Column: Here's How the Commercial Drone Industry Can Prove Itself During the Pandemic

In the midst of the current global health crisis, the commercial drone industry is helping businesses keep essential projects on track. Drones are a significant player across a full spectrum of industries, allowing companies in insurance, construction, infrastructure, energy and others to maintain critical operations by safe, contactless solutions. In fact, Barclays estimates the use of drones will result in cost savings of $100 billion across industries.


With the foundation of the industry now maturing and in the midst of a global pandemic, I believe this is a make or break moment for drones to prove their versatility through their utility, safety, and value. Whether through integral data or taking on risky inspections, this is the moment that the commercial drone industry will fulfill its potential.

Utility: As Use Cases Grow, the Commercial Drone Industry Grows

Dan Burton is the Founder and CEO of DroneBase, the largest global drone operations company.

At DroneBase, we have seen how drones have impacted businesses across insurance, construction, real estate, energy, and media. In times of disaster and even this global pandemic, we have been fortunate to enable insurers to get claims to those in need five to six days faster, provide contractors a better, safer way to monitor their sites, and help realtors virtualize their properties to continue to conduct sales. As a result, drones have become a key part of the day-to-day operations across these industries, and continue to do so even during COVID-19.

Our customers are continuing to incorporate drones into their processes and budgets as well as find additional use cases to leverage more technology, and industry analysts are seeing the same trends. According to Tractica, the commercial drone market is experiencing steady, sustained growth and consolidation, with global revenue expected to reach $13.7 billion by 2025.

There are endless possibilities as every industry needs to maintain its assets, whether a solar farm, wind turbines, buildings, or parking lots. This is where I see sustained growth for the drone industry since enterprises should use this time to develop new use cases to efficiently and safely gather the necessary data.

Safety: Putting Humans Out of Peril

When I was just starting DroneBase, the concept of sending a flying machine to inspect anything was unheard of. Instead, humans often put themselves at risk in order to examine construction sites, roofs, or wind turbines. Not to mention, drone pilots can conduct contactless inspections since the time required on a property is minimal and nothing is physically touched by the pilot or drone.

With two feet on the ground and a bird's eye view, over 171,000 professional drone pilots are able to prevent dangerous human inspections of industrial assets. Thanks to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations such as the Part 107 program and Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), the commercial drone industry has been able to grow and flourish.

The industry standard has been to send a human and risk their lives, which no human life is worth the chance. Drones are also providing a second safety layer during this pandemic by maintaining a safe social distance. Continuing the course of strong, helpful guidelines will push the drone industry forward and truly save lives.

A nearly empty Santa Monica, Calif. pier as seen from above during COVID-19 stay-home orders, taken by a DroneBase drone. Courtesy of DroneBase

Value: Enabling Teams to Make Decisions Through Drone Data

As with most B2B and SaaS companies, you're providing the client with a solution. They need to quickly and easily reach a decision from the service you're providing, whatever that may be. To get companies to adopt a new technology like drones, you need to be orders of magnitude faster, safer, and more affordable - especially as companies look to cut costs and survive the pandemic.

We see two critical layers of value in the drone industry: data capture and data analysis. Enterprise customers increasingly only want to deal with one drone provider who has scalable systems across data capture and data analysis. Scaling drone capture to national, or international reach, is both a software infrastructure and a network problem. If drone operations were being viewed as a commodity before COVID-19, in the current pandemic environment, the ability to safely, quickly, and reliably operate at scale has quickly become a scarce resource. After the industry's growth and hundreds of thousands of missions flown here at DroneBase, we're more confident than ever that the drone industry can be the reliable resource we promised.

Drone data analysis is the second key layer that gets the customer to a fast, accurate decision that pulls the signal from all the noise in the captured data. Drone technology is great at capturing anomalies through imagery - a perfect fit for industrial inspections of similar assets like solar panels or wind turbines. It will be important for the drone industry to prove itself to be a valuable, accurate resource now and after we return to a more normal time.

Thanks to industry efforts, drone technology has the opportunity to make a real impact in this difficult time. Drones already provide a safer way to capture aerial data, and the contact-free inspection drones can provide is more relevant than ever to keep critical infrastructure and essential services running safely during this crisis. It's time for the commercial drone industry to prove itself.

Dan Burton is the Founder and CEO of DroneBase, the largest global drone operations company, which provides businesses with aerial information to make better, real-time decisions about their most critical assets.

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