The Next Big Industrial Tool


Matthew McRoberts
March 17th, 2016

Drones are a fairly hyped technology these days, but as one of those ‘future technologies’ that everyone is talking about, they are definitely coming into their own as far as niche products go. In several industries, they’re seeing more and more use as an alternative to helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. So where are they being used, and what makes them so attractive to operators?

The answer lies in their flexibility, ease of use and extraordinarily low cost of operation. They’re giving industry the capability to perform complex aerial tasks in a package that can fit in the back of a sedan and can be deployed in minutes. A quick examination of a few different industries can shed some light on how drones are changing the way businesses are practicing their craft.

Cinematography

Cinematography is the most commonly referenced application for drones. Let’s face it, why spend $1,200 an hour for a helicopter to film your minivan commercial when a far cheaper drone can do a pretty superb job? They’re becoming a powerful tool for producing some breathtaking shots.

Some manufacturers are starting to gear their entire businesses around developing high quality drones and accessories specifically for filming applications. A notable example is the Chinese company DJI. Many of the drone platforms they offer are specifically tailored to carry high end camera systems, and their software allows for effective planning and execution of shots.

These UAV manufacturers are developing an array of hardware solutions for cinematography; lightweight gimbals for mounting cameras are becoming commonplace in the industry, as are a number of sensor add-ons and telemetry systems for filming. They’re also improving drone functionality by developing some pretty nifty software.

Surveying

The same outstanding usability can be seen in industrial surveying; companies are saving some pretty serious money by using drones in their typical surveying and inspection activities.

The ability to glean useful data from a bird’s eye view has always been an asset for many industries even before the conception of drone tech. To name a few, resource extraction, agriculture and construction have benefitted immensely from aerial surveying. Coupled with GIS, this information is often a game changer in the decision making process.

Historically, these were tasks for helicopters and planes, but the flexibility and low cost operation that small drones are offering is giving companies a compelling reason to change their methods. Companies like Altus and SABRE are giving surveyors the ability to get an eye in the sky quickly and cheaply, and have changed the way businesses are running their complex operations.

Structural Inspection

Structural inspection is also seeing a rather quiet revolution in the form of drone technology. Tasks that used to be dangerous and expensive are now an easy days work using UAVs. No more hanging off the side of a bridge or windmill on a tether to check for cracks; a drone can get up close and personal with whatever structure you want to examine. They can carry a variety of sensors that make inspection tasks quick and easy, and they can be deployed much quicker than any other inspection method.

The use of drones for automated data collection is expected to be an asset for public safety and infrastructure maintenance. Inspection companies can gather vast amounts of data quickly and effectively for a fraction of the cost, and can quickly process it into a preventative maintenance strategy. The worlds of drone technology and industry are colliding at a breakneck pace, and it’s very exciting to see companies find new way to use UAVs in their day to day operations.

That being said, it’s hardly a surprise to see the proliferation of drone technology; companies are constantly looking for new ways to operate more efficiently, and drones represent a very unique and cost effective way to achieve that goal.