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7 Industries Drones Are Set to Revolutionize

Rob Nightingale 12-02-2014

How would you feel if seeing and hearing drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) flying overhead became the norm? In many sectors – both profit and non-profit – this future isn’t as distant as you may think. Here are seven industries that are set to be revolutionized by this burgeoning technology.


With any technological advancement, there’s always a hearty dose of scepticism and caution thrown into the surrounding debate. Think about the worries surrounding 3D printing, and how the paranoid ranks shudder at the thought of 3D printed sub-machine guns lining basement walls. Those same ranks cower at the thought of drones buzzing overhead, like an Orwellian nightmare.

But I’d like to introduce you to seven industries that are ready and braced to be (mostly positively) impacted – if not revolutionized – by the technological progress that’s surrounding drones right now. While you’re reading, why not think about how drones might impact your own industry?


Amazon Prima Air

You’ve likely already come across the recently announced Amazon Prime Air Amazon Delivery Drones, Facebook Hack, Kindle Fire Vs iPad Air [Tech News Digest] Amazon aerial drones, Facebook friends list hack, Google Nexus handsets vulnerability discovered, Black Friday numbers are released, Steam introduces user reviews, and the Kindle Fire HDX is compared favorably to the iPad Air. Read More , as it sent more than just a ripple of excitement around the globe with its hints at possible sub-30-minute delivery times. Close your eyes, and imagine drone after drone wizzing around the residential parts of your local village, carefully placing your recently ordered book on your patio just minutes after you hit ‘One Click Purchase’.

If Amazon (or any other company – UPS delivery drones are apparently under development Real Google Androids, UPS Drones, Free Office 365, Star Wars Selfies [Tech News Digest] Google's building robots, sales of PCs expected to fall, Spotify woos artists, PlayStation 4 hits the 2 million sold milestone, UPS tries to one-up Amazon, Office 365 is offered free to students, and Darth Vader... Read More , too) can negotiate the tumultuous waters of air-space regulations, theft of mighty-expensive drones (word is that each of these delivery drones could be worth $30,000+), and mischievous kids with catapults and oversized fishing nets, then witnessing a quadcopter descending into your garden with a six-pack of Fosters isn’t as far fetched as some might think. After all, the hardware is already there.



Drones in Agriculture

If you’re reading MakeUseOf, the chances of you toiling the fields every day are pretty slim. But for millions of workers in the agricultural industry, huge amounts of time is spent venturing the land, checking the quality and ripeness of crops, the security of fences and walls, water-levels, and more. The industry is on the brink of becoming one of the first to embrace drone technology in order to sky-rocket efficiency.

As mentioned  in this video on the agricultural industry’s future, quad bikes are (some may say sadly) beginning to be shunned. As their replacement, drones are “fast becoming a farmers best friend. Flying over crops, it collects images, quickly relaying the condition of a farmer’s harvest down to a single plant. You can fly over a section of land, 1mile x 1mile (640 acres) in about 18 minutes at 1-inch resolution”.

Agricultural applications of drones fit into three main categories: scouting, mapping and aerial spraying. Given the relatively low adoption rate up to this point, there’s huge scope for companies to gain a real advantage by making use of this technology early on.


This isn’t likely to lead to cheaper fruits and vegetables on supermarket shelves just yet, though.  With farmers’ profit margins being tightly squeezed at present, any cost savings will likely either be gratefully accepted by the farmers themselves, or added to the margins of the larger supermarkets. Either way, this usage of drones will hopefully manage to make the labor of farmers that bit easier – opening up spaces for this effect to be replicated in other physically demanding professions.

If you work for the fire department, imagine a drone spraying water over a burning building. If you work on a building site, imagine using a drone to check the safety of scaffholding instead of needing to do this by hand.


In the ever-encompassing name of ‘combating terrorism and crime’, police forces (primarily in the Western world) are increasingly spending sections of their budgets on drones to help with crowd monitoring and deterrence.

In the past, this hasn’t always gone according to plan. In the relatively ‘early’ days of this usage of drones, a Merseyside (UK) police force sadly, but also rather humorously, lost a £13,000 drone in the river Mersey after it ran out of power. A spokesman said “during its use officers recognised certain technical and operational issues, including staff training costs and the inability to use it in all weather conditions”.


As the technology develops, however, these issues are gradually being ironed out, with drones being usable in more and more balmy weather conditions. The speculative YouTube video above shows what a “spy in the sky” state may develop into has seen plenty of interaction, suggesting that law-enforcement drones could even potentially monitor ‘stress levels’ in a localised area – to predict the likelihood of criminal activity (or possibly/accidentally detecting your ‘chronic overworked’ levels while you struggle to keep up at the office). Wouldn’t that be fun?

Although in our lifetime things may not go this far, it’s not a hard leap for the imagination to see drones becoming an even more irreplaceable part of law-enforcement in the coming decades. Whether that’s for better or worse remains to be seen.

But who knows. Next time your wallet is stolen, and you see the thief being chased down the road with a drone fast on his/her heels, you may come to appreciate this use of technology.

Search and Rescue/ Healthcare

One of the main issues for healthcare and emergency response teams is getting life-saving equipment and treatment to the people who need it as quickly as possible. As drones become more and more cost effective, the possibilities to reach those most in need are exponentially growing. You may have even been in a situation yourself in which a drone could have been of use not only in treatment, but also diagnosis, of an emergency.


As an example, imagine a drone being used swiftly after an avalanche, to drop emergency supplies and help with the search and rescue effort. If everyone is uncovered without problems (thanks to the help of the drone), there’s no need to call out for a helicopter – saving the local resort a small fortune. But there’s still quick and suitable response.

On a similar note, a recent grant was awarded by GrandChallenges.Org which is being used to “develop Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that can be deployed by health care workers via cell phones to swiftly transport vaccines to rural locations and alleviate last-mile delivery problems and improve cost, quality, and coverage of vaccine supplies”. A noble effort if ever there was one.

Along a similar line, Height Tech is developing a drone that can deliver a defibrillator to hard-to-access areas such as golf-courses, mountains, and coastal areas. As within law enforcement, drones look set to take a leading role in future developments to ensure a rapid and ready response (that’s a fraction of the cost of a helicopter) to any emergencies that may arise, whether that’s an earthquake, or a Kendal-Mint-Cake induced hyper.

Filming and Photography

My friend and blogger Niall Doherty recently posted a link to amazing video of big-wave surfing (above), filmed by aerial photographer Eric Sterman with a GoPro camera attached to a DJI quadcopter – a setup that likely cost no more than $2000. And with professional companies, such as Liverpool-based Ironbird, producing drone-captured videos of the highest calibre, we’re able to see what’s really possible.

In the future, we may see low-budget productions – with producers, directors and amateur film-makers – creating truly spectacular material without spending the tens of thousands of dollars for hiring a helicopter. While we can’t expect movie tickets to get cheaper, we can expect to see more amateur shootings crop up on the net.

That’s not to say that things can’t go wrong. Back in 2013, well-known photographer Chase Jarvis infamously lost control of his drone setup, leading to a chilly crash into an Icelandic Sea.

But with the right training, experience and caution, the aerial photography possibilities are both exciting (and sometimes a little creepy; check out this ‘stalking’ drone to see what I mean).

Who knows, within a few years, we may all be taking selfies with miniature drones that we carry around!

Real Estate

What with mapping, auto-pilot and recording functions on drones becoming so advanced (and often affordable), their potential is now starting to be realised in the real estate industry. High-resolution real estate footage of luxury homes is being recorded, both indoors and out, to help increase sales conversions for high-end realtors.

Before you know it, you’ll be gliding round your next house, holiday apartment, hotel or AirBnB rental from the comfort of your own smartphone.

But sales and marketing are far from the only usage for drones in real estate. With very simple setups, surveyors and inspectors can assess structures, damage, and problem spots so as to provide diagnoses and quotes without needing to ‘get up there’ themselves, simply by following the footage in real time on a laptop or iPad.

With similar technologies, project managers of new builds can oversee real estate developments, while mapping software can create 3D visualisations of acquired land for planners and architects to work with.

Scientific Research/Conservation

A couple of years ago, I enjoyed sitting through a TEDx talk by Dr. Serge Wich about his organization ‘Conservation Drones’. Wich and his team travel around the globe, helping with conservation efforts ranging from producing anti-poaching videos, to the mapping of rainforests and the tracking of wild animals.

Since then, it seems the company, and the idea, has gone from strength to strength, showing that the demand for this cost-effective, highly customizable option for conservation is anything but small.

These drones can map an area of land far faster than a group of people – and` can track animals using GPS quickly and easily – in the most remote areas on the planet. Consider what may be achievable – in a fraction of the time, for the fraction of the cost – when it comes to conservation efforts. These are exciting times for university research teams, or anyone looking to enter this space – especially as we’re starting to see the cost of quality drones become lower and lower.

In fact, the uses above are just a fraction of the more obvious ideas about what drones will be used for in the future. As was the case with the internet, in the early consumer stages, no-one was quite sure what the technology would really be used for on a larger scale. Who’d have thought we’d be posting wine reviews that last just 15 seconds, sharing our couches with complete strangers or spending our waking hours looking at pictures of cats overlayed with captions?

The same is true for drones. It’s a pretty sure bet that they’ll continue to integrate into our lives more and more, but expect to be surprised by some of the uses that will actually come into fruition, especially with the creativity that can be demonstrated by hardware such as Raspberry Pi’s, and all the fanciful things they can make possible 6 Amazing Ways The Raspberry Pi Is Making A Difference I'll try to avoid techno-babble words like "disruptive" when I say this, but there's no denying - Raspberry Pi is changing the world. Read More .

What other industries do you think drones will become a large part of?

Image Credits: John Biehler via Flickr, PrimeAir by Amazon, Farmhouse by Frederic Rivollier via Flickr

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  1. John
    March 14, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    You missed a big one! Right now, drones are used to inspect high voltage power lines and towers for rust and line damage. This speeds the process, versus climbing, exponentially. Electromagnetic interference is a problem, but solutions are being developed

    • rob
      March 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Thanks for the comment John! This was discussed further up in the comments. It's definitely a great area to expand into- sorry I missed it in the article!

  2. Craig
    March 10, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    Hay Rob, just read this post on another blog
    "Drones will have limited use early on due to these 2 very important factors- public perception and power supply. Both require the same element.... more time"
    What do you think? Is technology lacking in this area?

    • rob
      March 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Hey Craig! I agree completely with this view. Public perception, as you can see from the comments on this post, have a long way to go before drones will be completely accepted... at the same time, power supply at the moment is dire. Smartphones can only really last 24 hours or less (while connected to 3g, for instance), and a drone can only fly for a matter of minutes...I'm not sure how fast battery technology is moving forward, but it's definitely got a lot of catching up to do!

  3. Fred
    March 9, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Electric utilities are also very interested in using drones, mini helicopters etc. They have 100's of kilometers of transmission lines to maintain, some of which are in really rugged, inaccessible areas.
    Also being able to send a drone up to inspect high voltage lines instead of having to put people up there is a major safety improvement. With high resolution cameras they can see details down to cotter pins on the towers.
    One of the restrictions (at least here in Canada) is that you are not allowed to fly these contraptions without a line of sight. That makes sending it out for an autonomous check of a transmission line not feasible (yet). I'm sure that will be solved.

    • Rob
      March 10, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      I didn't know about this, Fred. Sounds like a great use for UAVs though! This is what I mean about legislation holding some of the progress back, but I'm sure more and more of the red tape will be removed in due course :)

  4. Ricardo
    March 1, 2014 at 8:19 am

    How can i jailbreak Apple Tv

  5. Aibek E
    February 24, 2014 at 10:57 am

    awesome article Rob!

    • Rob
      March 10, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Thanks a lot, Aibek :)

  6. Rob
    February 20, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Looks like it'll grow to be a great resource!

  7. Thomas Davis
    February 20, 2014 at 12:40 am

    No worries! It is an international directory and we are currently taking on all countries.

    (sorry for the typo in my original comment)

  8. Anonymous
    February 19, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks Thomas. Is your directory US based? Looks very interesting. Best of luck with it!

  9. JC
    February 18, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    UAV's are just like gun powder, dynamite or TNT when it came out. Why shouldn't everyone have a right to blow stuff up? Heck, they're using it in the Army and in the mine shafts, why can't I use it in my back yard... must be a government conspiracy. LOL

    Just wait until some jerk reads a column on how easy it is to lift a package of doom into a building, right past security, then some here will see its the potential danger not the day to day minor use of something that causes regulation. Its why you will need a registered aircraft and a license to do commercial work, which is right if you are going to be in the business of flying over private property or relied on to pilot in hazardous areas. YOU will need a piloting test of your skill and knowledge about how the real world operates.

    Get real guys, this is no longer a kids toy... and like dynamite you can't just go to the store and buy a little because you're ignorant and doing innocent things with it.

    • Anonymous
      February 19, 2014 at 6:28 pm

      Hi JC. It's true that in the wrong hands, drones could be used for terrible purposes. I don't think there's any denying that, so I don't think anyone is particularly against regulation. But even once the regulation is in place, I feel there's still potential for a huge growth in drone useage in all of the industries mentioned in the article. Regulation will likely be an overall positive here, but I believe drones are here to stay, and will only become more and more affirdable, and their usages will become more and more creative (hopefully for the better).

  10. dallas
    February 16, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Could this start an R/C war? R/C Jets are avalible that would down a helidrone just by flying past! They would be seen as a free bonus target by the R/C community.

    • rob
      February 16, 2014 at 7:16 pm

      I guess this is a possibility ;) If it turned into an ACTUAL UAV war though, perhaps the loss of human life (perhas even human error) would be an improvement on current approaches.

  11. Marc M
    February 15, 2014 at 1:10 am

    We need many more positive articles about drone technology and all of the uses and things it originally started out having the potential to do and be used for.
    Great article.
    I am passing along the link to this article to my friend who runs RC Heli Magazine, who's very much about the positive potential of drone technology.
    We need more postings like this.

    • rob
      February 16, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      Thanks so much, Mark, that means a lot :) Glad you enjoyed the article!

  12. Rob
    February 14, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    People keep mentioning the whole "shooting them done thing." Let's stop and consider two aspects that you are all over looking. First, a drone at 5k feet is little more than a dot in the sky, and the potential shooter will have to be a trained marksman to compensate for speed and wind. There are very few people that can pull that off. With regard to a delivery drone, once the drone is above its target, it can drop straight down and a very fast pace to deliver the package. Most people that would be intent on stealing from drones are not likely to spend their day searching the skies for a drone that may or may not be carrying a package that may or may not be valuable. At most we are talking about vandals rather than thieves.

    Second, the vast majority of people rarely ever look up. It just isn't in human nature to look up unless you are specifically scanning the skies for a reason such as admiring a sunset or cloud formation. To make my point, how many airplanes do you see in a given day? We know that there are drones currently in use in many locations. How many pictures or videos have you seen of them flying around? Again, people don't look up. There is one instance where people always look up and that is if something is loud overhead such as a helicopter or low flying aircraft. Drones are nearly silent, which is why they are so great at the tasks they are being assigned to.

    Finally, I think the biggest problem with regulating drone use is going to be the general lack of understanding around the technology in general. Most government officials are not technologically savvy and only listen to the hysteria that keeps people scared and voting for the government to protect them. It is the same fear that surrounds self-driving cars, such as Google's fleet. Those cars have racked up hundreds of thousands of miles of driving themselves with no accidents, maybe a couple but I don't have the count, yet only one state, Nevada, has changed their laws to allow them to do exactly when they are designed for and that is be automated and travel from point A to point B. Now consider a small drone, and how there is even less chance of accident or damage to others. Wouldn't you prefer that over a driver of a large delivery van spilling coffee on his lap and running over some children playing on the street? Also, consider the energy saving and environment. An electrically powered drone is going to have far less environmental impact than a gas powered delivery truck.

    Anyway, I could go on and on, but hopefully this gives everyone some different perspectives to consider.

    • rob
      February 16, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      I have to agree with Rob on this one. There's nagitive implications for virtually every innovation. Privacy has been eroded huge amounts since social media came into the mainstream, but that's just innovation. What we're exposed to and can expect from innovation changes all the time. There's huge amounts of hysteria about this technological advancement right now, and it seems somewhat exaggerated. Just because this technlogy COULD by used for spying on a government's own citizens, the cost implications of this would be huge, and far more information could be found out about someone through tracking their electronic activity, rather than taking a look at them through a camera on a drone.

  13. Bryan
    February 13, 2014 at 4:19 am

    It seems like using drones for law enforcement has a huge potential for 4th amendment infringement

    • Guias
      February 14, 2014 at 8:47 pm

      Thank you Brian for actually "thinking" about the implications of this slimy slippery slope. I am not an old person, so don't judge me as such to underscore my opinion.

      Law enforcement is comprised of human beings who are fallible. Poor decisions that result in innocent people being killed or hurt happen all the time in the name of "police work". I do not want them to have the opportunity to fly a drone over me whenever they "feel" like it under the protection of fighting crime or terrorism.

      Do you not know about the way way the military has used this technology to kill and maim humans? Never mind if we are told they were "terrorists" so it was ok or not. WHO will decide what is private and what is you really want to give away our rights for a "cool new technology"? If you think that couldn't happen here you are not paying attention to the changes in the laws, policies and need to"feel safe" in comparison to even 10 years ago.

      Set aside the "cool" factor and what do you have, a way for anyone to spy or inflict harm on others anonymously. Paparazzi already have far reaching telescope lenses that allow them trespass on people's privacy and we the people think that has gone too far (remember the topless Kate Middleton pics?) what if they use drones to gather images of people that have their privacy violated? Do we think it's ok because it is "them" and not "us"? What will it take for anyone to justify using this technology on all of us?

      Just because we can create it/build it, should we? The scientists who worked on the nuclear bomb technology used to end WWII are a classic example of this question. Please, all of you THINK about the good and bad that can come with any technology and not just stop at the shininess factor.

  14. Al
    February 13, 2014 at 2:34 am

    Time to develop Anti-Drone technologies, Radio jamming/Hijacking Crash those expensive drone into the ocean. Especially for the "law enforcement" drones.

    • rob
      February 16, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      I'm sure these won't be far behind! ;)

  15. Maarten D
    February 12, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    I think the drones only will gain popularity. With the idea of producing a car with a personal drone (Renault), I think this future thoughts will be future soon.

    But I am amazed about all this technology!

    • Rob
      February 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Yea, it's all pretty exciting, Martin. Plenty of 'peaceful 'tech that we use today was produced via military research. Hopefully the stereotype of drones being seen as unmanned weapons will be phased out, and we'll be happy to see them flying around in the future.

  16. Kenton
    February 12, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I noticed while watching the Slopestyle events from Sochi the other day that they are using drones their for filming the action.

    • Rob
      February 13, 2014 at 6:54 pm

      I noticed that too! The shadow of a quadcopter flying past :) I also saw a festival being filmed in Krakow with quadcopters which was pretty cool

  17. KT
    February 12, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    To add, in order to make it work, I think the drones should be looked at seriously and not as a toy. It has to be regulated and one will have to acquire a license to use it.

    • Rob
      February 12, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      In the UK, as far as I'm aware, in order to fly certain UAVs above a certain height, you need a license and specialist training (in order to obtain insurance). This is why those who fly drones for film-making etc are able to charge relatively high prices (though low compared to helicopters)- demand is often exceeding supply.

    • Rob
      February 12, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      I found out that this applies in the UK: "Basically you need permission for aerial work which means you need to complete a written test and a practical to prove that you are not going to kill someone/yourself. It takes about 3 days and costs around £1,500. "

  18. KT
    February 12, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    If the laws are amended to make it illegal to shoot this thing down as anyone wishes that may open the possibilities a little. Of course there are other concerns that will need to be addressed for a wide spread use.

    • Rob
      February 12, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      Very true. To be honest, as with unmanned cars, it's the legal aspects that stifle the development and adoption far more than the technology itself.

    • Anthony
      February 12, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      How is it legal to destroy other's property? Seems like no law change is needed.

    • Rob
      February 12, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Perhaps in certain areas, if a drone enters, or lands on your property, then you can 'defend' yourself against it, or react in some way to the trespassing? Just a thought as to what KT may mean...

  19. Rob
    February 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Hi Alfred. Thank for your comment. I think you're right that there will always be the risk of theft, or damage done to drones, but other than shipping and law-enforcement (which I think are the two furthest-fetched suggestions- but which are still having huge amounts of investment ploughed into them), I tried to keep to industries where some of these changes are already happening, plus there isn't necessarily the risks you point out involved. What are the couple of other industries which you think may be impacted?

    • dragonmouth
      February 13, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      While the idea of using drones for various tasks sounds great, the practice is an entirely different matter. What is going to happen to the air space when anyone with the wherewithall to purchase a drone system does so. Just imagine hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of drones filling the sky. Who is going to make order out of the chaos, and how?

      "but other than shipping and law-enforcement (which I think are the two furthest-fetched suggestions)"
      Law enforcement is already using drones.

      " What are the couple of other industries which you think may be impacted?"
      You forgot terrorism and spying, unless you put spying under the umbrella of "government." Right now the US Government is using drones against the terrorists. One of these days the terrorists will start using drones in their attacks. Isn't that a lovely prospect?!

    • Rob
      February 13, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      That's true, but I wouldn't class terrorism as an industry, per se. I did mention an example of where law enforcement is used drones, and they were also used at the last couple of G8 summits to help with law enforcement, but their use at the moment is currently limited, and there is definitely scope (whether that's good or bad is another conversation) for their role in this industry to increase considerably.

      There are pleny of other industries I've not included here, but these are 7 that seem to be having plenty of R&D put into them.

  20. Alfred Lukasek
    February 12, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I think this like is the flying car idea. Not gonna happen.
    Photography? Yes
    Agriculture? Yes
    Maybe a couple others.
    But what's to stop some gun nut from shooting the thing down?
    Whack it with a baseball bat?
    Just seems stupid to me.

    • Steve
      February 13, 2014 at 1:17 am

      I know, just like how everyone hits cars with baseball bats all the time now. When things are in the air, people are going to be hitting them with baseball bats all the time, since it's easier to hit something 100 feet in the air with a baseball bat than something on the ground. Same goes with bullets. If people don't go around shooting birds or stuff flying in the air RIGHT NOW, then why do you think human nature would just change all of a sudden. Drone package delivery would be one of the most beneficial innovations since the internet.

    • Rob
      February 13, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      It's also important to note that as demand and production goes up for drones, their per unit cost will decrease meaning less risk of theft, and cheaper insurance rates.

  21. Matthew H
    February 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Brilliant article! As a side note, did you know that the use of drones in law-enforcement was actually predicted by James Cameron in 1999 in his TV show Dark Angel, which was set in a post-financial collapse authoritarian dystopia.


    • Rob
      February 12, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks Matt! And no, I did not. That's pretty eerie. Did you watch the show? Would you recommend it?

    • Matthew H
      February 12, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      James Cameron made it, so you know it's awesome.

      But yeah, it's a good show, like. It's where Jessica Alba got her start. Sadly, it was cancelled after two seasons, because Fox couldn't afford to run Dark Angel and Firefly simultaneously, which were both really expensive TV shows to produce. So, they cancelled it, and one year later they cancelled Firefly too.


    • Rob
      February 12, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Sounds interesting! As soon as I've finished White Collar (don't judge me), I'll look it up :)