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The Future of Commercial Drones

Ehang 184 Passenger Drone

The sale of commercial drones is expected to be a $12 billion industry by 2021, so what are all these drones going to be used for?  In this post, I am going to take a brief look at some of the main uses I see for drones.

The “Traditional” use of commercial drones

Drones will continue to be used for filming as they are now. Interesting new angles and shots — which were previously impossible — will be come common place, as more and more drones are used in the film industry.

Hexacopter in Flight
DJI Spreading Wings S800 hexacopter (Photo credit: Alexander Glinz — CC BY-SA 3.0 AT)

Drones will also be used extensively in surveying — whether it’s for the mining, forestry or mapping — they provide a quick and accurate method of generating survey data. As more capable drones become available, more and more impressive surveys will be able to be carried out by unmanned aircraft. Agricultural drones will generally fall into the same sort of roles as survey drones. The exception being pilotless aircraft used for crop dusting; which, on it’s own, is an exciting future use of them.

Drones will also continue to be used by government for surveillance and patrols. One area I hope they can be very effective is in anti-poaching operations or other wildlife conservation efforts.

Two White Rhinos
Two white rhinos in Nakuru Africa

The delivery drone

One potentially huge use for drones is in the delivery industry. Companies like DHL and Amazon are actively trying to develop an unmanned delivery aircraft. There are also numerous start-ups trying to do pilotless air delivery.

DHL Package Copter
DHL’s Microdrone being tested for delivery of medicine (Photo credit: Frankhöffner — CC BY-SA 3.0)

For long range deliveries an aircraft with an internal cargo bay is required. This allows for faster flight with less drag. I also believe for drones to be truly successful in the delivery sector; they need to be safe to handle without any training, and they should not have exposed rotor blades. Passerine Aircraft is developing a craft to meet all these requirements. Our drone provides a great platform for priority packages.

Passerine Drone Storage Cross Section
Cross section of the storage bay in the Passerine Sparrow Bush Plane

High Value, Perishables

I think the first area where we will see drones being used for delivery purposes will be for perishable, high value cargo. Obvious examples which comes to mind are medical supplies and blood/organ transport, as time is critical with the delivery of these items.

Emergencies

Time critical deliveries tie in with using drones in emergency situations. Whether you need to search for someone, or you need to rapidly get aid to someone; there is no better platform than a drone, especially in rough/mountainous terrain. Currently this sort of operation is carried out by manned helicopters, which limits the areas which can be accessed and involves a large cost. With a drone (or several drones) the search would be carried out faster and emergency equipment could be delivered to the person in need while the rescue team was mobilising.

Helicopter Mountain Rescue
A helicopter performing a mountain rescue (Photo credit: Stevage (assumed) — CC BY-SA 2.5)

With its unique jumping capability, as well as high speed and range, Passerine Aircraft’s drone provides an ideal platform for getting to emergency situations.

Sparrow Jumper Retracting Legs Post Takeoff
Still image from a simulation of the Passerine Sparrow Jumper post takeoff

The passenger drone

Another compelling job for drones is transporting people. There have been dreams of flying cars for as long as there have been cars, and drones could finally allow us to get one, or at least something very much like one. These “passenger drones” could change how we get around our cities. There is already a passenger drone being tested in Dubai.

Electric Passenger Drone
The First Electric Passenger Drone at CES 2016 (Photo credit: Alex Butterfield — CC BY 2.0)

I believe that if passenger drones are going to become more common, they will need to be safer, (no exposed rotor blades) and be capable of longer ranges. A concept for such a passenger drone, developed by Passerine Aircraft, is shown below.

Passenger Drone Concept
Passerine Aircraft’s passenger drone concept

I never thought of that

There are also some more obscure things for which people are using drones. While doing research for this post, I found some interesting ideas for drone use, some of which are already being implemented. Here are some of the more fascinating ideas:

I’m sure there are many more uses which we haven’t even thought of yet.

The right drone for the job

With the uses for drones being so varied, it is highly unlikely a single platform will work for every task. That said, the modularity of Passerine Aircraft’s drone still allows it to fulfil a large number of different roles, as though it was designed specifically for each of them. The future of flight will be linked closely with drones and I am looking forward to it.

Featured image credit: Alex Butterfield — CC BY 2.0