Every week another multi-national corporation announces plans to start a drone division or develop a new technology for drones. Most recently, Rolls-Royce unveiled an electric concept car featuring vertical take-off and landing at the Farnborough International Airshow in Great Britain.
There is a historical connection between cars and drones that I am going to explore today with the Test Pilot for Dronepreneur101, Michael Richardson. Michael is a drone collector and an FAA certified remote pilot.
BIM – Welcome to Business Innovators Magazine Michael.
Michael – Thanks for having me.
BIM – Let’s start with a quick overview of where we are with drone technology today.
Michael – In order to provide some context, we’re currently living in a time that is completely reliant on technology. Developments in modern technology are advancing at an astonishing rate. We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and truthfully, people are struggling to keep up.
Smartphones, which were initially revolutionary, are now mere afterthoughts, despite the fact that they are barely a decade old. Did you know that the modern smartphone has greater computing capability than the computers used by NASA during the Apollo mission to the moon?!
BIM – I did not! That’s amazing!
Michael – We do our banking online, we pay for goods and services online, we can search the Library of Congress on our phone, talk to our refrigerator and monitor deliveries at our front door while we are at work. One disruptive technology that is taking the world by storm, is drone technology.
Drones, which were once used purely by the military and covert organizations, are now sold as toys for children as well as the general public for pleasure or business use. Over a million drones were sold in the US alone last year and some have dubbed this, ‘The Drone Age.’
But haven’t we seen this before? Just over 100 years ago, in 1913, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line to mass produce cars. Eventually, up to 2 million Model Ts were being produced per year. Sound familiar?
BIM – Besides the number of cars and drones being produced, how do you see a connection between the two?
Michael – It has to do with what’s known as ‘disruptive innovation.’ According to Wikipedia, in business, a disruptive innovation is a change that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market-leading firms, products and alliances. Both the drone and the auto industry qualify as disruptive innovations. Let’s examine both industries a little deeper.
Cars and trucks are considered to be the backbone of our modern society. We rely on them to get us, goods, and services from Point A to Point B and to perform even the most mundane tasks. The same goes for businesses. Virtually every single item in the world that you can possibly think of, will have been influenced by cars and trucks in some way or another.
The very first automobile was invented in Germany, back in the 1880s. But, it was Henry Ford who changed the automobile industry into the disruptive innovation we know today. Ford was best known for speeding up the manufacturing process by using moveable assembly lines and mass production, which allowed factories to build automobiles on a grand scale and at a lower cost.
By the 1920s, Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors were known as the ‘Big Three’ companies. Thanks to the growth of automobiles, the US economy was absolutely thriving, and in fact, this sparked an economic revolution. The mass production of automobiles soon expanded into Europe and parts of Asia, with numerous spin-off companies emerging, and the automobile age was officially born.
Rather than relying on the horse and wagon, the general public now had access to automobiles of their own, opening up a whole new world of possibilities. The distance and speed an average person could travel, even with their family, grew exponentially. Goods and services were also delivered farther and faster.
As the world moved away from a reliance on the horse and buggy, the related industries dried up, like horse breeding, saddle making, haying, blacksmithing horseshoes and wagon wheels, wagon building, and many more. New value networks had to be created simultaneously.
BIM – You mentioned value networks before. I’m not familiar with that term. Can you explain what they are?
Michael – Value networks are systems that businesses and people use to do work, buy and sell products. It’s the infrastructure that supports an industry. For example, horses needed a supply of hay and oats and blacksmiths for repairs. To make the transition to cars, it was necessary to create service stations where drivers had access to gas and oil. The entire transportation infrastructure had to be changed to accommodate cars and trucks.
Engines needed to be serviced and replacement parts made available. As more automobiles made their way onto the roads, traffic congestion became an issue, as did road traffic accidents and even fatalities. This resulted in local authorities calling for licensing and safety regulations.
BIM – OK, now I see where you’re going with this. Before drones can have a similar impact as the automobile, the infrastructure needs to be created.
Michael – It’s not just the infrastructure. We are also looking for a change in an existing market, as well as the creation of a new market. It took the auto industry about 30 years before it became a disruptive innovation. It wasn’t until cars were mass produced and became affordable for the average person, that the car made a significant societal impact.
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, have actually been around longer than cars! Initially, drones were designed and utilized by the military, for surveillance, and for far more deadly reasons. The first recorded use of drones was in 1849 when Austrian forces used balloons equipped with bombs to attack Venice. ‘Aerial torpedos’ were used in both World War I and II. Drones were later used for reconnaissance during the Cold War and in Vietnam and also used as radioactive measuring devices in the late 1940’s in the early days of nuclear testing.