There's no doubt that drones are set to become part of our everyday lives in one way or another. They might soon be delivering your mail, are already inspecting our structures and could well be the cabs of the future. The only questions left unanswered surround the 'how' of it all. How far we can push the limits of this technology? And how can we best use drones to create effective solutions to the challenges we face?
The blossoming markets for recreational and commercial drones are two great examples of how progressive innovation can snowball. An industry which began with almost exclusive military intention now holds the potential to revolutionize the way we do, well, almost everything. But if there is one universal truth that runs through all strands of life, it's that there is safety and strength in numbers. So why shouldn't this be applied to drone technology too?
I'm talking of course about the power of the Swarm. Over the past year or so we have seen countless examples of ingenious drone design and moments of inspired problem-solving. More often than not they involve a single drone carefully programmed for its role. We all know the phrase many hands make light work, right? Well it seems only natural that drones working together, as part of a smart, cohesive unit, offer the way forward in a number of industries...
Entertainment and Photography
Drone footage has been nothing short of revolutionary for the photography business. UAVs have opened the door to completely new services, while amateur pilots are now able to capture shots better than a pro dangling from a helicopter. But what if instead of controlling a single camera drone you commanded a small team of them at the same time. Harnessing the power of the swarm could make only one flight required to get the perfect shot from multiple angles.
In terms of entertainment, probably the best example of the potential of swarm technology was exhibited by Intel, in partnership with German tech company Ars Electronica. They synced up 100 drones, each equipped with LED lights, and programmed them to perform in time to an orchestra.
City Maintenance and Structure Inspection
We all know that drones really come into their own in hard-to-reach areas which are potentially dangerous for people. For that reason there are several initiatives around the world looking at how teams of drones can do cities' dirty work in the future. From structure inspection to fixing potholes, swarms of connected drones offer an opportunity to do things differently.
Search and Rescue
Perhaps one of the most obvious uses for drone swarms is in the world of search and rescue. Fitted with thermal-imaging cameras and high definition video, multiple eyes in the sky are invaluable in the search for missing people lost in large areas. A clever team of drones can cover huge areas relatively quickly, in a much more cost-efficient manner than conventional helicopters.
Fleets of integrated drones have the potential to change the way farmers plant, maintain and harvest their crops. Many major industry players are already involved in this space, including DJI, who last year released a drone capable of spraying up to ten acres with pesticides in an hour.
Armed with infra-red imaging to assess crop health and the ability to intervene, a smart team of drones will work together to help squeeze out every last drop of potential from the farms of the future.
If Google and Facebook get their way, it won't be too long before teams of high altitude drones are beaming out high-speed internet across the planet for all to use. These drones will be connected and interdependent, with the aim of providing total coverage across rural areas.