Will The Drone Age Follow The Development Of the Automobile Age?

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.

In 2000, the CIA used unmanned Predator drones in Afghanistan for surveillance, and eventually, they began using the drones to carry out unmanned air strikes. Today, several other nations are using drones regularly for a wide range of military operations.

The commercial drone industry has been trying to distance itself from the military uses of this technology by re-naming drones as UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or naming them based on the number of propellers they have, like quadcopter or octocopter. Try as they might, none has proved more popular than ‘drone.’

BIM – Do you think that drones are disruptive innovations yet?

Michael – Well, as I mentioned before, many people refer to this time as the ‘Drone Age’, but like the automobile, I think it’s going to take at least another decade before drones become a disruptive innovation. The potential is there. Corporations, governments, and people see it. Personal drones are already cheap enough for the average person to own (several). Millions are already being sold worldwide. Conference and expos are being held all around the world.

The confluence of corporate investment of billions of dollars in research and development, an Administration that is pro-business and de-regulating industries like crazy, global interest, and advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and mobile supercomputing are creating a ‘primordial soup’ known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Drones are just one small part of the technological tsunami we can expect in the next few years to come.

I may have oversimplified the disruptive innovation of cars by saying that they replaced the horse and buggy as a mode of transportation, but the disruption of drones is more complex. Drones serve multiple purposes based on the payload they carry, from data collection to transport. And that’s another point I’d like to make. I love flying drones and it’s easy to focus on the aircraft, but it’s NOT just about the drone itself. It’s about the data that the drone can collect. It’s about how we can process that data in real time using artificial intelligence, supercomputing, and the Internet of Things.

BIM – That’s a very important point, Michael. Can you expand a little more about the data?

Michael – Drones are carrying 4K cameras to capture images, video content, and thermal cameras are common accessories. But it’s the data processing that translates the information gathered into a report that the end user can understand and act on, again, in real time. Drones can be equipped to gather air, water, radiation, and whale snot samples. They can pollinate plants. The relentless pursuit of miniaturization will allow for a wider variety of payloads to be secured to a drone to collect an ever wider variety of data.

Other drones are designed to carry payloads like medical supplies, life-saving rafts, fishing line, pizza or people. Businesses in countless industries are using drones to reduce costs and risks to employees who are performing jobs in dangerous conditions. UAVs are replacing helicopters that have been used to get an aerial perspective for jobs like pipeline and power line inspections, post-disaster insurance adjusting, cinematic filming and coming soon…flying taxis. First responders, construction, building inspection, surveying, surveillance and precision agriculture are all industries implementing drone programs. And although I have been focused on flying drones, there are land-based drones like NASA’s Mars Rover and a host of underwater drones that don’t get the same amount of attention.

The technology already exists flying beyond line of sight. Collision avoidance, GPS, autopilot, and Bluetooth are also being used in the automobile and drone industries. There are drones that can be controlled with hand gestures. Battery development, which will extend flight times, is on the verge of a breakthrough. The European Union will be experimenting with a designated drone airspace in the coming year. We are so close to the next level.

Martin Richardson

Martin Richardson is an Amazon Best Selling Author, host of Drone Revolution Radio and Contributing Writer for Business Innovators Magazine on the subject of commercial drones.