Drones are going to see significant new capabilities in 2018. The use of multiple high-functioning cameras as well as upgraded Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) will enhance navigational acumen far beyond that of today’s drone models. This, combined with ultra-fast charging and longer-lasting batteries, means the drones of 2018 will have far greater range and performance flexibility.
Expect to see more and more sectors incorporating drones into their operations this year as a result. Here are three areas that should be especially interesting to watch:
1. Drone-enabled big data
Drones offer a vast, bird’s eye view for collecting data, which can contribute enormously to diverse areas such as weather, traffic flow, and even disaster forecasting. A fleet of drones can collect and analyze road conditions in real-time, amassing data that can help alleviate gridlock. And, unlike traffic cameras, drones have the flexibility to observe from numerous angles and can be sent swiftly to flashpoints, making them ideal for monitoring our roadways.
In 2017, drones helped determine damage following several natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, and such data could prove vital in saving more and more lives in 2018. Several companies are already using drones for data collection and analysis in such areas. Kespry provides an aerial intelligence platform integrated with cloud storage to streamline insurance claims and help analysts better grasp the scope of a disaster. CyPhy specializes in high-endurance tethered drones with secure payload data that provide vital information and real-time footage to first responders; these drones are designed for customers in the defense, public safety, and commercial industries. And Flyability has created Elios, an inspection drone designed to explore indoor and confined spaces to guide safety improvements to anything from bridges to mines.
Data collected by drones will also help the drone industry itself. With copious amounts of data to power unmanned aerial vehicles, “smart drones” will become more adept at navigating hazards on their own and communicating amongst themselves to negotiate safe flight paths, alter routes automatically in real-time according to current conditions, and even abort missions altogether if the data shows too much risk. One day, AI powered drones may even make the drone air traffic control system NASA is currently developing redundant.
Of course, there are darker clouds – with fear of drones being used as “big brother” tools, spying down on us from above. Consumers usually vote with their wallets on the side of convenience at the expense of privacy, but regulators need to be mindful of such issues when charting the path for drones in the coming year.
2. Unmanned flying taxis
It won’t quite be the Jetsons, but in 2018, several companies will be competing to bring us the flying car/drone, also known as the AAV (Autonomous Aerial Vehicle). The concept first emerged with proof of concept prototypes from major players such as Ehang, whose eco-friendly AAVs aim to serving as autonomous personal transportation devices. The company has raised over $50 million in funding.
Another competitor is Volocopter a German company aiming to help cities resolve growing mobility issues. Featuring a two-seated drone with 18 rotors, Volocopter received $30 million in funding from Daimler and was also chosen to lead Dubai’s revolutionary aerial shuttle service, with testing already taking place.
Even Uber is joining in the fight against road congestion with its Uber Elevate – a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft “fast-forwarding to the future of on-demand, urban air transportation” – which the company says will be fully operational by 2020. Uber is working with a number of partners on drone initiatives, including aviation giant Boeing’s Aurora, Bell Helicopters, and even NASA.
Though a future of skies teeming with drone taxis may not be very appealing to today’s professional drivers (or birds for that matter), taxi drones will offer immense benefits. They will be clean, safe, will free up roads – maybe even doing away with them altogether one day – and, with an infinite number of traffic lanes, will make our daily journeys exponentially faster.
3. Home surveillance via drone
Home security cameras could soon become a thing of the past with the rise of autonomous, multi-sensor drones. These drones will self-activate upon detecting noise or suspicious movement and fly inside or around a property until the threat is found and thwarted – with the homeowner watching from a safe distance. Drones are already used for surveillance in large industrial facilities, but drone-based home surveillance systems will likely take wing in 2018.
Sunflower Labs, a Palo-Alto-based company, is developing a home awareness system that combines immobile sensors with drones, leaving no corner unchecked. The sensors communicate with a camera-equipped quadcopter that transmits alerts and live footage of ongoing activity. Again, as home monitoring capabilities become more expansive, privacy and cybersecurity issues will become more acute, and homeowners will have to make tough choices regarding privacy versus safety.
Technologies such as AI, computer vision, and energy storage will also continue to develop exponentially in 2018. So the innovation should be very interesting to watch this year.
Yariv Bash is CEO of Flytrex Aviation and Amit Regev is cofounder and VP of Product at the company.