Commercial Drones: Their Prospects and Challenges

Originally, drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), were seen as high-tech gadgets for military applications. However, it did not take much time for the corporate world to realize and explore the huge potentials of drones for commercial applications. As a result, investments in drones, especially in commercial drones are soaring.

A drone or UAV is basically an aircraft without a human pilot and is a component of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS). An unmanned aircraft system basically includes a UAV and a ground-based controller, along with a system of communications between the UAV and the controller.

Originally used for applications that are considered “dull, dirty, or dangerous” for humans, today, drones have found a wide range of applications in sectors like agriculture, public safety, construction, insurance, delivery and logistics, and energy & power.

Commercial drones are a bit different from the conventional drones, as they are designed specifically for commercial applications. For example, commercial drones are lighter, better equipped, have longer flight time, and can carry loads over long distances, as compared to conventional drones.

Commercial drones also come with HD cameras and so, they can record terrains and capture high-quality photos. Such drones can help cultivators monitor their crops and evaluate crop health, so that timely interventions in the form of correct application of fertilizers and pesticides can be carried out. This, in turn, can ensure better crop management and improved yields.

Drones can also be used by farmers to collect soil data, while insurance companies can use them to inspect and evaluate damaged assets for a better and faster settlement of insurance claims. On the other hand, retail giants like Amazon are exploring commercial drones for delivering small packages over short distances.

In the construction sector, drones can facilitate the real-time inspection of all types of construction activities to improve safety and performance. Drones are also being increasingly used for maintaining public safety, especially in rescue operations, disaster response, and law enforcement purposes. In the energy and power sector, UAVs can play a huge role in facilitating real-time and high quality inspection of power lines, transmission towers, oil and gas pipelines, nuclear installations, and others.

Although a wide range of commercial UAVs are available in the market, the quadcopters have been the most popular so far. Some of the top models of commercial drones are DJI T600 Inspire, DJI Matrice 100, Hubsan H301S Spy Hawk, 3DR Solo Drone Quadcopter, and DJI Phantom 3 Professional. So, DJI is a dominant player in the commercial drones market. Apart from DJI drones, Hubsan, Parrot, Syma, Solo, and UDI are some of the bestselling drones in the market.

The market for drones is set to experience huge growth considering the emergence of newer and more dramatic uses of UAVs. However, the operation of drones, especially for commercial purposes does face some challenges. One major challenge is to get regulatory approval and the required infrastructure.

Presently, a significant part of investment in drones is directed towards untested applications and whether these applications will get government approval and the required infrastructure is not certain. Such uncertainties are definitely not good for the market.

Further, challenges related to safety, as well as conflicts with general aviation users like private, commercial, and also military aircraft, can become a major concern for the drone industry. However, the rate at which the technology is developing and also its growing applications across industry verticals are expected to help the drone industry to overcome these hurdles soon.

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