When most people think of drones, they usually picture cool aerial shots streamed on YouTube or advanced military technology. But drones have much wider applicability, including for building and maintaining the world around us. Nowadays, drones are becoming more and more commonplace for infrastructure needs. Whether it is inspecting the tallest wind turbines or tracking hurricane damage, drones can serve a great purpose.
The most important factor that drones bring to the table is safety. With drones, areas and objects can be inspected at much lower risk. Instead of sending people to potentially collapsing bridges or unsteady electrical grid facilities, drones can make the trip instead. Not only do drones minimize the risk of human injury, but they are also cheaper and more efficient as well. Data can be gathered quickly and efficiently, which gives more time to come up with solutions.
Many pieces of infrastructure have to be inspected regularly, which can add up costs immensely, especially because it is just looking for the problems- not even counting the actual solutions. Wind turbines, utility towers, railways, roads, and air transport infrastructure all require regular maintenance in order to keep things safe. Drones can help lower the cost of these inspections, as it gives the opportunity for inspection without actually sending any people out. In this way, drones can do work faster and may even utilize high-definition cameras and artificial intelligence to scan areas and process information more ably than humans on the ground.
According to the 2016 Clarity from above report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the applications for drones addressing infrastructure will account for $45.2 billion. The market of drones is especially important in the power and utilities sectors. Although huge drone investments may seem expensive on the front end, it is projected to save more money in the long run, as this booming market will lower costs of hiring humans to do the work instead.
One industry that is on the rise in drone infrastructure is the agricultural industry. Agriculture obviously needs lots of space, and sometimes it is not possible to be able to get everything done in a timely manner. That is where drones come in. Drones have become part of precision agriculture, a practice that has been especially popular as the world’s population grows.
According to Sustainable America, precision agriculture is the use of new technologies to increase crop yields and profitability. By surveying land from above, farmers and ranchers can plan and optimize space, then use drones to disperse seeds, fertilizers, water, insecticides, and more. These new technologies are helpful in lowering costs for water or fertilizer, in order to farm more efficiently. Drones can help in being more precise, whether that is planting patterns or potential flooding areas.
Speaking of precision, drones are even being used for reforestation! Flash Forest is a reforestation company that uses ecological science to regenerate ecosystems on a global scale. Their mission is to plant 1 billion trees by 2028 using drone technology. Flash Forest’s website reads “that with drone engineering, we bring new levels of accuracy, precision, and speed to the reforestation industry.”
Drones can even help with firefighting, whether it is in the city or a wildfire. Drones have become incredibly impactful in the safety and recovery processes of wildfires. National Geographic has highlighted the importance of drones with thermal imaging to map the fires, as sometimes human piloted aircrafts are not safe due to the smoke and fires. Drones can easily see where fires have gone, where they have been, and potentially where they are headed to. This time-saving mechanism is a key factor in saving lives.
Drones may seem a bit intimidating, since their reputation usually consists of military technology and threats. But there are more positive impacts that drones can give and helping build, maintain, and monitor infrastructure is only the start.
Written by Emma Smith, Communications Intern
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.