“In the press, you always hear that Amazon will deliver a book, or pizzas will come to your house,” says Amar Hanspal, senior vice president at Autodesk, during a recent discussion on drones at Gigaom Structure Connect. “That is a cute thing to talk about, but the real action is in B2B industrial applications. That is where we’re watching the democratization of a broad use of drones starting to take off.”
While flying pizzas are headline-grabbing, much more is in store for drones than delivery service or aerial storytelling. By easily accessing a view from the sky, there’s a huge opportunity for modeling. And some initial industries that would benefit from real-time, drone-based modeling may surprise you. It’s actually agriculture and construction.
Dr. Kevin Price of Kansas State University made a compelling case for agriculture drones during his presentation at the 2014 American Farm Bureau Federation Convention. Price predicted that 80 percent of the money that will be spent on drones in the coming years would be for agricultural uses.
“There are 10 times more applications in agriculture than there are in any of the other application areas,” Price says, predicting a $100-billion industry by 2025.
The concept isn’t all that difficult to grasp.
A drone can fly over and create a 3D map of a field, which it can compare against the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for that land, as well as see elevations and a lot of other detailed information at the level where one pixel of the 3D map can represent 3cm of land.
Agriculture is a risk-averse industry by design. Technology has enabled farms to be larger than ever before, while employing less people than ever to maintain them. But this efficiency removed the ability to adjust crop protections and monitor performance.
“We end up wasting water and using too many chemicals in our soil and on our crops because we’re not able to monitor the performance,” says Chris Anderson, CEO and co-founder of 3D Robotics, who was onstage with Hanspal at Gigaom Structure Connect. “We spray chemicals, before disease or pests hit, because the cost of missing it is too high. But what if you had a drone that surveyed daily—even hourly—that could spot disease as it happens? Then you’d only spray when needed.”
Anderson also notes that drones flying over fields could spot irrigation leaks and other trouble spots that cost the farm money, not to mention the waste of resources given the drought conditions in California. But, given the current size of the farms, making proactive sweeps for these types of issues using anything but a drone is cost-prohibitive.
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