Drone Uses Coming to a Sky Near You

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly referred to as “drones,” have made quite the splash with hobbyists and entrepreneurs alike since bursting into the civilian sphere. On June 21, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new rules on civilian drone usage, known as “Part 107.” Those rules will go into effect Aug. 29, and many entrepreneurs are chomping at the bit to get their drone-based ventures off the ground, literally.

To find out more about drones and the vast range of applications they offer for business owners, we spoke with several industry insiders and UAV experts about what the future holds for the technology. Their answers demonstrate that these unmanned aircraft are versatile tools that can change existing businesses and help establish new startups.

“Drone adoption has been growing rapidly — 300,000 drones were registered within the first month after the FAA opened its registration site — and there are simply not enough pilots of manned aircraft to keep up with demand,” Mike Winn, CEO and co-founder of software company DroneDeploy, said. “The most significant change under Part 107 is that operating drones commercially no longer requires a pilot’s license and a Section 333 exemption. Up until this point, the need for a licensed pilot and the lack of regulatory clarity were the most significant bottlenecks for many businesses looking to expand drone operations.”

“Essentially, you can use a drone as long as it is less than 55 pounds, within eyesight by a certified ‘remote pilot in command’ operator at a maximum altitude of 400 feet,” Braden Perry, an attorney at Kennyhertz Perry, said. “Prior to the new rules, you had to have a pilot’s license to operate an unmanned aircraft. Most companies cannot afford to hire a pilot solely to pilot a drone. The certification for remote pilot in command is not strenuous, and generally any adult can get one at little cost, and very quickly. This opens the doors for almost any company to utilize unmanned aircraft technology in their business.”

Applications for UAVs in business

So far, businesses have used drones largely in video and photography, especially for marketing purposes, but there are many other applications of UAV technology that might surprise you. From agriculture to internet access, drones are a multipurpose tool that offers the potential to reimagine some of the most critical ways humanity operates.

“The only limit is a person’s imagination,” Brian Opp, manager of aerospace business development at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said. “I’ve heard [drones] compared to the internet a number of times. I don’t know if drones will be as world-changing, but there are certainly so many commercial applications that can have a positive impact, either on a business’s bottom line or by making jobs safer.”

“I just think that the drone industry is — no pun intended — obviously going to take off,” Joshua Larson, founder of drone consultancy Breakover Services, said. “This technology can be used to do anything, as we’ve seen. The safest, most efficient way to get it out there is training and education for the people who will be flying in the airspace where manned aircraft are.”

Here’s how some pilots are already using drones, and how they might be used in the future for businesses both large and small.

Agriculture

Farmers can benefit from drones in several ways. In fact, many in the UAV industry cite agriculture as an enormous area of opportunity for drone technology. Not only can drones save farmers money by helping them identify failing plants early and take inventory of crops, but the machines can also be used to map and study the farmland and its irrigation systems. In each of these cases, utilizing drones helps expedite what are otherwise time-consuming projects.

“The drone is just the school bus. What’s important is the sensor capturing data and [the] software that’s really forming that data-analytics piece and hoping to extrapolate the useful information out of that,” Opp said.

In addition, drones can be equipped to spray pesticides, fertilizers or water on crops. Each UAV is like a far cheaper mini-crop duster. And for farms with livestock, drones can also be used to monitor the animals and quickly gather and track useful data about animal health and population.

Architecture and construction

Architectural firms and construction contractors are also benefitting from the use of drones. Much like professionals in real estate, architects can use images and footage of a property to create 3D renderings of the structures they aim to build.

By cheaply and quickly creating aerial shots on which to place an architectural rendering, architects can create real-world concepts of their projects. This ability is indispensable to creating accurate designs and understanding how they fit within properties.

Access to these plans during the construction project is also useful to the people actually bringing the design to life.

The FAA and the regulatory landscape

The new regulations streamline the process to legally operate a drone for commercial purposes. Many entrepreneurs are hailing the changes as a step forward that eases the process of expanding commercial drone operations. Among the changes included in the Part 107 update are relaxed standards for pilots and the removal of the “Section 333 exemption,” which was previously required for commercial operations.