Will Drones Live up to their Business Potential?


There have been rumblings over the past year from the likes of Amazon, Google, and Alibaba about the potential use of drones for same-day deliveries to consumers. Yet these unmanned aircrafts could be used for far more than just more efficient delivery, and in fact at first they will only be permitted for other purposes in the United States including aerial photography and telecommunications. Many businesses are excited about the cost-saving possibilities of drones, but how likely are they to become an indispensable commercial tool?

Business Uses and Benefits

According to a recently leaked FAA document, allowing businesses to use commercial drones could lead to over $100 million in initial profits. Projected uses could include inspecting telecommunications and radio towers, which has led to interest from big names like Nokia Networks. Using drones in the telecommunications industry could help save lives, avoiding putting workers in danger by eliminating the need to climb towers to conduct routine inspections and repairs. They may also be used to beam internet access to isolated regions in Africa, which is an avenue being explored by Facebook.

The FAA has proposed to allow commercial flights provided that the devices weigh 55 pounds or less, without the need for a pilot’s license. Currently, commercial drones are primarily used for aerial photography and cinematography, but they are also being looked at for the agricultural industry as well as for retail delivery services. Drones can be used to inspect crops, construction sites, or other wide-scale projects, helping businesses save money in the meantime. The FAA reports that using drones to inspect crops could save a farmer $5 per acre, which could translate to billions in savings for that industry alone.

New Categories of Drones

Drones come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their intended use. The FAA is considering classifying the smallest drones as “micro drones,” in their own category. Micro drones would include any unmanned aircraft weighing 4.4 pounds or less, and would be created from softer materials that would cause less harm in a crash. It’s possible that more categories would be created in the future for the range of materials and sizes as drone technology continues to advance. Commercial uses that have already been approved by the FAA include filmmaking, agricultural surveying, and the monitoring of construction sites.

Regulation Issues

There’s a push from the FAA and other governing bodies to put regulations in place before drone technology becomes so common that the skies are flooded with small aircraft. Regulation is needed to prevent collisions and boost safety, but to be favourable to small business it’s important that these restrictions are reasonable. In a survey of small drone operators, 90% of respondents considered an agreement of self-regulation to be most favourable, while a requirement for pilot licenses to be most disagreeable.

The Bottom Line

The use of commercial drones could save business owners a great deal of money and reduce the danger associated with telecommunications and construction industries. Yet it will take some time to work out the knots of regulation, particularly if new classifications of drones are created. As technology continues to advance, it’s likely that we’ll see drones used as a common business tool by the end of the decade by businesses both big and small.


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