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TechTalk: 9 ways we should embrace the Game of Drones


March 18, 2016


For the latest in my TechTalk blog series, I wanted to explore some of the more interesting (and rather useful) use cases for drones. Let’s go beyond the toy you can fly around an empty field, and look at their potential to support humans in wider society. Here are nine ways I see us using drones in the near future…

Fire fighting

In Australia, fire fighters are using drones as a way of getting a ‘drone-eyes-view’ during emergencies. In a country that suffers massively from bush fires in remote areas, the technology could be a massive help to first responders getting more information on rapidly evolving scenarios. The difference could mean drones help save lives.

Building inspections

Drones can help take the danger out of this painstaking work. A drone can fly to difficult to reach areas while also gathering data and insight using high definition thermal imaging cameras. Combine this with the latest in collaboration technology and it means you can use a drone to inspect just about anything – oil rigs, construction sites, mine shafts, damaged dams…you name it.

Precision agriculture

Wide-open spaces (with no people to crash into) offer the perfect environment for developing this as a use case. Drones can cover large distances to inspect crops from all angles. Combine this with the advances in the internet of things and agriculture, and farmers can gain a huge amount of information on the state of their crops. This boosts yields, so there’s more food to go around for everyone.

Monitoring air quality

As cities continue to grow, air quality is a macro issue that effects huge numbers of people. As part of a wider smart city solution, drones could be deployed to monitor air quality in certain urban areas, with the data then to notify and inform people who suffer with breathing difficulties. For the 2014 Commonwealth Games when we challenged University of Glasgow students to come up with an innovative way of using a smart city sensor, they came up with just that.

Disease prevention

Microsoft is experimenting with drones in medicine, using them to catch and analyse mosquitos to help predict disease outbreaks. It’s not perfect – the drones can’t distinguish between mosquitos and other bugs, yet. To add to the complexity, a manual sort is required at the other end to extract the blood samples. Despite these setbacks, think of the potential if this use case gets off the ground – we’ll be able to accurately predict outbreaks of Malaria and other life threatening diseases.

Bringing internet access to remote areas

At Cisco we’re doing some early stage investigations in to using drones as a way of providing emergency Wi-Fi coverage. Again, this could be useful in disaster situations when major infrastructure is knocked out. Elsewhere, Facebook wants to bring internet access to remote areas by flying massive solar-powered drones at high altitudes to beam down the internet signals down. Wider access to the internet has benefits for everyone!

Home delivery

Amazon has been leading the charge for home delivery using drones – with the prospect of parcels being delivered by air on the same day. While this video with ambassador Jeremy Clarkson is humorous, it shows a statement of intent from the tech giant. Just think how on-demand drone delivery could also be useful for hospitals as a way of transporting emergency blood and organs.

Disaster recovery

I saw a fascinating demonstration of this at last year’s Dublin Web Summit – drones can be used as a way of locating people trapped in disaster zones. In Kathmandu (Nepal) locals are being taught how to fly drones to help better prepare for the next big earthquake. Being able to identify where people are, and assess the state of the buildings and road access quicker, will help save lives.

Sport and entertainment

Yes you read that right, it sounds like something straight out of Star Wars. But drone racing is already in niche circles, and it could set to be the next big thing in entertainment. Fancy a go? Strap yourself into a VR headset and get a first person view of your racing drone, as you zip around a real life course and across obstacles.

Like the sound of that? In my next blog I’ll explore the barriers we’ve got to overcome to get there, and how we might go about it.

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