Skip to comments.Forget Pizza Delivery: How Drones in Construction and Agriculture Help Save Time and Money
Posted on 02/24/2015 1:49:12 AM PST by 2ndDivisionVet
When people discuss business uses for drones, they tend to jump to the novelty end of the consumer marketfrom the drone hobbyist with a GoPro camera to a complete overhaul of delivery services.
In the press, you always hear that Amazon will deliver a book, or pizzas will come to your house, says Amar Hanspal, senior vice president at Autodesk, during a recent discussion on drones at Gigaom Structure Connect. That is a cute thing to talk about, but the real action is in B2B industrial applications. That is where were watching the democratization of a broad use of drones starting to take off.
While flying pizzas are headline-grabbing, much more is in store for drones than delivery service or aerial storytelling. By easily accessing a view from the sky, theres a huge opportunity for modeling. And some initial industries that would benefit from real-time, drone-based modeling may surprise you. Its actually agriculture and construction.
Farm Drones. Dr. Kevin Price of Kansas State University made a compelling case for agriculture drones during his presentation at the 2014 American Farm Bureau Federation Convention. Price predicted that 80 percent of the money that will be spent on drones in the coming years would be for agricultural uses.
There are 10 times more applications in agriculture than there are in any of the other application areas, Price says, predicting a $100-billion industry by 2025.
The concept isnt all that difficult to grasp.
A drone can fly over and create a 3D map of a field, which it can compare against the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for that land, as well as see elevations and a lot of other detailed information at the level where one pixel of the 3D map can represent 3cm of land.
Agriculture is a risk-averse industry by design. Technology has enabled farms to be larger than ever before, while employing less people than ever to maintain them. But this efficiency removed the ability to adjust crop protections and monitor performance.
We end up wasting water and using too many chemicals in our soil and on our crops because were not able to monitor the performance, says Chris Anderson, CEO and co-founder of 3D Robotics, who was onstage with Hanspal at Gigaom Structure Connect. We spray chemicals, before disease or pests hit, because the cost of missing it is too high. But what if you had a drone that surveyed dailyeven hourlythat could spot disease as it happens? Then youd only spray when needed.
Anderson also notes that drones flying over fields could spot irrigation leaks and other trouble spots that cost the farm money, not to mention the waste of resources given the drought conditions in California. But, given the current size of the farms, making proactive sweeps for these types of issues using anything but a drone is cost-prohibitive.
We can generate 3D models out of the drones data stream, Hanspal says, and there are people who can build applications on top of that processing layer to answer questions and do assessments of whether the crops are growing the right way.
Drones are bringing Big Data to the biggest industries in the world, Anderson adds.
Farms also avoid many of the privacy and safety concerns associated with drones because they would be flying over private land, under 400 feet, in unpopulated areas.
Construction From the Air. At the Gigaom conference, Anderson discussed drones in construction, and demonstrated a 3D map his company created of a Frys Electronics store in San Jose, Calif. With just one drone flying one circle around the building, and Autodesk ReCap stitching the images together to form a 3D model, the building exterior was completely captured.
That would have been impossible to do manually and incredibly expensive to do with cranes, Anderson explains. But now, with a $700 drone and a one-button experience, anybody can map anything.
According to Hanspal, the Frys modeling demo moves efficiency projects from speculation to immediate analysis.
With that structure, you can figure out solar-panel layout or assess how much energy that building consumes, because you have a source set of data upon which you can compute, he says.
At large-stadium or campus-project construction sites, drones can provide daily progress reports. But Hanspal says you can drill into the data even further than easy visual assessments.
You can start answering how much dirt has moved, how much has been installed, he says. Its more than a set of images. You can start getting answers to real questions.
Three Steps to Drones Becoming a Reality. Anderson thinks there are three things required to get drones flying over every farm and construction site. The drones need to be appropriate, answer questions, and be regulated.
1. Appropriate. Industries avoid new equipment that requires massive training and on-site experts. They want a simple delivery method with easy deployment and instruction. Anderson sees a future of color-coded out-of-the-box deliverables.
The farming drones are going to be in a green box with a button that says Are my tomatoes ripe? or Is there any crop infection? Anderson says. The construction drone is going to be a yellow box, with a button that says Daily Scan. It has to be as simple as that. Todays drones are a good start, but they are still not appropriate for those industrial uses.
2. Answer Questions. A farmer doesnt want a drone; he wants an answer, Anderson says. A construction site doesnt want a drone; it wants an answer. So there needs to be a return on investment, so people can say, If I get this, I will save this money, or avoid this risk, or whatever.
Most industries havent even considered how a drone might lower risk, increase profit margins, or deliver quick ROI.
3. Regulation. Everyone thinks this is the main hurdle, but its not, Anderson says.
Various industries and interests are having a tug-of-war with regulators as the FAA struggles to publish rules that would govern small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operation for commercial purposes. Google, Amazon, and other companies are all part of the Small UAV Coalition pushing for appropriate regulation where there is commercial benefit.
Anderson thinks regulations will be ironed out within the next 10 years, which gives the industry time to have the solutions lined up that build on the impressive scanning and mapping capabilities that exist today.
Hanspal sees drones on the same path as robots.
If you remember in the 60s and 70s, robots came out and everyone talked about cool applications for robots, and then it went silent in the 80s and 90s, Hanspal says. Now, we emerged on the other side and everybodys talking about robots again. But what happened in between then and now is that people started successfully using robots for very specific applications
That is the same path that drones are going to go through.
“Price predicted that 80 percent of the money that will be spent on drones in the coming years would be for agricultural uses. “
EPA coming to a farm near you.
You mean we can improve upon the 50-50 chance of getting a simple 3 item order correct?
Soon there won’t be any jobs for the unskilled, then what?...
What if you used a drone to scout a section of forest to make sure there weren’t any Spotted Owls there, and then sent in loggers to cut specific trees?
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