Why drones are the next big thing in business

In 2013, commercial drone users were concerned. Focus on drone strikes and military applications in the media had shaped public thinking on drones – and it wasn't positive. So much so that insiders preferred their technical name, "unmanned aerial vehicles" or UAVs, just to stand apart from the ominous drones. As Peter Singer, Director of the Brookings Institution's 21st Century Defense Initiative, told Huffington Post, "The public perception of this technology is being shaped by 1 percent of its actual use."

Fast forward just three years to 2016 and there's tangible evidence that public opinion on drones has softened. It's not uncommon to see drones hovering overhead at large public gatherings, with concert and festival goers waving at drones buzzing overhead. According to analysts at Business Insider, while defense uses are still the largest share of the global aerial drone market, civilian use is booming, primarily buoyed by commercial applications.

ackab1(own work) [CC BY 2.0 (]

Featured image:ackab1(own work) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Flickr.

More than just aerial delivery boys

Businesses like Amazon have seen a lot of press on using drones for deliveries – and that certainly is a tangible use case for UAVs – but potential applications for UAVs run much deeper than just overglorified delivery boys. Transportation reporter Joan Lowy of the Associated Press reports that commercial drone use is "the biggest game-changing technology in aviation since the advent of the jet engine."

So what other applications are drones good for? A quick scouring of the internet reveals references for drone use in filmmaking, disaster and emergency response efforts, and conservation work. According to Business Insider, drone software and hardware vendors are already helping customers with applications centered around agriculture, land management, energy, and construction. What's more, industry analysts at Owen Wyman cite that agricultural uses alone will make up an incredible 80 percent of the commercial UAV industry in the coming decades!

Monitoring crops from the air

As it turns out, drones are a valuable tool in a farming method called "precision agriculture". This method relies heavily on remote sensing and GPS technologies. Drones can take remote sensing hardware such as infrared sensors to the air to capture very accurate measurements of crop health anywhere in the field. This technology is already in use in sub-Saharan Africa, for example. There, drones mounted with IR sensors can detect plant stress 10 days before it's visible to the naked eye. Knowing this info can help farmers know exactly where to apply water, fertilizer, or pesticide to aid their crops, saving them time, resources, and most importantly – their livelihoods. All told, precision agriculture facilitated by drones could improve crop yields by 15 percent while reducing fertilizer use by up to 40 percent, reports Owen Wymen's analysts.

Under the hood – the interplay of software and hardware

When evaluating drones, most of the attention is typically given to the hardware specs. Hidden from the eye – but equally important – is the software that powers the drone. Commercial drones in particular are equipped with multiple sensors and ultra HD cameras generating a lot of data, all of which is recorded on the SD card inside the device. This is where the interplay of software and hardware can affect the drone's performance.

Software embedded inside the drone that interacts with the drone's SD card can affect:

  • Drone flight time. Software that writes data consistently results in less battery drain, giving more juice for flight.

  • Data safety. Drones can crash for a variety of reasons such as pilot error, hardware failure, or freak accidents. Therefore, software powering the SD card needs to be sturdy enough to preserve the data even if the drone's body is severely damaged.

  • Video resolution. The software component needs to support ultra-HD 4K video recording so that a farmer, for example, can monitor their cattle or crops accurately, day or night, and from higher altitudes.

  • SD card memory lifetime. Writing data on the SD card wears it out – the more efficiently the software does it, the longer is the lifetime of the card.

It's what's inside that counts

Just like computers, cars, and mobile phones, drones are getting smarter and more capable every day. As more and more businesses are starting to use drones, the device's features and capabilities are set to expand even further, making drones the next big thing in many businesses.

Similar to other devices, when evaluating the hardware, it's important to keep the software in mind because the two are interlinked. You wouldn't purchase an expensive computer without checking what's under the hood – why take that risk with a drone?SaveSave