I was recently honored to be a guest speaker at a conference hosted by Mark Wilkins, Kevin Kelly, and the good people at Stampede on the “future of the drone industry” in Buffalo, NY.
While most businesses are taking a wait and see attitude with flying drones, Stampede has not only embraced them, but is formulating much of their future audio-visual business strategy around using drones to scale their operation exponentially.
My role was to expand the audience’s thinking and hopefully add a few new dimensions to their planning process.
Having written several columns in the past about the emerging drone industry, including “192 Future uses for Flying Drones,” I’ve become enamored with the seemingly limitless potential for innovation in this “hyper-mobile drone-robot space.”
When it comes to drones, we shouldn’t limit our thinking to their flying capabilities. Instead, the same drone that can fly may also be able to roll along the ground, jump onto a building, climb a tree, adhere to a piece of glass, float on the water or swim under it.
While most have confined their thinking to drones with photo and video capability, they can include everything from sensors, to robotic arms, video projectors, speakers, lights, x-rays, weapons, bombs, and several dozen spy technologies only the NSA knows how to use.
One of my recent grand epiphanies had to do with how Moore’s Law, the exponential doubling of capacity every 2 years, would affect drones.
With typical electro-mechanical advancements in the physical world, there is perhaps a 2X-4X improvement every decade. But once an industry transitions into the digital space, where Moore’s Law shifts industries into the exponential growth fast lane, smart technology can slingshot its way up the improvements ladder far faster:
- Two Years – 2X
- Four Years – 4X
- Six Years – 8X
- Eight Years – 16X
- Ten Years – 32X
If we apply this to transportation, as the connected electric car becomes far more digital, over the next decade they have the potential of improving by a factor of 32 while traditional mechanical cars may only double or quadruple.
As our physical houses enter the digital arena of smart homes, they too have the potential of improving by a factor of 32 while conventional homes gauge their improvements on a low single digit scale.
This also applies to our cities. Normal cities change at a snails pace, while a smart city could potentially ratchet forward 32-fold over the same period.
Yes this line of thinking grossly oversimplifies the complex systems, processes, and methodologies shifting in the background, but its safe to say old rules no longer apply.
The Difference Between Swarms and Fleets
A swarm of drones, that operates like a swarm of bees, flock of birds, or school of fish, will coordinate their activities around a central purpose or mission.
As example, a single lighted drone floating in the sky can act as a pixel in space, but with a swarm drones acting in unison, the lighted sky takes on the characteristics of a giant three dimensional display, with “flying pixels” changing color and switching on and off as the nature and pattern of the scene requires.
Similarly, a security swarm oriented around a single purpose may be used to capture images over complex environments like a wooded forest, smoky burning neighborhood, or dense crowds.
Fleets, on the other hand, which may incorporate a swarm or two in their operation, will have the capacity of handling several assignments at once. A swarm will generally operate as a subset of a fleet.
While part of a fleet may be monitoring a construction project, another may be tracking livestock, and another delivering packages to customers.
This kind of distinction may come across as premature for a fledgling industry where swarms and fleets do not yet exist, but it’s helpful in understanding how exponential growth will soon make drones one of the most pervasive industries on the planet.
Thinking through the Potential for Drone Fleet Businesses
It won’t take long for people managing complex operations to realize that if one drone is effective, a dozen or two can produce far better coverage.
Managing a fleet of commercial drones will be far different than working with today’s one-off hobbyist quadcopters. Fleets will only come into play once automated systems enable less-skilled operators to manage their own equipment.
Fleet operators will find themselves needing a command center with skilled personnel such as pilots, logisticians, and data analyzers, but the drones themselves will be automated to the point on needing little supervision.
Going beyond traditional power-distance-capacity characteristics, fleets of drones will have a way of drawing attention to owners and operator. Much like the kid with a new toy, early fleets owners will be granted unusual status in society and will always have interesting stories to tell, This alone will get them invited to most A-list parties.
We should never underestimate the desire for “cool factor status” as we try to separate ourselves from the rest of the crowd.
18 Examples of Fleet Operations
The following are a few examples of where fleets will begin showing up in our local communities:
- Police Departments – Every police cruiser will soon come equipped with rapidly deployable drones for surveillance, high-speed chases, and monitoring highly volatile situations.
- EMTs – Fire Departments – Whenever high stress public safety situations occur, drones can be used to quickly assess the situation far in advance of first responders arriving.
- News Organizations – TV news broadcast teams are rated on their ability respond quickly and accurately whenever an incident happens. Having super fast drones that capture the first live coverage can mean the difference between first and last place in the industry’s highly volatile ratings game.
- Sports Teams – Analyzing an opposing team’s weaknesses may require unusual viewing angles to uncover biomechanical fault lines, non-obvious frailties, and strength limitations.
- Stadiums – While teams are busy watching the players, stadium owners and operators are more interested in monitoring the crowds.
- Forestry Departments – Forests are a very dynamic mixture of plants, animals, insects, and weather-based ecologies that change on a second by second basis.
- National Parks – Similar to stadiums and sports teams, National Park services are more interested in the visitor-park interface, monitoring everything from traffic patterns, to bottlenecks, and illegal activities.
- Power Plants – Today’s power industry is built around a complex infrastructure involving generators, windmills, solar panels, power lines, and much more. With operators worried about security issues and electro-mechanical system failures, drone monitoring can be used to mitigate most disasters.
- Ski Resorts – As with most extreme sports, problems happen on a regular basis. A ski resort’s ability to quickly spot problems and reduce disasters will go a long ways in lessening issues of risk and liability.
- College Campuses – Every College comes with tons of moving parts. With the fluid movement teachers, students, and other workers, campus security will rise in data-gathering importance, as crowd monitoring becomes an everyday activity.
- Airports – Think in terms of crowd monitoring drones, traffic checking drones, security drones, parking lot scanners, lost child finders, situation analysis, and much more.
- Farmers – Crop monitoring drones, chase-away bird drones, spraying-seeding-testing drones, and more. With large amounts of land and increasingly precise equipment, farmers will need a far better understanding of what’s happening to their crops on a minute-by-minute basis.
- Construction Companies – Investors are always curious about monitoring construction projects, even if they’re on the other side of the world.
- Shipping Docks – With tens of thousands of shipping containers making their way on and off ships, having new ways to monitor activity will become increasingly important.
- Theme Parks – Any place where people gather is ripe for monitoring, traffic analysis, data gathering, and much more.
- Military Installations – Since the military was instrumental in launching the flying drone era, it’s only reasonable that they find new ways to leverage the anywhere, anytime surveillance options that drones provide. Monitoring activities both inside and surrounding a military base will become a natural extension of this.
- Prisons – Some drones are used to keep people out, others used to keep people in, but when it comes to prisons it will be all this and more.
- Emergency Rescue Command Centers – Whether its forest rangers tracking down lost hikers, avalanche rescue teams trying to spot a buried skier, or lifeguards trying to prevent swimmers and surfers from getting into trouble, there are many rich untapped markets for accident prevention drones.
The flying drone industry is about to explode. They will affect our lives in countless ways we cannot yet imagine.
Reaching a billion drones in the world may not seem all that significant, but it truly is.
Having tens of thousands of drones swarming over most metro areas on a daily basis may seem annoying at first, but the combination of new businesses, jobs, information, data analysis, new career paths, and revenue streams will quickly turn most naysayers into strong industry advocates.
That said, there will be many problems to overcome during the next few years. Noise, pollution, mid-air crashes, peeping drone issues, terrorist activities, smugglers and more will cause many to question their value.
But this is a highly transformative industry, solving problems nearly as quickly as they’re created, giving us capabilities we never knew we’d ever want.
Personally I can’t wait for this amazing new world to come to fruition.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything