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Executive Education

How are drones revolutionizing the world of business?

Delivering blood, planting fields, managing construction, and rescuing swimmers – the drones of today are changing the business models of industries and the way we work. In 2017, drone sales in the US alone increased by 224%. With rapid advances in software, increasingly complex sensing capabilities, and a competitive market pushing down prices, these devices will continue to drive innovation across a wide range of sectors.

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Drones in action

The potential global market for drone-powered business services is a staggering $127 billion, according to PwC estimates. Over a third of this will be in the infrastructure industry, in areas such as pre-construction 3D modeling and data collection, construction monitoring and progress reports, maintenance inspections, and inventory assessment – potentially paired with barcodes and RFID tags.

In the agriculture industry, drones can map fields in 3D, analyze soil, plant seeds (decreasing planting costs by 85%, in some cases), spray, monitor and irrigate fields (sensing where water is needed with spectral imaging and thermal sensors), and continually asses the health of the crop, scanning for diseases in orchards and tracking the health and growth of plants.

Lifesaving applications

Drones can even help to save lives. In January this year, lifeguards rescued two swimmers in Australia by dropping a flotation device from a drone. A rescue that would have normally taken 6 minutes only took 70 seconds.

Drones have also aided search and rescue efforts during hurricanes (and assessed damage afterwards), delivered blood in Rwanda, swiped samples for studying the whale microbiome, and spotted rare plants during conservation work. In Dubai, a drone has even been tested as a two-seater “Autonomous Air Taxi.”

Challenges ahead

The drone business is not without its challenges. GoPro, after entering the market in 2016, left this year, citing intense competition as the primary reason. Current legislation has also prevented some large-scale projects, like Amazon Prime Air, from moving beyond isolated tests. However, with technology and software evolving at a rapid pace, changes in regulation, and the emergence of new start-ups, drones will continue to open up exciting opportunities for strategic innovation.