The drone revolution is here. From monitoring borders to supplying critical medical supplies in remote areas in Rwanda, drones have become so ubiquitous today that even wedding photographers use drones to take photos and shoot videos. It has even led to the rise of drone racing as a spectator sport. The potential and danger of a technology that was largely limited to the military became evident to everyone in September when rebels used drones to carry out stealth attacks on an oil facility in Saudi Arabia.
Major improvements in cameras, sensors and processing capacities have made these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) more versatile. And their usage is set to grow. Barclays estimates that the $4 billion global commercial drone market will touch $40 billion in five years, resulting in cost savings of up to $100 billion for corporations.
Future drones will move faster and farther and have enhanced capabilities like better thermal-imaging cameras.
Drone swarms — or “a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature” — will see more deployment in military and industrial spheres. The attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities — rebels claimed 10 drones were used — is an example of a drone swarm.
A major focus of drone research is on increasing the number of hours a UAV can stay in the air so that the usage and deployment possibilities of these machines can be widened. Some, like German firm Volocopter, are betting on high-capacity batteries, while others are exploring powering drones with hydrogen, an emission-free fuel source that is available in abundance. Another interesting area of research is on building docking and tethering tech.
Just like a bird perches on a branch to rest, drones are being designed to grasp on to something like a pole so that it can conserve energy while continuing its job of taking photos or monitoring a place.
Work is also going on to develop anti-drone tech — drones that can catch other drones, or shotgun shells that release weighted nets to drag drones down, or radio-frequency jammers to bring down UAVs.
Simple to acquire and easy to adapt to remote systems, drones are opening new frontiers. But technology is a double-edged sword. Governments can use drones to monitor citizens surreptitiously. Even nonstate actors can easily get their hands on drones and wreak havoc. It is critical that innovators and regulators work together to ensure UAVs are used for the larger good.
This story is part of the ‘Tech that can change your life in the next decade’ package
Source: Economic Times