It took a tease and a bold prediction from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to get the general public to begin thinking a couple of years ago about the ways in which drones might change the business landscape forever. But commercial drone companies were already far ahead of the game by that time, taking the new technology beyond familiar military and hobbyist uses.
Bezos, of course, was focused on the idea of using the unmanned devices as couriers of a sort, an efficient and economical way to deliver packages for his retail behemoth. Meanwhile, others were on a different path, envisioning and actualizing a wide array of uses for drones across industries, and developing a wide range of business models to make drones an integral part of industrial practices.
How commercial drone manufacturers and companies are changing the way business is done
Just how varied the uses of the technology have become – and just how rapidly the new sector of commercial drone manufacturers has taken flight – is chronicled in a recent report from Tracxn, the world’s largest startup research platform. In addition to the retail and e-commerce applications Amazon is developing, drones are now being utilized in a variety of industries, including but not limited to:
- Agriculture – increasing crop yield by providing precisely targeted monitoring and pest control
- Mining – being integrated into every facet of operations from mapping to equipment and road inspections to blast analysis and stockpile evaluations
- Critical infrastructure– providing real-time perimeter surveillance and facility inspections, as well as early detection of hazards such as gas leaks.
- Insurance companies are even putting drones to work, to collect images and data about claims sites without the time and expense of sending adjusters to the scene.
To accomplish these tasks, and many more, commercial drone companies and commercial drone manufacturers have devised a range of business models to put the technology into the hands of the end-users, as the Tracxn report spells out in detail.
Commercial drone manufacturers cover all bases
As would be expected in an emerging industry there is an assortment of models and solutions:
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) manufacturers build drones for both consumer and commercial applications, including aerial imaging and photography. While these are typically flown and maintained by human operators, Airobotics has enlarged the underlying concept to embrace a holistic, operator-free solution expressly for industrial use with its completely autonomous drones, from the initial touch of a button through complex missions to landing and post-flight maintenance.
- Other commercial drone companies have created a business model centered specifically on creating the software applications and platforms that enable flight, including both autopilot software and flight control software for pilot-controlled operation. In addition to such central functions, businesses operating on the software business model often also develop and market software for fleet management, data storage and processing, and other additional functions.
- Similarly, one common business model is focused on the manufacture of hardware for drones, including replacement parts and peripherals. These specialized businesses are built around the manufacture of components such as image stabilization gimbals, sensors, controllers, and navigation modules.
- Because there are drones, a number of commercial drone companies have taken a different course and focused their operations and business models on creating Counter-drone Systems. This model rests on technologies such as audio, visual and/or radar detection, radio jamming, and various methods of disabling drones – including everything from GPS manipulations to inflicting physical damage.
Business models of commercial drone manufacturers
The differing business models offer the end-users a perhaps welcome degree of flexibility, but they also confront a business planning to get on board the drone revolution with some important decisions to make at the outset.
- For many commercial drone companies entering the field, the drone-as-a-service business model offers an efficient and cost-effective means of bridging the gap between commercial drone manufacturers and the company that wishes to use drones. Drone-as-a-service, as the name implies, takes the processes and potential expense of adopting drone technology out of the hands of the client, in favor of an off-the-shelf solution from a company that handles every facet of a task. In that way, it is a model that eliminates the need for an end-user to invest in equipment, hire and train operators, and assume responsibility for ongoing maintenance and operations.
- Some UAV manufacturers have created their business models to enable in-house drone operation. For the companies purchasing drone systems, it is a model that offers greater flexibility than drone-as-a-service models, in as much as it eliminates some of the logistical issues of scheduling and using an outside vendor. Instead, it replaces that need with the need to maintain in-house personnel tasked with the operation and maintenance of the drones.
- Because each of those models offers significant disincentives for potential industrial and business users of drones, Airobotics has established itself in pioneering a third model, the end-to-end solution of fully automated drones. This model addresses the fact that services and even in-house operators may not be available when they are needed most, and that many drone functions are best performed either on a regular and timely basis or – as with the insurance uses mentioned above – at unpredictable intervals. Additionally, the expense of utilizing a service frequently, or of staffing in-house operations, may limit cost-effectiveness. For businesses, the fact that autonomous drones perform every facet of complex tasks entirely operator-free means that they can be available at any time at the touch of a button to collect, process, and deliver data in any condition and with complete automation
Source: Airobotics white paper – “Automated Drones – Giant Step in Mining Value Chain”
One of the truly remarkable things about drones is the fact that they have come into our world–seemingly out of the blue, as it were – with little warning for most business executives, and little time for companies to adjust to the new realities and new possibilities they pose. But even more remarkable than that is the speed and creativity businesses have shown in making that adjustment, virtually overnight. With the emersion of this breakthrough technology, large industrial facilities are beginning to comprehend the many possibilities and applications that automated drones provide. The business impact of their long-lasting benefits are on a clear path to becoming the industry standard.