The global commercial market for unmanned services is in for rapid growth – it is likely to exceed $63 bln by 2025, the Markets and Markets research company projects considering its annual increment of over 50%. The corporate sector seems most enthusiastic about using drones, the cargo delivery segment opening up the greatest prospects for unmanned vehicles – at least, major corporations such as Amazon and Google are vigorously experimenting in this niche. However, even today, far more unexpected solutions are being developed on the unmanned services market, potentially bound to overturn business processes in entire industries. Below are the most unusual of them, according to a CB Insights research.
Along with cargo deliveries, drones are definitely going to revolutionize public transport as they may well replace conventional taxis in the future. Although still at the experimental level, Uber is busy exploring this possibility. Having introduced the concept of an unmanned aerial passenger services project in 2017, the company expected to implement it by 2020. Uber then explicitly likened the current traffic problems in big cities to the lack of space for residential and office development, a problem the United States resolved by introducing high-rise construction, suggesting drones as the new personal transport development horizon. True, in 2018, the company shifted the focus to more feasible solutions such as using drones for Uber Eats delivery. Yet, Uber never abandoned its futuristic vision of autonomous flying taxis. In June 2019, the company announced plans to commercially deploy Uber Air in Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth by 2023, and is aiming to start testing these aircrafts next year.
Insurance to become easier
Prompt and objective assessment of damage caused by an insured event is a serious challenge for insurance companies all over the world. This includes assessment in case of insurance claims related to extreme natural phenomena when prompt access to insurance objects is a complicated task. This is when drones can come in handy. Allstate Insurance has been testing the possibility since 2015 in partnership with EagleView Technologies, an aerial photography company. In 2016 Allstate Insurance already tested drones for assessing damage caused by a natural disaster in San Antonio, Texas, when the area was hit by a very powerful storm and the total damage was estimated at $1.4 bln. Despite the fact that the test was supposed to determine if the technology is viable and how customers would receive the service, drones also helped to detect damage to customers’ property.
Medical help to become faster
Drone technology can be applied to such industries as healthcare. Drones can be used to promptly deliver drugs and medical tests by air. UPS is largely involved in this niche since it started to cooperate with CyPhy Works in 2016 to deliver medical supplies to areas affected by humanitarian catastrophes.
To assess the capabilities offered by the new format of drone use, the company conducted a test delivery of a children’s asthma inhaler from Marblehead, Massachusetts to the nearby Children’s Island. CyPhy Works later ceased to operate in the market, but in March 2019 UPS announced it would launch a ‘revolutionary logistics service’ for delivering medications and biological samples by unmanned aircraft in North Carolina. Under the project, UPS partnered with California-based drone manufacturer Matternet to launch a service for delivering biological samples by air to the city of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Retail to reduce expenses
Deliveries by drone remains a method to reduce expenses in the retail industry. One of the world’s largest retailers, Walmart, opened its technology incubator Walmart Tech ATX back in 2018, including for the purpose of developing solutions that could implement the drone technology – such as using drones at the company’s distribution centers, where they could help accelerate a large number of operations. For instance, stocktaking at Walmart’s distribution center in the state of Arkansas, with its area of over 1.2 million sq feet, takes about a month – while using a drone for inspection automation and optimization will reduce the period to 24 hours.
The company is also assessing potential of the synergy between unmanned technology and other innovative technologies, in particular, blockchain. In September 2018, there were reports saying Walmart applied for a patent on drones communication system based on the blockchain technology. Walmart’s another patent describes the use of unmanned device for selling goods to customers in a store.
UAVs can also make the internet more accessible. Facebook remains one of the most active players on this market: in 2014, it announced the development of the Aquila solar-powered drone. I was supposed to be used as an atmospheric satellite and act as relay stations to provide internet access to everyone. According to Facebook, the construction of its own drone from scratch seemed more feasible than investing in expensive underground optical fiber cables. The latter, according to internet access provider Otelco, would cost up to $22K per mile.
Trials of Aquila began in 2016, but the craft was damaged on the very first flight. In 2018, Facebook decided to stop its program because aerospace manufacturers began designing and building similar crafts, and the company decided to abandon the idea of its own drone. In 2018, Facebook began working with Airbus to test solar-powered internet drones in Australia.
By Olga Blinova