Small, high-tech drones are being used to make movies, shoot photos for the media and find sick or diseased crops in farm fields across the country — even though the government restricts commercial use.
Now, some are saying that drones could make operations safer in an industry Pennsylvania knows well: Energy.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, could be used in oil and gas operations for anything that is “dangerous or dirty to do by people,” said Michael Blades, who analyzes the drone industry for the global research firm Frost & Sullivan.
The federal government has used drones for military purposes for years. Now, small commercial drones are pegged to become a multi-billion dollar industry, and could be used for many different industries, analysts predict.
In Pittsburgh, for example, drones are being touted for use by the natural gas industry. In a Shadyside startup company, a small black drone with skinny white legs hovers in the hallway. It buzzes aggressively as it lifts off, musses the hair of its creator and then lands softly on the floor.
Dick Zhang, chief executive of Identified Technologies, smiles like a giddy kid as he demonstrates the capabilities of the drone.
The high-tech quadcopter, a helicopter with four rotors, is equipped with computers and sensors that gather data and then transmit it in real-time to the cloud. The computers make calculations 400 times every second to keep the drone flying on track.
“We deliver these intelligent UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), or drones, so that they could be used for anything, from infrastructure detection to gas leak detection on pipelines,” Zhang said.
Energy companies typically perform safety checks on pipelines by foot patrols and expensive helicopter fly-over inspections.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com