The versatility of drone technologies, from commercial, scientific, humanitarian applications and beyond

Margherita Bruscolini
Mar 3 · 6 min read

UAVs, commonly known as drones (as we explain here), are the technology of our times, proving a great versatility in every kind of application, from the construction, agriculture/agroforestry, to energy (especially renewable ☀️), humanitarian and many more sectors. There is so much to gain from using drones as a service, a lesson that we at RSS-Hydro have learnt well.

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The beginning & rise of UAS technology

Current developments in drone technology trace their beginnings to World War I and have been widely used in the military sector since then, as a mean of communication, surveillance and even attack 😨. Fortunately, UAVs are not just about war and around five years ago drone adoption for commercial and leisure purposes started to grow and grow, as we can see in the chart below, boosting further advancement in performances and autonomy. Nowadays you can find drones of almost all kind of prices, shapes, sizes and weights, which can carry several sensor payloads, according to every needs and financial resources.

With an interesting outlook on the wide range application advantage of using drones as a service, we recently launched our new business line, RSS-Drones, offering modular high-end drones focusing on construction, agriculture, the environment as well as energy and humanitarian sector.

Drones usage around the world

The UAS market, as you can see in the pie chart above, is segmented by application, ranging from construction, agriculture, law enforcement, to entertainment and energy, and is just the beginning, given the high versatility of this technology. The graphs below helps us understand the increase in usage of drones (divided by weight into light, medium and heavy UAVs) in the world, showing the change in numbers of countries that own these aerial vehicles in ten years. It’s not a surprise that light drones are the most used, due to their portability and easiness to pilot.

Drones for the construction & infrastructure sectors

The construction sector, including infrastructure mapping and surveillance, has the biggest market share, as you can see in the pie chart from Mordor Intelligence. In fact, drones possess many benefits for contractors, engineers and architects. Digitalization and smart drone applications can ensure a continuous project management during all the phases of the project. UAS make data collection faster, easier, safer and less expensive, allowing you to save money and increase productivity. Intelligent flight planning, the newest advances in 3D photogrammetry and LiDAR modelling software, as well as full integration with interoperability standards, render smart mapping and monitoring of large construction sites seamless in user workflows. Large infrastructure elements and smaller mobile objects can be easily extracted from a large data point cloud and rendered in an industry standard feature format for full and seamless integration with industry software packages. Our team at RSS-Hydro uses flight planning and 3D modeling software to map large workplaces and collect the necessary indicators to evaluate and monitor large sites.

Drones for the agriculture and viticulture sectors

The use of UAS equipped with sensors has emerged in recent years as a valid alternative to assist mapping, modelling and monitoring applications in forest and agricultural environments. Agriculture is indeed the second leading application sectors in the drone market, as you can see in the pie chart above, with the ability to overcome the challenges of Precision Agriculture and keeping the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in mind. Drone technologies and services can help farmers ensure their activities are sustainable, offering, for instance, crop health and production efficiency monitoring, 3D mapping of the field, plant counting and biomass estimation to produce geotagged vegetation index maps, and other tailor-made services. UAVs also help in forests monitoring, replacing the costly and time-consuming traditional techniques. With the recent proliferation of UAS, the type of cameras and sensors mounted on drones increased, from RGB, thermal and hyperspectral cameras, to LiDAR sensors, used to derive several vegetation indices and provide information about canopy properties and the health state of the plants.

Drones for the environmental sector

For environmental monitoring and conservation, UAS can offer many benefits. In fact, they are able to provide quick, easy, and accurate insights into many different parts of the environment, such as super-resolution terrain, vegetation and aquatic ecosystems mapping, soil moisture monitoring, among the many. When combined, these applications can lead to much better and more targeted Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) plans to protect ecosystem services and society as a whole, toward a more sustainable future. Drones can even be used to support the prediction of floods, droughts and other hydro-meteorological risks under a changing climate, and, to assist international organisations in disaster response. We are proud to collaborate with the humanitarian community, working with the WFP Drones Technical Working Group.

Drones for the renewable energy sector

The renewable energy sector is not only a key component of the global energy transition from fossil-based to zero-carbon by the second half of this century, but they also constitute one of the major habitat for drones, due to their extreme versatility and efficiency. Onshore and offshore wind farms, photovoltaics systems and other critical infrastructure can be subjected to a detailed drone inspection in the fastest and most economical way, both before and after the installation, mapping the terrain and detecting energy efficiency using thermal and multispectral cameras mounted on UAVs. We’re currently implementing our services using thermal and multispectral cameras mounted on drones.

New drones regulations and rapid market growth

With the new European regulations for drones starting to come into force, the UAV market may grow to its full potential, allowing new sectors to discover the manifold benefits of these technologies. The effects of these new regulations will start to show off from the middle of 2021, helping to address many factors like security, safety concerns and scarcity of trained pilots, as well as dealing with beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights, which, so far, have restrained the market to grow in many countries across the world.

I want to conclude with the 5 minutes presentation I did during our last RSS-webinar with Microdrones, our drone manufacturer. Hope you find it interesting! 🚀

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