Disruption From Above

Why, and how, drones are the next big thing for business.

By David Daly

The last ten years have had an unprecedented explosion of life-changing inventions. Technologically advanced platforms such as smartphones and the Internet of Things linked humans in ways unimaginable just twenty years ago. Never before have people had such ease of access to powerful technology at an affordable price point. Some of the more recent additions to the last decade’s wave of innovations are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones.

Projections for the global drone market are robust. Just a few years ago in 2016, insurance publication Canadian Underwriter highlighted a Research and Markets report estimating the global commercial and military drone market in North America would reach $4.2 billion by 2025 with over 1.4 million drones in the sky. Figures from this year, by Graphical Research, have the North American commercial drone market outpacing these estimates and growing at a rate of 23%, set to surpass $7 billion by 2024. These are astonishing figures, especially when we consider they do not include noncommercial drones such as those used by hobbyists and children.

Drones have moved quickly from an entertaining toy to an indispensable tool in the professional world. There are two main reasons for the disruptive growth of UAVs. First, the nature of drones allows for new technologies to easily be integrated into their design. Secondly, the relative affordability and safety of a drone is an easy sell for use in many industries.

The majority of drones in commercial use are, for the most part, flying cameras. Although this grossly simplifies the technology behind them, it serves to illustrate how new advances in optics and sensors are easily incorporated. The camera or payload of a UAV can be made to accommodate any number of configurations. Cameras with a wide range of capabilities are the standard but by no means the only option available. The UAV industry utilizes multispectral sensors, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), and Infra-Red (IR). As researchers and engineers in these fields improve their capabilities, they can be mounted on a drone with little to no effort.

There are many industries where the cost of a drone and the added benefits to workplace safety are replacing long-established methods. For example, utility companies spend an enormous amount of resources maintaining their infrastructure. High tension power lines in remote areas have traditionally required helicopters and highly skilled personnel to perform dangerous and expensive inspections. Drones can do the same check at a fraction of the cost of operating a helicopter while also avoiding the need to place a human in an unsafe situation.

Precision agriculture offers another example where drones are shaking things up. To produce the highest yield from their land, farmers are continually monitoring the condition of their crops. Soil samples are taken in the field and sent to a lab for analysis. The results often tell the farmer the level of nitrates, carbon, and other essential minerals present. This process is expensive and time-consuming. With the aid of a multispectral camera, a drone can fly over a field and give the same information real-time at a fraction of the cost. 

As a result of their adaptability and affordability, drones are flooding into the commercial world. In Canada, drones are utilized in a wide range of industries. Some of these include precision agriculture, mining, construction, utilities, forestry, defense, conservation, and public safety.  

Regulators have struggled to keep up with the speed at which drones are entering the skies. Transport Canada Civil Aviation enacted strict regulations for several years while lawmakers worked to balance out the needs of the UAV industry and private citizens looking to protect their privacy. At the start of 2019 new rules were released by Transport Canada Civil Aviation making it easier for commercial operators to explore opportunities in the Canadian market.

One of the most exciting sectors drones have the potential to alter drastically is commercial delivery. Boeing, Airbus, Amazon, Google, FedEx, DHL, and UPS are all investing heavily in drone technology. Drones have the potential to carry everything from small containers to eventually replacing large cargo planes. Imagine a world where you could place an order online and within an hour, have your purchase in your hand. That world will be our reality very soon.

One company at the forefront of applying UAV technology to shipping goods is Drone Delivery Canada. Based out of Toronto, Ontario Drone Delivery Canada was founded in 2014. The company’s vision is “to become a key player in the Drone Delivery Industry by commercializing our technology to create new and innovative logistics platforms for commercial & industrial companies and government agencies.”  

CEO Michael Zahra feels the company is “not just building a business, but also an industry.” Drone Delivery Canada believes anyone looking to address the Last Mile problem should consider how drones can increase efficiency and open new revenue streams.

Drones can deliver products fastesr, easier, and more cost-effectively than many current solutions. Benefits such as these will help customers grow their business and ultimately, their revenues/bottom lines. The company sees opportunities for UAVs as logistics providers, postal delivery, first responders, parts distribution, medical supply delivery/distribution, and e-commerce delivery.

According to Zahra, “this industry is taking off with tremendous growth.” UAV technology is expanding into a broad range of industries, and Drone Delivery Canada seems well-positioned to capitalize on the industry’s growth. The company’s product is a turnkey business model. Their goal is to provide a depot to depot delivery logistics solution. Recently, the company made a historic step toward achieving this goal.

In September 2019, the company opened a Commercial Operations Center in Vaughan, Ontario. This 1,486 square meter (16,000 sqft) facility will eventually control up to 1,500 drones at a time and monitor their routes as they make deliveries. The company plans to charge a monthly licensing fee for each drone controlled by the center. With customers paying an average licensing fee of $10,000 per month, the company is in line to secure a substantial revenue stream.

Drone Delivery Canada appears to be on the verge of becoming a significant player in the North American UAV market. This operations center is the first of its kind globally. Several companies have already signed up and the team is in talks with many others around the world.

“Get on board now with seeing how this technology can help you,” Zahara says about the disruptive nature of drones. “If you are not looking at it already, your competition is.”

The highly adaptable and relatively inexpensive solutions drones provide can be utilized in almost any industry. Amazingly we are witnessing only the start of this technology and how it will impact our lives. While there will undoubtedly be legal and ethical questions along the way, drones will continue to benefit our world and become more and more of a definite game-changer. The next time you see a drone hovering above, think of the almost limitless possibilities of how it is impacting your life for the better.

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