By 2017, the economic impact of integrating unmanned aerial systems into the U.S. economy will exceed $13.6 billion and add 70,000 new jobs, according to forecasts by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. By 2025, this will increase to 100,000 jobs with an impact of $82 billion. The use of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to collect data is a major part of AUVSI’s forecast.
“Where will the next trillion files be created? Broadly: the Internet of things. But UAVs in particular are going to be a massive source of that information,” Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, said, in the October 2014 Fortune article, “Drone Nation.”
Mark Heynen, Senior VP of commercial drone-startup, Skycatch, reinforced this idea. “We’re a data company, not a drone company,” he said.
“Use of UAVs to capture, process and deliver GIS content in near real time is a real game-changer,” according to Esri President Jack Dangermond.
Currently, most remote sensing data collection in the U.S. is either done by satellite or manned aircraft. Gathering data via manned flights is expensive, and satellite data may not be timely enough. Drone flights, on the other hand, can be conducted daily and at a fraction of the cost of piloted aircraft.
However, the use of small UAVs goes far beyond data collection; the technology is changing sensing devices, data processing and data analysis. In the past, these functions were frequently separated. Data were often collected by one company and then handed over to another organization for processing and analyzing, using expensive and complicated GIS software from a relatively small number of established vendors. Now low-cost data acquisition is not only driving down the cost of these functions, it is also simplifying the process.
Skycatch, a San Francisco-based UAV company, offers a service called Workmode, which enables users to upload their RGB, multispectral and thermal data, sourced from UAV flights, to Skycatch. The company then creates maps, takes 2-D measurements of distance, length, and area and 3-D volume measurements, and monitors and tracks changes over time using change-detection heat maps.
Other drone companies like DJI and 3D Robotics are integrating georeferencing and photogrammetry tools into their flight planners. Companies like Precision Hawk and Agrolytics are offering more of a complete application-specific, cloud based solution. Even hardware manufactures like Velodyne and Riegel are downsizing their instruments to fly on sUAVs.
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