Physical Technology – Drones

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OPINION: DRONES have been around for a few years now and started out mostly as children’s toys in the form of helicopters.

As battery technology improved, drones carrying capacity and distance improved such that people took to mounting cameras on them – this raised serious privacy concerns. It also led to a range of commercial applications on farms (counting livestock) and industrial complexes (checking on equipment) and for use in security through aerial monitoring both night and day.

More recently, the delivery of goods has been effected by drone. At Dubai Airport they are trialling drone taxis to transport people from the airport to the city. Drones have also been used to deliver medical supplies and equipment to hard-to-get-to places.

For around $2,500 you can buy a drone with 30 minutes flying time, a range of 6 kilometres and a top speed of 60 kilometres an hour.

Current commercial applications using industrial drones include carrying out inspections on oil and gas rigs in dangerous or hard to get places – not only visual but thermal and sonar technology can be used. Drones are also used in an agricultural context where reporting on crops, their health, need for water, nutrients and fertilizers is driving efficiencies. In a construction context, drones are used to assist design, construction and even demolition of buildings.

The uses in mapping are obvious – not only greater accuracy, they can cover greater amounts of terrain, inaccessible terrain and it can be done more frequently and cheaply. The level of frequency also gives greater amount of comparable data which can then be analysed to see changes over time.

Inspecting infrastructure such as dams, telephone towers, electricity and gas infrastructure, where a physical inspection would cost upwards of $3,000, a drone can carry it out for under $300. Even cleaning debris from overhead electricity wires, a dangerous and time consuming job, can be done by drone – faster, safer and cheaper. Walmart is using drones in its warehouses to check inventory and can do in a day what took humans a month.

Amazon Air is a concept being developed by Amazon to aid the delivery of “the last mile” in a timelier, economic and environmentally friendly manner using drones. These drones are capable of carrying up to 2kgs which covers 86% of Amazons inventory.

However, it is not all systems go. Governments and agencies are concerned with issues such as safety, privacy, air space management and the rights and responsibilities of the general public, hobbyists and commercial operators.

Nevertheless, the possibilities of drones mean they are probably here to stay and their impact is yet to be fully appreciated.

OFFICE/RETAIL/INDUSTRIAL: Delivery and transport systems, lower costs, shorter commuting times.

By Tony Crabb, national director of research, Cushman & Wakefield.*

Property Reviewer on Australian Property Journal