technology. CB Insights projects the year will end with 110 deals totaling $494M. The most significant investment this past year was 3D Robotics’ $53M Series D round. It saw them pivot from hardware to software services.

Why is this significant?  Because it shows the industry is still maturing. Seed and Series A rounds represented 60% of all deals in 2017; whereas early-stage share peaked in 2015 at 73% of deals. Additionally, some of the most well-funded drone companies are targeting enterprise and industrial inspection.

What this means for operators or businesses is greater affordability. Software advances, computer chip manufacturing techniques, and economies of scale will continue to drive down the cost of drone platforms and sensors and solutions.

Trend 5—Partnerships

This year we saw a change from synergistic merger and acquisitions to the creation of end-to-end solutions via partnerships. For example, look at how DJI’s enterprise partnerships have grown. Consider their AirWorks conference. What drone major vendor wasn’t there? The list included DroneDeploy, Measure, PrecisionHawk, Skycatch, and Sentera, to name a few.

This past year we also saw an uptick in regulators and industry stakeholder partnerships. For example, the Drone Advisory Committee was created to provide the FAA with advice on unmanned aircraft integration from a diverse group of stakeholders. Major commercial participants include Intel, DJI, Amazon, Google X, and Facebook, as well the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Consider also the FAA’s new UAS Integration Pilot Program. Here, government entities are partnering with private-sector companies, such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operators and manufacturers, to submit proposals to the FAA to fly more advanced operations in their communities, including flying beyond line of sight and over people. This is significant because it’s clear that regulators want to include industry when creating policies.

However, there is some good news / bad news with this.

The good news is greater flexibility. With vendor partnerships, drones will be able to perform more types of data gathering in a shorter timeframe and with more precision than many other options. So, more aircraft, sensor, and software integration.

The bad news is operators and businesses have regulatory uncertainty. We advise our clients to plan for some uncertainty as technology, the public, and bureaucracy find common ground on operations for beyond visual line of sight and over people.

Challenges ahead

Here’s my list of the major challenges facing the drone industry in 2018:

  1. Regulations: We may see more regulatory red tape—e.g., a patchwork quilt of rules as the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program begins to make policy.
  2. Public sentiment: Basic public concerns still exist about drone safety, security, privacy, and their public nuisance. My question is: How can we overcome this?
  3. Business value: We’ve yet to see credible ROI that hits the executive scorecard. The key question is: What monetary benefit do drones and information gleaned from drones provide shareholder value?
  4. Information accuracy: Up to now, drone vendors have been focused on the accuracy of image capture and the rigor of the drone system. For better business value, they need to focus on the accuracy of the data processing and the rigor of data analysis.
  5. IT data governance: This is especially the case for drone inspections where a single drone could collect 50 to 100 gigabytes of data. Managing these large data sets starts to become one of the things that have to be worked out.
  6. Automation: A lot of software automation will come, including artificial intelligence (AI) or algorithms that minimize the amount of human effort to distill all that information and get to some actionable inference. But large scale industrial use of AI is young and it requires manual intervention to distinguish the difference between near-similar objects.
  7. Endurance: We’re still on the quest for efficiencies like better power sources or mixes.
  8. Widespread business adoption: Business and industry adoption is growing, but it’s mixed because of factors such as business risk aversion, concerns over invasion of privacy, and a reluctance by many companies to share too much information about successes.

That’s it for now.

Listen to the companion podcast here

Look for a follow-up piece on our specific predictions for 2018, which will include investments, technology improvements, ecosystem partnerships, and software innovations.

If you have questions about what’s in the report I mention or would like to comment, write me at

Image credit: Shutterstock

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More and more companies are considering drones in 2018. Drone adoption is steadily increasing as industry leaders like Brasfield & Gorrie, QBE NAU, and SunPower continue to see success with their drone programs.

Before you launch or scale your own program, you need to read this guide from Drone Deploy to learn how to get your drone operation off the ground. You’ll learn everything you need to know––from federal drone regulations to buying hardware and software, to training and insurance options.

Many companies are considering drones in 2018. Commercial drone legislation introduced around the world has made it possible for today’s largest businesses to integrate these powerful tools into their operations.

If you’re considering drones, you’ve probably got some questions. Where do I start? What should I consider? What are the risks?

In this guide, you can find all the need-to-know information for getting your drone program off the ground. Expect answers to some of the most commonly asked questions when deploying drones at scale. You’ll learn about:

  • Federal drone regulations
  • Buying hardware and software
  • Hiring and training pilots
  • Minimizing risk and getting insurance
  • Fleet maintenance, repairs, and more





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While traditional methods are still used frequently by land surveyors, the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is rapidly taking hold. Over the last few years, we have seen a sudden emergence of UAVs, often referred to as drones, in the realm of surveying. So where did they come from, how are they being used, and how will they be harnessed in the future of surveying?

The Start of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Surveying

When UAV surveying was first developing, it was primarily used by military personnel to survey large areas without putting personnel at risk. The UAV would take photos of a large geographical location and the software would be used to combine the images together into one larger consumable picture. From this beginning spiked the application of UAVs in a large amount of military, commercial and recreational uses.

Commercial Surveying’s Adoption of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

One of the most game-changing technologies in the world of surveying is the introduction of UAVs. It completely overhauled the way survey companies conduct business for the better, making it far easier to survey large areas. Using UAVs also offered a more cost-effective way to survey, reducing the potential harm to staff as well as allowing operational facilities to remain functional and being respectful to culturally sensitive areas.

UAVs were first used to survey mine sites, agriculture, construction and land management sites. However now with their near limitless number of surveying functions, UAVs are extremely useful to survey difficult-to- enter sites such as quarries and landfill facilities. The cost-effectiveness and ease of use have made it one of the most stable forms of surveying used by many professional commercial surveyors.

Introduction of Specific Laws Targeting Drones

The sudden rise of UAVs and drones for both commercial and recreational use has rushed many aviation authorities to make laws specific to unmanned aerial vehicles. For example, the Australian Government Civil Aviation Safety Authority has stated strict laws with videos explaining what you can and can’t-do with unmanned drones.

Courses have emerged to give people qualifications in the piloting of unmanned drones. In large scale, commercial surveying it is often required to have been trained and have a certificate showing your training before you can pilot a drone. As the popularity of commercial drones will likely continue to rise, it is always important to check the aviation laws in your country.

The Shift to Unmanned Drones

While drone surveying is steadily on the rise, it is advancing past previous methods due to the many benefits it provides. Surveyor Martin Leggat works as a drone pilot at New Acland Mine and said: “Before introducing the drones, we would survey the mining pits about every three months using light aircraft”. He continued “Now the drones allow us to survey once a month and offer a significant reduction in costs and time because they can fly during conditions when most light aircraft can’t.” For reasons, such as this, drones have become one of the most sought-after and used surveying tools.

“…drones allow us to survey once a month and offer
a significant reduction in costs and time…”

Drones also provide an affordable alternative to field survey personnel. By using drones to acquire data over the majority of the site, onsite staff can focus on areas that require on-the-ground detailed surveying. This allows surveyors to complete projects faster, at a lower cost and with less staff.

The Future of Land Surveying with Drones

Drone surveying, while not replacing traditional land-based surveying methods, will still add another dimension to surveyors’ toolkits. Due to being extremely cost-effective, fast and accurate, they are likely to continually advance at a rapid rate, become even cheaper and provide more detailed imaging. You’ll likely see drones being used wherever possible in surveying if they can be used efficiently and accurately.

With what we have seen in advancements over the last few years, I’m sure there is going to be a lot more to see in the world of drone surveying moving forward.

Using drones under extreme conditions remains a challenge for many companies around the world. Choosing the right platform versus a professional service provider for drone operation is equally challenging – especially when the results must be highly accurate.

This 14-page white paper looks at some of these challenges in detail and aims to steer business and technical decision makers through the demanding process of commercial drone operation. Using Australia’s economic and environmental landscape as an example unveils challenges and benefits that come along with drone operation.


As drone technology evolved significantly in 2013, it became a game-changing solution for several industries. In the meantime, national aviation authorities have prepared stable regulatory frameworks for realizing UAV operation and today almost every industry is deploying UAVs to increase productivity and safety.

Especially in the mining, construction and infrastructure industry the technical solutions are mature enough to enable almost fully automated UAV operation, to provide data in the same or better quality in significantly less time compared to traditional methods from ground or by plane or satellite.

This white paper explains how this strong tool offers a real alternative and includes following insights:

  • The economic benefits and added-value of UAV deployment
  • Regulatory framework
  • Understanding the requirements for a successful UAV workflow
  • Comparison of service provider capabilities


In the last 20 years, China and India almost tripled their share of the global economy. Global competition and price dumping lead to challenges in cost and quality for the world’s 13th largest economy – Australia (Department of infrastructure and regional development 2014).

Utilizing UAVs commercially provides high potential for optimizing costs, quality, time and safety across several industries. The UAV market alone is expected to grow to $127 billion in 2020 (PWC 2016).

UAVs truly are a game-changing technology making an impact specifically in low-margin industries. Collecting data via UAV improves data quality, increases work security and makes results accessible much faster. There are many application-specific solutions available today covering tasks like inspection, mapping, surveying and many more.

Many different sensors (optoelectronical, electrochemical, temperature or radio sensors, etc.) have been modified to work with UAVs to acquire data close to the ground and at low speed – this increases result quality and operational safety while reducing costs and downtimes.

Unmanned aerial systems are very complex – improper handling (flight planning, hardware set-up, analytics, etc.) can lead to dramatic loss in quality. Professional service providers can ensure the required quality, especially when it comes to very complex use cases.

Download your free copy here.

MENLO PARK, CA, SEPT. 14, 2017 – Skyfront, creator of the world’s longest endurance multirotor drones for the agriculture, energy and utility industries, has announced that its flagship drone has just set a world record for endurance.  The Skyfront Tailwind UAV flew for a total of 4 hours and 34 minutes, 10 times longer than typical battery-powered drones.

“This is a huge milestone for the commercial drone industry,” said Skyfront CEO Troy Mestler, Ph.D.  “Within a couple of weeks, we expect our UAV to fly for a full 5 hoursand further out we expect it to travel for over 100 miles. The Tailwind allows businesses to monitor, map and inspect large, remote assets like powerlines and large farms. Drone operators can now perform their jobs in a single flight, without having to constantly launch, land and swap batteries, significantly reducing operating costs.”

This endurance record supports Skyfront’s broader mission of creating fully autonomous drone systems that can fly safely over the horizon, far beyond the line of sight of the operator. The eventual goal is to replace larger manned helicopters which are expensive and dangerous.

“Skyfront has conquered some of the biggest challenges preventing widespread drone adoption:  endurance and range,” said Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs, a wind-turbine drone inspection company.  “Skyfront’s solution has the ability to change the way we deploy our technology for wind turbine inspections because it would allow us to inspect a dozen or more wind turbines in a single flight instead of changing batteries between each inspection. It also allows us to look at other markets where our precision flight is required for long range infrastructure inspection. I haven’t seen another company with a viable product that has solved these problems for multirotors.”

With its record-breaking range and endurance, Skyfront provides commercial drone service providers with the following benefits:

-faster mission completion
-capability to perform more types of missions
-ability to explore areas inaccessible to drones of limited range
-better performance in wind vs. VTOL fixed-wings
-longer hover time vs. VTOL fixed-wings
-easier operation vs. fixed-wings
-the same small form factor and ease of use as a traditional multirotor.

The Tailwind’s autopilot, onboard computer, and comm. links are based on open-source software, hardware and protocols, maximizing customizability and compatibility with existing sensors and software created by vertical partners.

The Tailwind can be equipped with various sensors for different applications. Skyfront is currently creating two versions of the Tailwind. The first carries a LiDAR sensor and the second carries a dual visual and infrared camera. Applications that benefit most include powerline and telephone line inspection, corridor mapping, security, land surveying, and crop monitoring.

“As a service provider for large farms, Aker Technologies depends on drones with long flight times for crop monitoring at scale,” said Aker CEO Orlando Saez. “We are impressed with Skyfront’s Tailwind drone, as it now makes many agricultural applications cost-effective.”

The Tailwind UAV is currently available to select companies conducting agriculture, inspection and surveying missions through Skyfront’s Early Access Program. The Tailwind will enter widespread production in Q1 2018. To apply for the Early Access Program, please email

[embedded content]

About Skyfront
Skyfront ( is an aerospace company that designs and manufactures long-range, autonomous drones that fly beyond the line of sight of the operator.  Skyfront’s flagship drone, the Tailwind, is a long-endurance hybrid gasoline-electric multirotor that flies for more than 4 hours, 10X longer than existing battery powered drones. Skyfront’s technology enables commercial drone applications like precision agriculture on large farms and large-scale infrastructure inspection, which have largely been unattainable due to range and endurance limitations.  The company is backed by Chaac Ventures, Drone.VC, Qualcomm Ventures, and Techstars.

Prices of solar panels have been dropping over the past decade, and this is one
reason why solar companies are looking for better ways to cut costs in their

Thanks to newer technology, solar companies can advance the distribution of solar
as well as the functioning and maintenance of the solar plantations. One method of
doing so is to make use of drones, with the goal to minimize the cost involving the
upkeep of the solar panel.

Drones are becoming more popular in many industries, and solar power is one of
them. These fancy looking flying machines can be used from the start, during the
construction and afterwards to make maintenance easier. The goal is to make
operations on solar fields more efficient and with that comes time and labor savings.

Drones used in Solar PV system design

Before a solar farm gets constructed, the layout should be well assessed beforehand
to ensure a good return on investment. When a design crew is hired to do site
surveying, it can work up a high cost as a lot of trials and errors usually occur. By
using a drone with a camera connected to the web, it is possible for a design team to
do the work from a desk in the office. The drone will also give a better measurement
of the area and will ensure a more accurate layout. When evaluating the conditions
of the site during the designing process, a drone assists the designers better in
spotting those troubled areas. Certain features of the location may be inappropriate
for a solar PV system which then can be avoided, ensuring better productivity.

Drones used during the construction of Solar systems

Solar developments need to be visited by the project manager frequently to make
sure that everything is going as planned. If there are drones on site, the project
manager does not even have to be there in person. Managers can log in remotely to
a drone at the project and pilot it around the site with a remote control. By visiting the project through a drone, it can help save the project managers time and transportation costs.

Drones used for maintenance and operation

Dust on solar panels can block the sunlight, and this causes less energy generation.
Therefore, it is important to keep the solar panels clean, but this can be pricey when
done manually. It is still a new concept, but drones can be used to clean a solar panel
at lower cost. By using a solar array to charge the drones, there will be no fuel
expense needed and the job can be done ten times faster for almost nothing.

Examples of solar companies making use of drones

– Strata solar:
These developers are making use of drones for survey purposes. Drones with
infrared cameras are being used to do survey jobs for more than 1 gigawatt of solar
projects that are operating. If any of the solar panels are unproductive in generating
electricity, these drone cameras can pick it up. By spotting the problems down to the
cell level, the overall health of the systems is examined accurately.

– First Solar:
Experiments with drones, done by one of the largest power plant developers in the
USA are proving their benefits. The company, First Solar has been using drones
during the designing of power plants and for thermal imaging during the operations
of solar farms.

Even though drones can become a significant money and time saver in the solar
industry, they are still a costly investment to make. The fall in solar panel prices also
means that companies have less capital available for more expensive technology.
However, the solar industry still has a long way to go in replacing fossil fuel.
Therefore, it might help solar companies stay stable by ensuring efficiency and
cutting cost through gradually implementing modern technologies like drones.

Climate change is one of the biggest topics facing humanity today and, for climate scientists, data is everything. However, collecting data is rarely a quick or inexpensive task, particularly when that data is best acquired via a bird’s eye view of Greenland’s melting ice sheet or the rising sea levels on California’s coastlines, for instance.

Here’s where unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more popularly known as drones, can play an integral role in the study of climate change. Drone technology can fill the data niches inaccessible to conventional methods of aerial data collection. It can offer researchers that essential bird’s eye view, but at far less cost than traditional methods such as helicopters, chartering planes or satellite data.

Environmental Protection from a Drone’s Eye View 

Now, UAS is not necessarily a new technology for climate scientists. Researchers began utilizing UAS in the 1990s, however that technology has been far surpassed by what is available to researchers today. Nowadays, scientists have access to drones that are more affordable, capable and user-friendly than what they were working with just over a decade ago.

For instance, sending out a UAS to survey an area requires minimal personnel, and can be done in a matter of minutes. “We can go from launching a drone to having workable data in four hours, versus maybe four days if we’re using an airplane,” recounts David Johnston, assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

In addition to making gathering data easier, less expensive and less time consuming, operational intelligence (OI) technology offers real-time data analysis which provides scientists with more accurate data with which to study changes to the planet and mitigate the accompanying impacts. While flying over vast, rugged landscapes, UAS can collect GPS coordinates, real-time video and still images of the situation, helping scientists establish priorities at mission control. This data can be overlaid on area topography and maps using an OI platform like Simulyze’s Mission Insight.

Not only data analysis but the images drones produce can also provide great opportunities for researchers. UAS imagery enables photogrammetry by collecting still images and video that are pieced together to form 3D representations and maps that can be used to predict events like the current sea level rise in coastal areas. Also necessary for studying the effects of climate change, thermal imaging cameras can be used to study animal populations in a variety of environments.

“It [drones] gives you a scale you can’t get anywhere else,” said New York Times photographer, Josh Haner. Drones can easily communicate the shocking effects of climate change to inform scientific and public understanding of the situation. This footage of the Marshall Islands, for example, demonstrates how millions of people are in danger of losing their homes due to rising water levels brought on by global warming. “Drone imagery can add a new visual layer that hopefully draws viewers into an important story, giving them a new perspective on a complicated subject,” concluded Haner.

OI Promoting Climate Research Innovation

Although drones are providing more valuable opportunities for scientists than ever before, drone operators have limitations of their own. In particular, they need the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization to operate their drone in the national airspace.

However, drones along with applications that run on an Operational Intelligence (OI) platform are proven to be more accurate and effective than operations carried out by traditional methods. Though the industry has faced concerns about the number of drones in our skies, it’s important to remember that OI can provide a key foundation needed for scientists to continue to study and protect our planet.

UAS are opening up new research possibilities and deepening the scientific record in ways that are having measurable impacts on our understanding of changing environments. Drones don’t just offer a safer way for scientists to observe and collect data; they’re often less costly, more efficient and more precise than traditional approaches. This technology is only going to become more important as a capable research tool and more so as drones become further integrated with other advanced technologies.