The U.S. Department of Transportation’s research arm, the Volpe Center, projects that the number of unmanned aerial vehicle operations will surpass that of manned aircraft by 2035.
Commercial drones will be a big part of this revolution.
While the drones, themselves, will be unmanned, these autonomous commercial flyers will need human “pilots” to control them from afar.
Due to the novelty of this implementation, there’s currently a shortage of qualified drone pilots. Many drone companies around the world are launching programs to train thousands of pilots in an effort to be prepared for the integration of drones into the realm of industry.
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Job openings in drone aviation are sure to multiply as drone use becomes less of a trend and more of a mainstay reality.
James Harrison, Co-Founder and CEO of Sky-Futures, explained in the Financial Times that the major reason for the potential longevity of the drone industry is, quite simply: “They’re flying computers that can capture a lot of details and data that humans can’t – and from angles and places humans can’t get to.”
In other words, drones are ideal for monitoring remote or dangerous locations. Further, if any area is too large or out of reach, drones offer an uncomplicated option to surveilling these risky locations.
Take, for instance, forest fires.
With all the smoke generated by the burning landscape, human surveillance would be truly dangerous on many levels. Even a piloted aircraft, sent up above the fire, would put lives at risk.
A drone, on the other hand, can be used to retrieve valuable information about the direction in which the blaze is headed, and at what speed. It can also keep an eye on the firefighters on the ground – monitoring the safety and efficacy of putting out the fire in real time from the skies.
And this is only one instance.
Drones are also useful to law enforcement. In Canada, police are already implementing their use in search-and-rescue operations as well as raid scenarios.
When looking at the potential for commercial drones, the possibilities for use are almost endless:
- Drones can be used at solar and wind farms to inspect panels and turbines for faults.
- Utilities can use drones to inspect overhead transmission lines in remote locations.
- The energy industry is already using drones to monitor gas flares and check for leaks in pipelines.
- Drones make it much easier to monitor offshore oil rigs, too – keep in mind, there are over 10,000 oil rigs in place, globally.
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Consulting firm Oliver Wyman believes precision agriculture – using drones – will likely be the biggest component of growth in commercial drone usage in the years ahead.
This isn’t surprising, considering that Japanese farmers have used them for decades to inspect their crops, rather than walking the length of vast farmland. Further, over 90% of crop-dusting in Japan is already done using drones to deliver pesticides and nutrients.
However, U.S. farmers are finally catching up and have recently begun to use drones on their farms to monitor the state of their crops. From the air, drones can analyze whether more water or fertilizer is needed, or if crops are being damaged by bugs. Eventually, domestic farmers will also utilize them to spray fertilizer or insecticides, like in Japan.
Bottom line is – commercial drones are here to stay.
Despite initial uncertainty, according to research firm, Teal Group, universal spending on the production of drones will continue to fly high.
Over the next 10 years, Teal forecasts that drone expenditure – from both industry and military buyers – will reach $93 billion.
The United States, however, will have to play a bit of catch-up with the rest of the world, thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) taking their time in coming up with domestic regulations for commercial drones.
The good news is that the FAA is expected to issue their long-awaited rules on widespread commercial use of small drones within the next several weeks. Here’s hoping the rules aren’t too restrictive – especially for drone use in remote locations.
If the regulations are restrictive, however, it will mean that most of the innovations in drone technology will continue to occur overseas, with the U.S. a bystander of the future.
P.S. For more tech stock advice, keep an eye on the predictions of my colleague Lou Basenese, Wall Street Daily’s Chief Tech Analyst. He stays on top of the trends as they become incredibly lucrative mainstays on the market. Subscribe to his newsletter, Digital Fortunes, to stay in the know.