Fresh perspectives: Why it’s time to see what drones can do for your business

by Sam Hutchison UK Drones, PwC United Kingdom

Drones are offering powerful new perspectives for businesses across a range of industries, becoming essential to everyday operations in some sectors.Their capabilities and flexibility offer businesses cost reduction and efficiency opportunities and make operations safer and more convenient.

Here are some common applications of drones:

1. Inspection

Highly manoeuvrable drones can be fitted with cameras and other sensors that augment the activities of inspectors. They are particularly effective for inspecting large capital assets and industrial or utility structures, such as oil rigs. In some scenarios, drones can be used where previously people may have had to go into high-risk scenarios such as inspections at height or in hostile environments.

Drones helped one of our clients, a port operator, get a clear assessment of the state of its assets across multiple sites. The trial determined that drones had the potential to reduce costs by 65% and time by 83% compared to traditional methods of building inspection. It also means asset inspection is now predictive rather than reactive.

2. Surveying

Large stock assets and areas can be surveyed more quickly and accurately using a drone fitted with a range of data-collection sensors than if the work was done solely by people. 

This application cuts across multiple sectors, including mining and transport infrastructure. For another of our clients, German utility RWE, we used a fixed-wing drone to carry out an audit of a huge stockpile of coal. Traditional methods of measuring the coal are slow, inaccurate and expensive. 

We programmed the drone to fly over the coal on a fixed and automated route to capture a series of data points.This  was then fed into our geospatial app to create a 3D model of the coal that was more than 99% accurate – and could offer the client an 85% time saving over the old process.

3. Agricultural and environmental monitoring

Drones are being used in agriculture to establish how we can farm more effectively. Land preservation is also a key objective for farmers. Sensors can be used to determine crop health and determine where fertilisation and irrigation is needed. In some cases drones can be fitted with equipment to spray crops with fertiliser either manually or following an automated path.

Drones are also used extensively in environmental monitoring. A range of sensors and tracking devices can effectively turn them into airborne mini-laboratories to detect emissions, water and gases, as well as monitor air quality.

4. Emergency services

Blue-light services are increasingly deploying drone technology. Police are using drones at crime scenes to avoid disturbing evidence. Coastguard services have found that drones can be much more efficient than a helicopter to detect people or vessels. The fire service also uses drones to assess risk levels in burning structures before they commit firefighters in emergency scenarios.

5. Sport, media and film production

Perhaps the most established industry to harness the power of drones has been television and film. Drones offer unique vantage points previously reserved for helicopters and planes but can fly in confined environments.The risks associated with flying are diminished as no individual is airborne during flight, and operational costs are significantly lower.

These are a few ways that drones are used by organisations today. The future holds even greater possibilities when drones reach higher degrees of autonomous operation.

Future uses include autonomous delivery, an area that retail companies such as Amazon have been exploring. Drones are already being used in parts of Africa to deliver medical supplies and the NHS is currently exploring whether drones could be used to deliver medicines in the UK.

Drones offer many possibilities and PwC’s ability to harness our numerous lines of service, combining the right people, experience, and technology, puts us in the unique position to unlock the true value of drones, and embed long-term benefits at a strategic level across organisations.

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by Sam Hutchison UK Drones, PwC United Kingdom

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