Autonomous aerial drones: Are drones becoming the next essential service?

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Autonomous aerial drones: Are drones becoming the next essential service?

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Autonomous aerial drones: Are drones becoming the next essential service?

Subheading text
Companies are developing drones with autonomous functionalities designed to fulfill different needs.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • May 25, 2023

    From package and food deliveries to recording a stunning aerial view of a summer holiday destination, aerial drones are becoming more commonplace and accepted than ever. As the market for these machines continues to grow, companies are trying to develop fully autonomous models with more versatile use cases.

    Autonomous aerial drones context

    Aerial drones are often classified under unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Among their many advantages is that these devices are aeronautically flexible since they can hover, conduct horizontal flights, and vertically take off and land. Drones have become increasingly popular in social media as a novel way to record experiences, travels, and personal events. According to Grand View Research, the consumer aerial drone market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 13.8 percent from 2022 to 2030. Many companies are also investing in developing task-specific drones for their respective operations. An example is Amazon, which has been experimenting with these machines to deliver parcels faster and more efficiently by avoiding ground traffic.

    While most drones still need a human pilot to move around, several studies are being conducted to make them fully autonomous, resulting in some interesting (and potentially unethical) use cases. One such controversial use case is in the military, particularly in deploying drones to launch airstrikes. Another highly debated application is in law enforcement, particularly in public surveillance. Ethicists insist that governments should be more transparent about how they use these machines for national security, especially if this includes taking pictures or videos of individuals. Nonetheless, the market for autonomous aerial drones is expected to become even more valuable as companies use them to fulfill essential services, such as last-mile deliveries and maintenance of water and energy infrastructures. 

    Disruptive impact

    The Follow-Me Autonomously functionality in drones has received increased investments as it can have various use cases, such as in photography, videography, and security. Photo- and video-enabled consumer drones with "follow-me" and crash-avoidance features enable semi-autonomous flight, keeping the subject in the frame without a designated pilot. Two key technologies make this possible: vision recognition and GPS. Vision recognition provides obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities. Wireless technology firm Qualcomm is working on adding 4K and 8K cameras to its drones to avoid obstacles more easily. Meanwhile, GPS enables drones to chase a transmitter signal linked with the remote control. Automobile manufacturer Jeep intends to add a follow-me setting into its system, allowing a drone to follow the car to take pictures of the driver or give more light on dark, off-road trails.

    Aside from commercial purposes, drones are also being developed for search and rescue missions. A team of researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden is working on a drone system that would be fully autonomous. This feature would increase efficiency and enable quicker response time for rescue operations at sea. The system comprises water and air-based machines using a communication network to search an area, notify authorities, and provide basic help before human rescuers arrive. The fully automated drone system will have three main components. The first device is a marine drone called Seacat, which serves as a platform for the other drones. The second component is a flock of winged drones that survey the area. Finally, there will be a quadcopter that can deliver food, first-aid supplies, or flotation devices.

    Implications of autonomous drones

    Wider implications of autonomous drones may include: 

    • Developments in computer vision leading to drones automatically avoiding collisions and navigating around obstructions more intuitively, resulting in increased safety and business applications. These innovations can also be utilized in land-based drones such as autonomous vehicles and robotic quadrupeds.
    • Autonomous drones being used to survey and patrol difficult-to-reach and dangerous environments, such as remote forests and deserts, the deep sea, war zones, etc.
    • The increasing use of autonomous drones in the entertainment and content creation industries to provide more immersive experiences.
    • The market for consumer drones surging as more people use these devices to record their travels and milestone events.
    • Military and border control agencies investing heavily in fully autonomous models that can be used for surveillance and airstrikes, opening more debates on the rise of killing machines.

    Questions to consider

    • If you have an autonomous or semi-autonomous aerial drone, in what ways do you use it?
    • What are the other potential benefits of autonomous drones?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: