10 Surprising predictions about the future of drones
Most people seem to love drones, and we are likely to see many more of them in the future. There will be a variety of exciting applications and use cases that will make this a reality. AT&T, Ericsson, and RocketSpace recently collaborated on a Futurist Report called “Future of Drones According to the AT&T Foundry” as one of the Futurist Reports. Why are AT&T and Ericsson writing about drones? When you think of having fleets of drones performing all kinds of tasks, network connectivity is critical. This report includes ten bold predictions and below is the summary.
- Drones that can enable dynamic communications networks: Currently, AT&T uses Cell on Wheels (COWs) to improve network coverage for things like musical festivals or disaster recovery. In the future, this connectivity could potentially be provided by tethered drones. One startup enabling this capability is Artemis Networks, which currently has plans to utilize pCell technology to boost LTE capacity by up to 50x.
- Swarming technology that can allow drones to work together: Swarming is an area of AI that enables drones to imitate the ways certain groups of animals work together. For example, there is great potential if you could get hundreds of drones to do a complex task like working in unison to lift heavy objects. SwarmX is a startup that created HiveMind, a drone OS to manage fleets.
- Algorithms that can fly drones: Given use cases like delivery, it seems reasonable that human operators could be replaced. Prescriptive and predictive analytics are key, while safety is an obvious concern. Botlink is currently working on a drone-control package to fully automate flights.
- Analytics that can be performed in real time, on board drones: Data usage in general has been growing exponentially. As drones and their sensors proliferate, the quantity of unstructured data will skyrocket. Drones will need to be able to gather feedback and make adjustments. There will be a great advantage to being able to process data in real-time.
- Drones that can never have to land: Currently, line-of-sight and battery life limit drone flying time. In the near future, drones may be able to autonomously perform operations Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS); meanwhile, innovations in battery/solar technology are tackling the power problem. These advances may not only allow drones to collect more data, but may also allow them to fly longer distances. Asylon has developed fully autonomous battery swap stations that can allow drones to refuel without the need of an operator.
- Drones can create a new category of immersive experiences: Live-streaming seems to be ubiquitous—but drones will take this further by giving people views from angles and perspectives that no human could ever achieve on their own. Advanced systems like tracking VR headsets that allow users to control the drone cameras are being pioneered. Dronevault specializes in the manufacturing and assembly of advanced drones for professional usage such as audiovisual, security, monitoring, and topography.
- Drones can be an extension of ground vehicles or even become vehicles: Although there are many standalone use cases, the advances in inter-device communications will allow drones to become extensions of other machines to work environments with physical hazards. For example, drones connected to your car might be able to help identify potential hazards ahead by flying above your vehicle.
- Drones can carry out important tasks more safely than humans: It seems natural that drones should take on a range of jobs – including dangerous ones – traditionally performed by humans. Roof inspections are one example. The typical home roof inspection can cost anywhere from $200-$300, depending on the size of the roof and market. A drone could do the work for about $10 per use. Camp Six Labs is developing a drone for targeting the wind turbine industry. The startup’s vertical takeoff and landing vehicle is expected to be capable of crawling on blades for cleaning and repair.
- Drones could be the development platform of tomorrow: Just as smartphones revolutionized personal and enterprise mobility, drones could have a similar impact. Drones could cause disruption in markets such as logistics, agriculture, and insurance. FreeSkies’ CoPilot is an autonomous path planning interface that allows users to select 3D waypoints that visualize the viewpoint of their drone in flight.
- Highly secure IoT platforms may catalyze widespread adoption of drones: To facilitate future use cases and help ensure safety (e.g. rapid response to avoid a mid-air collision), data must move from the drone to the controller and back to the drone quickly. As connectivity allows for more data to be collected, strong computing platforms will be required to analyze the massive amounts of raw data.
Drones can offer many opportunities for developers and it will be exciting to see how they can improve the way we live and work. I strongly encourage everyone to download and read the full report.