Flying Into the Future: Drone Technology Forecasts for 2019
December 21, 2018      
Steven Fargo

There are few pieces of technology that excite tech lovers and the general public quite like drones. These unmanned aerial marvels ignite the imaginations of people the world over — and the truth is that we are only scratching the surface of their potential. Rather than flying playthings, drone technology is being unlocked for practical uses in aerial data and information management.

While drones have been around for a few years, algorithms and programming are only just now starting to catch up to drone capabilities, presenting exciting possibilities — not only for the next 12 months, but the next decade.

A new eye in the sky

Drones by design allow researchers to take to the skies and capture visual information. With the right computing power and programming, this translates any landscape into a data point that can then be used in several ways. It’s not all that new to pull information from the visual realm — in fact, this is already happening to a large degree when you look at image-based platforms where images and video are converted into 1s and 0s.

Drone technology, however, makes it easier to capture visual information, mine, and utilize data through enhanced computer models.

This repeated and ongoing visual access can be seen best in a case out of Canada, where unmanned aerial vehicles are monitoring vegetative health. As reported in October, several industry leaders completed a 4G proof-of-concept mission in Malagash, Nova Scotia, to demonstrate a real-word application of drone technology for a project called the “Digital Vineyard of the Future”.

Global UAV Technologies provided a 4G-enabled, Procyon 800E helicopter drone platform with a specialized multi-spectral imaging payload. The company also provided pilots and engineering support for the project. As a result, the project produced diagnostic maps used by Jöst Vineyards for crop uniformity optimization, irrigation management, harvest planning and plant health information.

“Fine wine-making is in the growing of grapes with specific qualities, where many variables have to be taken into consideration,” said Jonathan Rodwell, director of viticulture and winemaking for Jöst Vineyards. “We see these emerging technologies offering excellent opportunities for integrated measurement and management of our vineyards and focus on precision viticulture.”

This is one example in one field, but the concept is undeniable: Anything is possible with the right programming and drone approach. 

Crossing the chasm into mainstream use

Another exciting proposition for 2019? This could be the year that drones finally reach widespread acceptance for information management. While the technology has been around for a few years, their capabilities are yet to be fully realized. This is because of complacency – people and professionals in any field don’t like to change when they’ve been doing the same things for decades. Education will be key, and smaller companies and startups are taking the initiative to show how it can be done.

Applications of the technology are finally catching up with the technology itself. Drones have been capable of flying up to 400 feet and capturing imagery for some time, but the proper programming to unpack and understand the visual information has been lacking.

In 2019, we expect to see more organizations with programs that make full use of that information. This will likely be heralded by innovative companies, which in turn will show the larger corporations what is possible.

Possibilities of tomorrow don’t necessarily mean Star Trek technology — instead, people should be excited by the capabilities of drones getting scaled up and widespread. While this has been a problem across the U.S, this too looks set to change. Large-scale drone integration and automation is in the cards, and this is sure to advance the industry with more data and cross-referencing.

Only then comes the next phase of automation in analyzing the data. Using AI to automatically identify characteristics of imagery, or physical features such as measurements and spectrum analysis, will take the technology to the next level, as will its algorithms. These are also improving rapidly – and in five to 10 years, we will have more robust platforms to work from. It will be software that drives the heart of drone technology and its possibilities. This part may still be a little further off, but is nonetheless an exciting possibility on the horizon.

Drone technology a holistic solution

Drones are starting to play a larger role in mapping out a holistic picture built from multiple data sources, and this is expected to continue into 2019. However, it’s important to remember that the solution is not always about the drone.

To accomplish use cases, information will likely come from a combination of ground-based images, manned aerial vehicle images, and previously mapped data points. Aggregating this data is where people and companies will take drone information and aerial mapping to the next level — and this accelerated integration of multiple data sources will be a game-changer.

The perception needs to move away from the idea that a drone is simply taking a photo of something — now, it’s much more than that. Drone technology has the ability to map out many data points, so collating these accurately and quickly is exciting. The next few years will be all about connecting the information dots to quickly present a full picture. This will offer a multitude of industries the ability to efficiently collect and understand information pertinent to their specific needs. What’s more futuristic than that?

Steven Fargo DataWing GlobalAbout the author: Steven Fargo is CEO of DataWing Global, which provides a wide range of aerial analytics services for the oil & gas industry and insurance sectors, among others.