Top 10 Reasons Drones Are Disruptive

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If you think today's drones are interesting, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Drones are in their deceptive phase, about to go disruptive. Check out where they're going...

What makes today's "drones" possible?

The billion-fold improvement we've seen between 1980 and 2010 is what makes today's drones possible, specifically in four areas:

1. GPS: In 1981, the first commercial GPS receiver weighed 50 pounds and cost over $100K. Today, GPS comes on a 0.3 gram chip for less than $5.
2. IMU: An Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) measures a drone's velocity, orientation and accelerations. In the 1960s an IMU (think Apollo program) weighed over 50 lbs. and cost millions. Today it's a couple of chips for $1 on your phone.
3. Digital Cameras: In 1976, Kodak's first digital camera shot at 0.1 megapixels, weighed 3.75 pounds and cost over $10,000. Today's digital cameras are a billion-fold better (1000x resolution, 1000x smaller and 100x cheaper).
4. Computers & Wireless Communication (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth): No question here. Computers and wireless price-performance have gotten a billion times better between 1980 and today.

10 Industries Using Today's Drones:

1. Agriculture: Drones watch for disease and collect real-time data on crop health and yields. This is an estimated $3B annual market size.
2. Energy: Energy companies monitor miles of pipeline and oil rigs with autonomous drones.
3. Real Estate and Construction: Drones photograph, prospect and advertise real estate from golf courses to skyscrapers; they also monitor construction in progress.
4. Rapid Response and Emergency Services: Drones aid in search and rescue operations ranging from forest fire fighting to searching for people buried in rubble or snow using infrared sensors.
5. News: It's faster and safer to deploy drones to cover breaking news/disaster/war zones than news crews.
6. Package/Supply Delivery: Companies like Matternet (founded at Singularity University) are building networks of UAVs to deliver food and medical supplies to remote villages around the world.
7. Photography/Film: Visual artists use drones to capture beautiful new images and camera angles.
8. Scientific Research/Conservation: Drones assist in everything from counting sea lions in Alaska to conducting weather and environmental research to tracking herd movements on the Savannah in Africa.
9. Law Enforcement: Drones can be used during hostage situations, search and rescue operations, bomb threats, when officers need to pursue armed criminals, and to monitor drug trafficking across our borders.
10. Entertainment/Toys: Good old fun.

Where Next?

What happens in the next 10 years when drones are 1000x better? Or 30 years from now when they are 1,000,000,000x better? What does that even mean, or look like? Here are some directions for your imagination:

Smart and Autonomous: Drones will have a mind of their own... thinking, doing, navigating, avoiding, seeking, finding, sensing and transmitting.

Microscopic and Cheap: Think about drones the size of a housefly, sending you full-motion HD video. Think swarms of drones (hundreds) where losing half of your swarm won't matter because another hundred are there to replace them. How much will they cost? I would be shocked if they price doesn't plummet to less than $10 each... maybe $1.

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Top Future Drone Applications?

1. Pollination: Imagine bee-sized drones pollinating flowers (in fact, we're actually doing this now);
2. Personal security: In the future, your children will have a flotilla of micro-drones following them to school and to playgrounds at all times, scanning for danger;
3. Action sports photography: Imagine 100 micro-drone-cameras following a downhill skier capturing video from every angle in real time;
4. Asteroid prospecting and planetary science: On a cosmic scale, my company Planetary Resources is building the ARKYD 300 -- effectively a space drone with 5km per second delta-V. PRI plans to send small flotillas of four to six A300 drones (with onboard sensors) to remote locations like the asteroids or the moons of Mars;
5. Medical in-body drones: On the microscopic scale, each of us will have robotic drones traveling through our bodies monitoring and repairing;
6. High Altitude "Atmospheric Satellite" Drones: Google recently announced Project Loon to provide a global network of stratospheric balloons, and then acquired Titan Aerospace to provide for solar powered aerial drones, both of which could blanket the entire planet to provide low-cost Internet connectivity, anytime, anywhere; and,
7. Ubiquitous surveillance: Combined with facial recognition software and high-resolution cameras, drones will know where everybody and everything is at all times. Kiss privacy goodbye. Are you a retailer? Want to know how many people are wearing your product at any time? Future imaging drones will give you that knowledge.
8. Military and Anti-terrorism: Expect a significant increase in defense-related applications of drones in war zones and in your local backyard, sensing and searching for dangers ranging from biological to radiation.

What are the Challenges?

Technical challenges aside, we'll have to address many sociopolitical challenges before drones become disruptive.

There are concerns over privacy and spying, interference with planes/helicopters, drones aiding illegal activities, safety and potential crashes, noise and cluttering the skies, theft and commercial use.

I recommend looking at the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to get a glimpse of the legal landscape surrounding drones.

This bill expires in September of 2015.

In other words, pending major legislative changes, expect 2015 to be a big year for drones.

Why are drones going to be disruptive?

Besides all of the use cases outlined above, drones represent an interesting convergence of three exponential technology areas:

1. The Internet of Everything: Drones will be a key part of our trillion-sensor future, transporting a variety of sensors (thermal imaging, pressure, audio, radiation, chemical, biologics, and imaging) and will be connected to the Internet. They will communicate with each other and with operators.
2. Advanced Battery Technology: Increases in energy density (kilowatt-hours per kilogram) will allow drones to operate for longer periods of time. Additionally, solar battery technology is allowing high-altitude drones to fly for weeks at a time without landing.
3. Automation Software and Artificial Intelligence: Hundreds of teams around the world are working on automation systems that a) make drones easier for untrained users to fly, but more importantly, b) allow drones to fly and operate autonomously.

This is just the start.

[Photo credit: Lima Pix/FlickrMichael MK Khor/Flickr]

 

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Peter Diamandis

Dr. Peter Diamandis was recently named by Fortune Magazine as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.

He is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation which leads the world in designing and operating large-scale incentive competitions.

He is also the co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University, a graduate-level Silicon Valley institution that counsels the world’s leaders on exponentially growing technologies.

Diamandis is also the co-founder and vice-chairman of Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), a genomics and cell therapy-based company focused on extending the healthy human lifespan.

In the field of commercial space, Diamandis is co-founder and co-chairman of Planetary Resources, a company designing spacecraft to enable the detection and prospecting of asteroids for fuels and precious materials.He is the also co-founder of Space Adventures and Zero Gravity Corporation.

Diamandis is a New York Times bestselling author of two books: Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think and BOLD – How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.

He earned degrees in Molecular Genetics and Aerospace Engineering from MIT, and holds an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

His motto is, “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.”

Discussion — 7 Responses

  • Louis Rosas-Guyon August 11, 2014 on 8:11 pm

    Drones will become ubiquitous via nanotechnology. That’s when they will become genuinely disruptive. The first wave in 2015 will enhance existing business models but will only eliminate those businesses too stupid to adapt.

  • Anon Y Mos August 11, 2014 on 9:42 pm

    What about a smartphone with legs?

    Set it on a table, it unfolds legs, maybe arms. It could lean over and read a book or magazine. Walk itself to a electricity source.

    Plus, I think the key to the future technology is “Smart and Autonomous”. They’ll become extensions of us, and emulate us. One day we’ll look back and think “hey, remember when our gadgets were mute and deaf?”

    • Vogie Anon Y Mos August 29, 2014 on 7:19 am

      The same reason we don’t have any common robots with legs or arms – motors are heavy, and take power. Walking is hard, from a machine’s perspective (The robots of Honda & Boston Dynamics are huge & expensive). I do think we will eventually get to the point where our mobile devices will be literally mobile, but it will more likely be with wheels (think R2D2) or a mini-drone that floats nearby (like the sphere showcased by Japan’s Ministry of Defense in 2011). But when we can usually get less than 20 hours of battery life from an actively used phone by just powering a screen and some antennas, it’ll still be a bit before our smart phone will just happily hop in the air and fly to it’s chi charing station like a remote-control toy helicopter.

      There’s a reason nearly 100% of existing drones are used outside, and up high – they’re big enough to matter if they fall on something (like vases or faces), and despite our advances in GPS technology and location tracking, it’s still ridiculously hard to program things like “fly through doorway without hitting the sides or top” or “don’t run into a person walking by”.

      Even once we solve the battery problems, and as electric motors become more effecient, and sensors become cheaper & more robust, there’s going to be cultural changes and societal changes that will have to come along as well:
      Will I want to have a “smartphone” that has legs, wheels, or helicopter blades in my pocket?
      Do we want to walk around, and have other people’s tablets walking behind us?
      Do I even WANT my mobile device to be able to leave my presence by itself?
      Will there be a spike where hacker-thieves are making people’s phones literally fly out of their hands?
      Do we want floating mobile devices in the theatres? Cinemas? Restaurants? Banks? Your office?
      Do we even desire to have a mobile device that we have to talk to, or do something different, because we are not physically holding it? Does the ubiquity of these devices make bluetooth headsets, smartwatches and other wearable technology like Google Glass more common/accepted?

  • Nick DeWaal August 11, 2014 on 10:20 pm

    Drones have a huge limiting factor, and that is the lack of advancement in battery technology. When battery storage density improves, then drones will be practical for far more uses.

  • andy_spoo August 13, 2014 on 12:24 am

    Here we go again :-\

    Incorrect information, as quoted above “bee-sized drones pollinating flowers (in fact, we’re actually doing this now)”. NO we are not pollination flowers with drones right now. These “drones” (drones are autonomous, these are just small flying TETHERED toys). Infact, they can’t even lift a piece of normal wire. Even the wire connection to the battery has had to have it’s insulation stripped away because of the weight. Strick sensors, battery, optical camera, image processor etc and it’s got as much chance of lifting off as a carrot has of being president.

    I know the point of this article is about what may come in the future, but the writer wrote “we’re doing this now”, like we can forget the bees, because it’s all sorted. Ridiculous.

  • Dustin Dalziel August 15, 2014 on 9:52 am

    Wait I only count three reasons they are disruptive, and those reasons don’t even sound disruptive. Really just highlights some of the cool uses these things will have in the future.

  • Kostas September 11, 2014 on 5:01 am

    I’d add another use of drones today. For bombing civilians:

    http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/why-europe-wont-impose-arms-embargo-israel-697912420