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Commercial Drones – Key Deployment Scenarios & Challenges (Part 1)

Drones; akin to almost every other emerging Industrial IoT solution (different from it’s Consumer IoT brethren); present virtually endless commercial applications due to their relatively small size and ability to be piloted remotely (autonomously or with the aid of a pilot)


Part 1 focuses on 5 commercial drone deployment scenarios and related challenges

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Aside from it’s traditional use within the Military segment, Drones have also proved quite popular with hobbyists (recreational segment) since it’s advent into the civilian sphere

But going forward; the ‘real potential’ of Drones is to be realized within the Commercial segment

Commercial Drones is said to find it’s most important use(s) to date across multitude of Industry verticals

Entities from Emergency Response through to Amazon, DHLDominos and beyond will stress test the commercial value of drones in real world delivery of goods & services

Commercial Drone applications promise a myriad of end user benefits, process optimizations, diversified monetization opportunities & cost savings

Wireless Carriers will play an important role within the broader Commercial Drone economy, as cellular assets is key amongst the many wireless protocols needed for regular drone operations

Expect aviation authorities globally to begin issuing Drone specific regulations in phases 

Commercial Drones aims to  alleviate / enhance/complement existing logistical  solutions (or complexities) for a myriad of Industry verticals


Commercial Drones: 5 Key Deployment Scenarios

Commercial Drones usher in virtually endless deployment scenarios and business opportunities

Their application(s) could range from Agriculture & Livestock to Real Estate, Interactive Media, Construction and many more such industries

Let’s explore 5 such scenarios –

1. Goods Delivery

One of the most widely scoped (& trialed) scenarios of Commercial Drone is within the goods & services delivery segment; particularly end-consumer variety from traditional delivery companies like DHL to retailers like Amazon

Today, Amazon has invested in numerous fulfillment centers across the country with a promise to deliver ‘millions of item SKUs’ within the same day (some even within a few hours) of order placement for it’s Prime members…

…that ultimately has a big role to play in end-consumer satisfaction… that in turn lends a bigger role in repeat purchase… that in turn… (you get the drift)

Imagine this:

  • Super-Express Delivery: Orders placed on the ‘same millions of SKUs’ could now have a promised delivery window of 30 minutes (or less) thanks to Drones… and not only to your primary residence (rooftop / backyard)… but perhaps also to your workplace or your parent’s/friend’s POP (point of presence)… aiming to further improve the end-consumer satisfaction (and repeat purchase experience)

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Such logistic models also stands to benefit similar National brick-n-mortar Retailers such as Walmart & Target; who could effectively leverage their sizable national retail footprint as  mini-distribution centers – as discussed in a  previous post here

  • Pizza from the sky: Next time you order Pizza (or groceries & other perishables); look up to the sky… Entities such as Dominos are actively investigating drone delivery in pursuit of saving time, increasing revenue and enhancing customer satisfaction 

Role within broader IoT paradigm: 

Retail delivery drones could integrate with household / office IoT modules; especially those pertaining to consumable products to bring about higher level of automated replenishment (à la Amazon Dash)

2. Health

Commercial drones could help alleviate two key challenges faced by the Health vertical in emergency delivery of life saving supplies & emergency response to critical situations in Dense Urban & Remote locations

Imagine this:

  • ER Supply Delivery: Delivery of key life saving supplies to dense urban / remote areas; where traditional ambulances face increasing challenges (road traffic in dense urban areas & long travel distances to remote areas) 
  • ER Patient Transport: In certain situations; Paramedics on-site could use specialized automated ‘Personnel transport Drone’ (as exemplified in eHANG‘s 184 model displayed at this year’s CES) to transport patients in critical condition to the nearest health facility in a more efficient manner (in both dense urban & remote areas)
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Role within broader IoT paradigm:

Commercial Drones could integrate with a combination of Personal Health IoT products such as Heart Rate, Blood Pressure and Motion monitors to automate emergency dispatch of necessary medical assistance in life saving / threat prevention scenario(s)

3. Internet Delivery

Drones could act as a temporary wireless relay station(s) thereby bringing internet connectivity in a variety of circumstances

Imagine this:

  • Dense Congregation Sites: Wireless Carriers could remotely deploy Cellular Internet propagating drones (à la cellular base station) to temporarily boost Internet speeds & bandwidth in dense sitems of congregation such as Sporting events / Music festivals. The same application could also be extended to internet provision in an area struck by Natural Disaster and it’s subsequent recovery operations
  • Remote Internet Provisioning is one of the key visions of tech giants such as Facebook & Google; who are investigating the role of Drones (amongst others) to essentially blanket the planet with internet connectivity. Approximately half the planet; especially remote regions within emerging countries have no/poor fixed internet infrastructure. In fact, Facebook recently completed its first test flight of a solar-powered drone dubbed the Aquila. Expect these kinds of drones to be mid-high altitude flying variety depending on multitude of factors such as the topography, infrastructure, energy source, et al.

Role within broader IoT paradigm:

Internet relay Drones could integrate with a myriad of specific IoT modules such as charging stations, high orbit satellites, ground-based weather stations and even cellular towers to automate various pre-set actions.

4. Equipment Diagnostics & Situational Awareness

Drones could be deployed in delivering remote monitoring services of property – both personal & commercial

Imagine this:

  • Equipment Monitoring: Wireless Carriers such as AT&T have already begun testing the application of drones in remote monitoring of their fixed assets such as cellular towers thereby conducting the test in a more ‘safe and economical’ manner 
  • Situational Awareness: National, State & Local government entities could leverage drones to remotely monitor their critical infrastructure such as dams, pipelines, bridges as well as provide ‘real-time’ situational awareness within a designated area affected by natural disaster; without endangering any human lives

Role within broader IoT paradigm:

Maintenance & Monitoring Drones could liaise with sensors built within remote IoT equipment(s) and automatically dispatch itself to assess the situation… either at regular intervals or when ‘triggered’ by pre-set protocols

5. Remote Security

Drones could be deployed in delivering remote security services of property – both personal & commercial

Imagine this:

  • Commercial: Large enterprises could complement their existing ground-based security protocols with automated aerial drones that remotely monitor their fixed infrastructures & moving assets, thereby providing an additional dimension to real-time security 
  • Personal: Home Security companies could theoretically leverage drones to complement their ground-based security dispatch fleet in actively monitoring their customer’s home at designated intervals by being more economical & environmentally friendly (compared to impacts from regular gasoline powered vehicles)

Role within broader IoT paradigm:

Security Drones could liaise with a combination of sensors built within the Commercial IoT assets / Personal connected-property OR automatically be dispatched at regular intervals 


5 Key Challenges

“So… should I be looking up to the sky for my next Triple Cheese Pepperoni Pizza delivery?”

Don’t rush to the roof / backyard for a delivery quite yet. There are a few challenges that the broader industry needs to address before that scenario materializes. Some of them are –

1. Regulations

Regulatory authorities worldwide are figuring out how to regulate the airspace in a drone-environment to facilitate an efficient & phased approach

Drone Pilot license requirements, Drone registration, Insurance requirements, Air lanes / ‘Traffic rules’, Max / Min ceiling of operation, Time of operation (Day / Night), Safe Speed limits, Max payload, Line of sight requirements are just some of the many critical factors being factored into facilitating the safe operation of Commercial Drones; whilst promoting the future of commerce

The DOT & FAA (in the U.S) has very recently released its own set of rules to allow for safe commercial operations of Drones. 

As one could imagine, there is a lot that could go wrong with tens of hundreds, potentially even thousands of drones whizzing within a defined specific area without any set regulations in place 

2. Locker box concept

Whilst it may be straight forward to deliver a package in the good ol’ suburbia backyard, the situation is opposite for residents in dense urban areas peppered with skyscrapers; such as downtown precincts

Even common weather elements such as wind, rain, snow would have complex implications on an otherwise regular commercial drone operations

As such, these ‘all-weather & season’ complexities need to be seriously tested for before live commercial drone operations

In my view; one of them could be dedicated LZs (landing zones)… picture dedicated locker boxes at certain rooftops / structures where drone deliveries could be feasible

3. Redundancies

Batteries running out mid-flight? One of the rotors stopped working? Airframe facing extreme turbulence? To prevent scenarios like these; the broader industry is actively testing for device failures / malfunctions and it’s designing their corresponding redundancies

Essentially that entails exhaustive testing of each individual component within the Drone… Batteries, Rotors, Airframe, Connectivity, Computing, Payload Weight, Wireless Connectivity… down to literally the last ‘nut-and-bolt’

4. Elements Testing

As with modern airplanes, drones too would need to undergo a series of rigorous testing before it’s mass deployment

Many urban delivery Drones would need to undergo additional testing for Low-Altitude and Dense-Skyscraper flying environments

Similarly; Drones designed to operate in mountainous regions / high-altitude operations would need to undergo testing accordingly.

5. Insurance

Commercial Drones would most likely be subjected to mandatory Insurance; albeit tailored to it’s unique risk profile

Though some entities have sporadically begun issuing drone-specific policies, the overall drone-insurance industry is still in it’s infancy stage

Perhaps it would grow in tandem with the wide adoption of standardized official regulations (against which some of the risk factors can be benchmarked against)


So…

Though we wouldn’t be receiving our next Amazon Prime delivery from the sky this weekend, there is no doubt that Drones will soon be an integral part of commerce going forward, particularly the agile logistics/delivery component thereof

This space is heating up with virtually unlimited service models & monetization opportunities for every player within the value chain.

Part 2 will explore key connectivity protocols required for a successful commercial Drone paradigm and peek into the potential role of Wireless Carriers