As a newcomer to this particular field of technology, the thing that surprises me the most is the frenzy that drones whip even the most seasoned businessmen into. Professionals call my boss all the time with some ‘groundbreaking’ idea that just popped into their head; they want to do X, Y, and Z, but they want to do it with drones! We always have to ask these people a critical question that they often blow right past: does the technology exist? Some people seem to think drones are a magical, problem-solving savior, but the fact of the matter is that drones just add wings to existing technologies.
Let me clarify with an example; We had a farmer come to us not too long ago, excited about a revelation he had involving drones; he wanted to have the neighbor boy fly a drone to determine the percentage of fruit left on the tree after picking. This farmer was excited to get to work, and called expecting a recommendation for which drone mapping software could produce those metrics. Unfortunately, it fell on us to bear the bad news that if the technology doesn’t exist for your very specific niche now, a drone will not magically bridge that gap.
First and foremost, people have to realize that drones are a tool, not a complete solution. There are many pieces in play if you want to use a drone today, including legal exemptions, insurance, and finding the right combination of hardware and software to achieve your goal. It is a delicate process; you don’t want to invest in securing a legal exemption if the hardware and software solution do not exist for your particular problem set, but you also don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole with test flights if you aren’t properly protected.
A drone, for all its acronyms and hype in the media, is very simply an unmanned vehicle; a small augmentation of a well-established technology. Aviation has been around for hundreds of years, the thing that makes this new unmanned technology special is the fact that this technology has never had lower price points or been easier to use than now. As little as 5 years ago, the cost of a couple hours of aerial data acquisition could be thousands of dollars for a hired a professional, more if you got the license and equipage yourself. Now, a few thousand dollars, you could own and operate your own technology. Drones won’t reinvent aviation, but they can transform the way you structure the management of your technological resources. Instead of being subject to the needs and schedule of a pilot, you can establish a schedule and flight protocol that maximizes efficiency.
Conversely, the transformative power of this technology is still limited. Much in the way that internet revolutionized personal computing with the potential for advancements, drones have the same power. Drones give people a platform to build on, but people still have to develop the specific “cherry picking” software themselves. If you want a customizable platform that is capable in every dimension and easily integrates automation, a drone could be the right tool for you. If you want a magic wand to wave at your problems, drone technology probably isn’t it.