Drones as a Service has arrived! Drones zipping through the air, delivering packages their recipients haven’t even purchased yet- that’s a fairly clichéd projection of how UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology and Big Data and analytics will merge in the future to revolutionize not only online retail but many other industries as well- but ultimately, not an unrealistic one.

Armed with a dazzling array of high-tech sensors, commercial UAVs are rapidly becoming a huge source for data acquisition, resulting in the drones as a service paradigm. According to projections, the market for UAVs is expected to surge to just under $7 billion globally by 2020. This dramatic result will be driven largely by increased clarity in the laws regulating the use of these devices. This will decrease component costs as well as the ongoing needs that will have to be met to feed the kind of innovation that will be needed to link the capabilities of drones to supporting big-data analytics.

The already flourishing world of drone technology is currently serving many clients in land management, agriculture, energy, and construction to name a few.

The rapidly growing drone industry has not been content to wait for government UAV regulation to be finalized out before investing in the next wave of cutting edge tech. The already flourishing world of drone technology is currently serving many clients in land management, agriculture, energy, and construction to name a few. Most of the vendors are small, private firms and plucky tech startups despite the fact that industrial conglomerates and large defense companies are investing in UAV technology as well.

Today, Big Data analytics are being applied at all stages of the retail process for predicting product trends, forecasting demand, optimizing price placement, pinpointing demographics likely to gravitate toward certain products, honing commercial messaging, completing transactions and then figuring out what to sell to them next.

At present, 60% of UAV usage relates to advertising campaigns such as in photography and film-making. More advanced applications are coming, as drones possess important advantages in versatility, convenience, precision, and cost over traditional solutions like helicopters and satellites. Drone-mounted audio, video, and other sensors can be used to acquire an awe-inspiring spectrum of information. This will pave the way for streamlined digitalization of business processes.

Other industries, attracted by the safety and cost benefits of UAV data, are adopting the technology for a variety of uses. Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is applying UAVs to survey their mining pits and heavy equipment. Caterpillar, the well known heavy machining company, is exploring UAV capabilities for fleet management. Drones are currently a cornerstone of the Komatsu corporation’s “Smart Construction” services, which employs fully automated bulldozers and other heavy construction equipment. Even Walmart has begun testing drones for use in streamlining inventory management.

Drones are currently a cornerstone of the Komatsu corporation’s “Smart Construction” services, which employs fully automated bulldozers and other heavy construction equipment. Even Walmart has begun testing drones for use in streamlining inventory management.

The many, and growing, possibilities of UAV-generated data is expected to bring in sweeping changes in data gathering methodologies. Should these changes translate into better savings, safety, and analytics- there’s little doubt that drones will become as common a sight in our skies as birds. Savings are likely to be found in inventory stockpile analysis, surveillance of train routes and pipelines, 3D modeling for insurance claim investigation, as well as imaging for buildings. Many companies may soon be persuaded to look into the possibility of drone-based data adding value to their enterprise- whether to modify their current processes or to create new opportunities for growth.

If companies identify the possible benefits, they can then consider consolidating a drone program across multiple subsidiaries, and divert investment dollars to strengthen current data analytics. Organizations that take this route will have to modify their data architectures and quickly educate themselves on local UAV regulations. Some drone-data can easily complement existing paradigms, but others will make some existing tools obsolete. Because UAVs are largely unproven, deciding on the “best” technique for gathering data means a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, and pilot programs.

KEY ASPECTS of UAVs FUTURES in BIG DATA: Drones as a Service

  • Revenues from drone sales are projected to top $12 billion by 2021, up from $8 billion in 2015
  • Consumer drone shipments will quadruple by 2021, pushed by growing price competition and new tech that make UAVs easier to operate
  • Growth in enterprise will surpass the recreational drone use as regulations allow new applications in the US and Europe
  • Collision avoidance and Geofencing and will make drone use safer and take pressure off of regulators
  • Current, FAA regulations limiting commercial UAVs to select applications and industries will become less restrictive opening up new opportunities for growth in many industries
  • The military will continue to serve as an exemplar in UAV spending
Big data

Big data

In the near future, businesses will have to decide whether or not to run their own Drones as a Service programs, or to outsource. Factors like the investment horizon, data security, and the pace of development will influence their decision. A company could set up an in-house UAV department if concerns about security or proprietary issues come to the fore, and if that company is so disposed as to take a “learn by doing” approach, and is willing to make a significant investment. The French railway operator SNCF, for example, uses its own drone program to improve maintenance, safety, and network surveillance.

Outsourcing makes more sense where data can be easily shared, or if a firm wants to get its drone-data program off the ground quickly and with a smaller investment. Commercial drone services companies that offer multi-sensor data have arisen in many industries and partnering with these firms has become a common choice where companies would rather employ a specialist experienced in the nuances

Lufthansa Aerial Services, for instance, made a deal this year with drone manufacturer, DJI to evolve UAV applications for specialized commercial tasks.

of the technology. These partnerships are opening up new business venture opportunities in many cases. Lufthansa Aerial Services, for instance, made a deal this year with drone manufacturer, DJI to evolve UAV applications for specialized commercial tasks.

Whether outsourcing or developing an internal drone program, organizations must develop their own capabilities for analyzing drone generated data in order to make use of the massive influx of information that will result from commercial UAV use. This necessitates hiring scientists competent in working with vast amounts of data. The demand for these specialists is certain to peak quickly as a growing number of industries begin to utilize UAVs.

For many organizations, drones are becoming an important component in the development of digitalization strategies. When supported by cloud computing services, big-data techniques combined with the unprecedented data collecting abilities of UAVs will alter the competitive dynamics of present day information gathering radically.

Are you taking advantage of Drones as a Service paradigm? If so, please share your experiences.