The Missing Piece


Jonathan Biskey
March 14th, 2016

Drone technology has quickly become an inescapable category in all news and media outlets. There are a multitude of applications that drones are being developed for including small supply delivery to cargo ships, agricultural surveying/mapping, wind turbine inspection, prescription delivery in countries with poor infrastructure and many more. However, while the applications and news articles endlessly state the enormous potential of drones, we haven't quite yet seen the widespread adoption of this new technology in any industries yet. The reason why this hasn't yet happened is due to flight time restrictions. While drones have a massive number of use cases, people simply can't keep their drones in the air for long enough.

For applications involving drone use within a field of view such as cinematography or wind turbine inspection, this is usually seen as a drawback. However, for immediate response applications that require beyond line of sight capability and quicker deployment time than the process of contracting work to a local pilot, the flight time restriction (and beyond line of sight regulations, although that's another article in itself) is a brick wall. If this barrier was removed, it would not only unlock another wave of drone applications but it would also provide a much more compelling reason for this partially adopted technology to see widespread acceptance.

A strong example where flight time has halted the adoption of this technology in what could possibly be a massive use case, is for immediate response scenarios with municipal or provincial/state police divisions. Local municipalities typically have mobile command posts tasked to provide communications, information and logistical support for initial incidents or ongoing investigations. The ability to outfit a command post with a tool such as a drone that weighs less than 25kg, is smaller than both of your arms length, can immediately be deployed to a point of interest and capture information that can be relayed to first responders is a huge advantage.

Some such scenarios include immediate response for investigations such as robbery, home intrusion, distress calls, traffic collisions, missing persons investigations, field drug searches and the list goes on. An eye in the sky can provide not only a much wider field of view than on the ground but could also be equipped with sensors such as infrared cameras and path planning software to knowingly capture defined points of interest. Missing persons for example would be a surprisingly common use case. Nursing home patients with memory issues such as Alzheimers or Dementia can unknowingly wander away from their home.

Response time is extremely important in such a scenario as these patients could wander towards dangerous areas such as rivers, heavy traffic, etc. Many manned personnel and police dogs are used to track these individuals on foot, although, deployment time could be slow when multiple personnel are spread out across a city, sniffer dogs are tied up in other incidents or are idling on the other side of town. A drone could provide the ability to not only immediately respond to such a scenario, but it could also graphically map and traverse a specific area using thermal imaging which could highlight any missing persons with a wide field of view.

Needless to say, the applications exist and we are now seeing businesses begin to field test and develop smart algorithms catered for their processes. Even with the existing limitations of flight time, companies still find use cases which provide advantages over their current methodology. It's only a matter of time before increased flight times become a reality which will not only lend advantages to the early adopters of drones but will also unlock an entirely new market segment.