From weddings to wars—drones are everywhere. Are drones the future? Read on.
In January 2023, Australian soldiers used drones to search for a missing woman. The drones helped them reach areas that might have been too challenging for a human to enter. For the past few years, the drone economy has been booming. Global investments in the industry amount to US$1.15 billion, with China leading the market. Drones are not limited to governments and defense institutions; they are also big among the general population, with the global commercial drone market set to bring in over US$55 billion in 2026.
Having started as a military tool, drones have grown to become the preferred business and consumer tools. They are unmanned aerial vehicles that can either be operated autonomously or using a remote control. Essentially, it’s like flying a remote control helicopter, but with greater potential and capabilities. Drones can man the borders and monitor sensitive areas; they can also film weddings and put on fancy light shows in the sky.
We rounded up five popular use cases of drones and where they are headed.
Improving agricultural output
Drones can be used in aerial surveying different regions—be it a forest fire or an oil pipeline—to detect and analyze issues. In agriculture, drones can be used to provide insights into farmland and monitor crop health. This can help farmers better plan their harvesting cycles and even trade.
Enabling advanced warfare
The Russian invasion of Ukraine pointed to the power of drones in warfare, so much so that one even came close to assassinating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. When it comes to warfare, drones can do much more than just spy on the enemy and survey their weapons. Drones can also be used to attack. For instance, the Iranian army recently revealed that its Air Force utilizes drones equipped with smart weapons that can be used to destroy distant targets and “protect the country’s skies”, according to Mehdi Hadian, the Deputy Commander of the Air Force.
Drones allow countries to kick warfare up a notch with little consequence for their soldiers. This might keep many army personnel safe, encouraging army officials to deploy more drones. However, it can have dire consequences for innocent people who might get caught in the crossfire for no reason.
Aiding in climate change
A crucial element in addressing climate change is accessing all the data. Without information, it is challenging to ascertain a plan of action—and drones can help with that.
As per researchers at Cornell University, drones can help us understand how much solar energy a piece of land absorbs or reflects. This way, landscape planners can optimize their land use to benefit themselves and the climate. Drones can also monitor air quality, wildlife populations, forest cover and more.
Volunteer during natural disasters
Be it floods or landslides—drones can be helpful in providing help to those affected. Typically, an aid mission during natural calamities faces the threat of multiple casualties, not just due to the disaster but also owing to the loss of shelter, food and basic survival needs. That’s why, during floods, landslides and earthquakes, helicopters are used to transport medicine, food, clothes and more.
Now, that job can be done using drones while helicopters focus on rescuing people. For instance, in October last year, the Indian Army signed on over 300 drones to improve its logistics alongside border territories, especially in high-altitude areas.
When it comes to flooding, research has discovered that drones can help prevent floods by detecting any vagaries in at-risk areas. Plus, after a flood, it can help survey the damage and even identify people stuck in undetected areas.
Enhance filmography, from weddings to movies
While most drones use cases are quite intense, this one’s rather fun. For the past decade, many wedding planners and couples have employed drones as videographers and photographers for their weddings. They are also popular among filmmakers and cinematographers wanting to get that stunning aerial shot. Clearly, the use of drones extends beyond safety and socioeconomic growth; it also involves getting those stand-out Insta-worthy shots.
What is the future of drones?
With advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), drones are becoming more intelligent, efficient, and capable of tackling sophisticated tasks. As a result, drones are becoming an increasingly popular tool for businesses, individuals and law enforcement for functions such as aerial surveillance, crime prevention, search and rescue operations, and more. As technology advances, the potential applications of drones are seemingly limitless.
In the future, drones will do much more than they are capable of today. Experts are hoping that they will be able to transport groceries, heavier loads (weighing 70 to 500 kg) and even people! That could reduce traffic congestion considerably and perhaps even pave the way for more climate-friendly infrastructure.
In the coming years, we can expect drones to become even more useful and efficient—perhaps even dangerous (think privacy breaches and personal safety concerns). It is crucial to consider the ethical and safety implications as the drone industry evolves.
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