Many in the Geospatial mapping field believe that drones will be a panacea …allowing anyone who has a flying machine with a camera and some photogrammetric software to perform mapping and surveying services.
The drone craze is similar to the Dot.Com furor of the nineties and not dissimilar from our own Geospatial field where we’ve seen the number of GIS and image processing companies that have fallen by the wayside over the last 20 years. Who will be the winners in the UAV space and whose hopes and dreams will be dashed on the rocks of future markets and potential applications?
No question UAV’s bring great value to society and business … providing a safer, economical means to survey, map, inspect, capture and record reality. Drones are becoming another arrow in the quiver of engineering, surveying, mining, petroleum, forestry, utility organizations and where they can provide great value, they will not replace traditional methods of data acquisition. For many applications, traditional methods are still the most practical.
The primary benefit of drones is that they can go places where humans, or manned vehicles, cannot or should not go such as oil refineries to inspect flare stacks or buildings, towns or neighborhoods that have been hit by storms, flooding and fires. The bottom line is that drones are ideal for tasks that are too difficult or dangerous for humans, or can be done more cheaply and accurately by a robotic vehicle.
The practical use of drones is expanding as the FAA approved more than 1,000 commercial UAV operations for applications ranging from agriculture where drones will monitor crop health, insects, irrigation to survey, mapping and inspection of dangerous and inaccessible terrain and infrastructure such as mines, pipelines, electrical transmission lines, cellular towers, wind farms, etc. However, the ease of entry into this business sector may also be its down-side … do we really want anyone getting into this business?