By now, most are aware of the controversy around military drone use. While these flying, weaponized spy robots get a lot of flack, a drone can have many civilian uses as well. In recent times, a number of newer, gentler applications for them have gone mainstream.
Party in the Sky
There's plenty of fun to be had, for sure – like first-person POV racing, as a flying boom-box for parties, or to try to walk your dog. There are also some more serious applications in the works that are sure to shake up the way we do things.
Some of these are being tested in specific parts of the world, as restrictions make them currently illegal in others. But one thing's for sure: we'll be seeing more of these little quadcopters and mini-jets in our future skies, not less.
For the Sake of Sports
You've probably seen some intense Youtube footage of a drone following water-skiers, snowboarders, and other extreme sports athletes as they fly down a mountain or soar above a half-pipe.
Drones were an obvious choice for getting the best camera angles, and they're being used more and more in professional sports around the world.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio used drones in a variety of ways, including an introductory drone ballet and to provide fly-by coverage for the rowing competition. Safety is a big concern, however, and officials were pretty worried about random people flying their drones over the events. No one wanted a repeat of what happened at the Madonna di Campiglio in 2015, when a drone fell from the sky and almost hit skier Marcel Hirscher.
Fox Sports is increasing their use of aerial vehicles to get shots that traditional cameras never could, getting closer to the action and providing a new perspective. They're using drones for live outdoor sports like golf, skiing, and auto-racing, as well as pre-recorded events.
Behind the Silver Screen
The film industry is also hot for drones, as you'd expect. Not only are drones showing up as a major plot point, they've also been used to help film a number of blockbusters.
The James Bond flick “Skyfall” might be the most well-known, with a fast-paced chase sequence filmed from a drone's POV. “The Wolf of Wall Street” used a drone to show the awesomeness of a big party scene. And “Man of Steel,” “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” and “Iron Man 3” all used drones to get some of the footage that contributed to the amazing visual effects of those movies.
Bird's Eye View
What's the best way to get a mile-high view of an area or property? By putting a camera on a bird, of course. Low on avian supply? A drone makes a great, humane substitute.
Drones are being used by surveyors to cut way down on costs and the time it takes to assess a property. Instead of spending a day using cherry-pickers and building scaffolds to reach high-up areas, a drone can be assembled and ready to go in about 20 minutes.
And rather than just taking a picture now and then, like a human surveyor with a camera would, a drone can record continuous video footage along with high-def images taken at pre-determined intervals.
The whole process is much more efficient and more environmentally friendly as well, using rechargable battery-powered devices instead of costly fuel-guzzling machines. There are some drawbacks too, of course, like the fact that drones generally won't work very well in bad weather.
A little less exciting than what's described above, many companies are also using drones to inspect their equipment when it's in hard-to-reach areas.
Lightning hits airplanes all the time, and sometimes it does a little bit of damage. But planes are big, obviously, and there are a lot of pieces to inspect, making it a pretty time-consuming job. It's drones to the rescue for European airline easyJet, who is using automated aircraft to inspect their planes.
The drones used are two-foot wide quadcopters, which will hover about 3 feet away from the plane as it examines the surface for lightning damage. The project has already proven to be quite successful: the little bots can complete the inspection in just a few hours, compared to the full day of testing that it normally requires.
The Shell energy corporation is using drones to inspect their facilities, giving engineers a faster and easier way to check for faults and damage. Instead of spending time figuring out how to actually get to an awkward spot, erecting scaffolding or abseiling down from higher up, a drone can simply hover over and check out the area.
These ROAVs (remotely operated aerial vehicles) often let the facility stay up and running during inspections, whereas they had to be shut down for traditional inspections. They're also equipped with more than just basic cameras, using devices like infra-red and gas sensors.
Drones have become something like a new Swiss Army Knife. They clearly have a wide variety of uses, and who knows when you might discover something new to do with them. They've been making their presence known almost everywhere, but the question now is: where will they be next?
Real-estate surveys are fertile ground for the use of drones. If you're ready to revolutionize the industry, the AiLTA Team is offering $100,000 to the innovator who can speed up the boundary survey process (potentially using drones). Check out the AilTA Challenge Page now, where you can pre-register and get more information.