As FTI continues to hone in on the world of drone-related business and policy, we’ve cherry picked some interesting industry and commercial snapshots from the previous week with our thoughts on their implications.
FTI’s TMT team routinely analyzes and evaluates conversation and events in the nascent drone space, posting content we hope will prove to be a valuable resource on UAV information that connect the dots between technology, policy and business.
For a start, we continue to see a variety of potential stakeholders looking to benefit from drone technology. Here are the important snapshots from the previous week:
- INDUSTRY | We already know of firms planning to use drones for delivery services, but drones could also replace humans in a variety of ways around large farms: transmitting detailed information about crops to combines and sprayers, directing them very precisely to problem spots and cutting down on the amount of water and chemicals that a farmer needs to use in those areas. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says agriculture could account for 80 percent of all commercial drone use.
The use of drones in agriculture clearly represents a huge and burgeoning opportunity for the modernization of the farming industry and could represent huge efficiencies of scale and cost. FTI believes there is a right way and wrong way to go about modernizing the agricultural sector, however, and it will be those firms who have a solid strategy who will likely see both shorter term results and longer term success of drone implementation.
- INDUSTRY | On June 7, Switzerland’s postal service announced it had begun testing parcel deliveries by unmanned drones, although widespread use of the flying parcels is not likely to kick in for another five years. Postal service executives showed off the drones for the first time on June 7 and said initial tests of the machines’ post-delivery abilities would run until the end of July.
While Amazon has spearheaded the push for drone delivery services, Switzerland appears to be the first country to consider implementing the technology at a public service level. Even though Amazon has said it hopes to have its Prime Air Service up and running within a year, a five year roadmap for a government postal service is both daring and ambitious. Should Switzerland pull it off effectively, it will be an admirable feat.
- GLOBAL COMMERCE | China exported 160,000 units of civilian drones worth 750 million Yuan ($120 million). The statistic is 69 and 55 times higher than the January and May 2014 figures, respectively. According to customs in the southern city of Shenzhen, where 99% of China’s civilian drones are exported from, a “green channel” has been set up to facilitate fast clearance of the product.
China is currently the world’s largest exporter of civilian drones, with Israel and the U.S. making up the bulk of military drone exports. Europe, however, is fast catching up. The new arms race seems to be firmly under way, both militarily and commercially.
- CORPORATE |
Power companies across the U.S. are testing whether small drones can spot trouble on transmission lines or inspect equipment deep inside hard-to-reach power plant boilers. Researchers and industry executives predict the drones could provide security surveillance to prevent vandalism on remote gear and make it safer for utility workers to climb poles and towers. One of the country’s largest power companies, Southern Co., says it hopes drones can eventually identify storm damage in the Southeast and allow it to increase its routine inspections. About a dozen utility or service companies have sought permission to use drones for similar purposes.
Using drones in this way isn’t just smart and good PR, but could be incredibly efficient. Companies will need to ensure that regulations keep pace with innovation, however, if they want to be able to take full advantage of drone potential in this area.
- CORPORATE | As the tech industry embraces the potential of commercial drones to monitor traffic and weather, expand Internet access and deliver packages, Google has taken a less public role than rivals like Amazon in pushing the technology with regulators. However as its conference two weeks ago demonstrates, Google, which unveiled its Project Wing last August, has still sought to shape the debate — primarily behind the scenes. In Washington, Google has devoted lobbying dollars to the drone issue. The company spent $5.4 million on D.C. influence operations during the first three months of 2015, with unmanned aerial vehicles among its top priorities. Like Amazon, Google is a member of the Small UAV Coalition and has a board position with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
- CORPORATE | National Football League teams seeking a competitive edge are increasingly deploying small drones in practice to provide a better glimpse of action on the field. However, data shows that the Redskins and some of their NFC East peers are flying the unmanned aircraft under the radar — without approval of the FAA.