The commercial drone market is experiencing rapid growth as new technologies and artificial intelligence break into the space.
In 2022, the commercial drone market size was estimated at $19.8 billion and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13.9% between now and 2030. This growth creates space for innovation and integration like never before.
As the industry begins to scratch the surface for the integration of AI in autonomous drones, it is proving to bring forth numerous benefits, including increased operational efficiency and cost savings. By automating tasks that were previously performed manually, drones are able to perform them faster, more accurately and at a fraction of the cost.
Current State of Drone Technology
Drone technology is still in its infancy, which leaves room for rapid and needed innovation and improvement. Many early drones were developed for hobby and sport. Once the usefulness and potential of what drones can accomplish was understood, industries began to see the value they could bring and began to explore the capabilities of commercial drone usage.
Then AI entered the picture. The unique value that AI has offered to many everyday business practices makes its potential capabilities attractive to the drone industry. ChatGPT is a formidable example: ChatGPT has had over 10 million all time page visits with an average of 1 billion page visits monthly. This curiosity has already inspired innovation within the industry.
The Monumental Impact of AI Integration
At its core, AI is machine learning with natural language processing capable of performing faster and oftentimes higher quality output than humans. It increases the speed and accuracy of code writing, productivity and accuracy beyond human capabilities. Some might call AI the great equalizer. By not gatekeeping this type of technology, innovation has the ability to thrive unfettered.
Yet, many have hesitated to adopt such smart technology in fear that it will replace humans. In reality, it has the potential to become a worthy co-worker. A robot without smart AI integration capabilities is merely a hammer—a tool with limited capabilities. Once fused with the ability to think and react to situations, that tool becomes a partner or an assistant.
In the drone industry specifically, AI integration allows drones to become autonomous agents. One example of this is specifically with search and rescue. Consider the scenario where a person is reported missing and is lost in a forest. Typically, it takes cars, helicopters and oftentimes people by foot to search the area. They may utilize cameras with no automated technology and will need to take the time to analyze and process the footage, leaving it completely up to human senses.
Now consider an AI-empowered drone charged with the mission to find a missing person in the forest. With extended capabilities, this drone can hear things beyond human hearing and see beyond human capabilities. With real-time adaptability, a drone will be able to locate the missing person in a fraction of the time.
Also highlighting the impact of this integration is package delivery, which will become more prevalent as autonomous drone capabilities increase. Without AI integration, drones are programmed to deliver a package to a fixed pin location, and they are unable to differentiate the front door from the back door or adapt to any obstacles in their way.
The only way to know where the door is, what obstacles are in its way, and how to adapt and still complete the delivery is through AI. But if there is an obstacle to mission completion, the drone will return without delivering the package. Autonomous AI integration allows drones to think and see beyond a fixed mission, adapt and adjust to dynamic environments to complete the mission.
Overcoming Industry Challenges
In the face of innovation, the drone industry is limited by regulatory control. Government agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) play a major role in regulating the use of drone technology. While these regulations are a crucial part of public safety, they oftentimes can suppress innovation. Finding a middle ground, where innovation can flourish in a safe and ethical way, is crucial to the drone industry’s success.
Another hurdle to drone advancement is battery power. Current drone battery technology allows for a maximum flight time of 30-40 min. Once battery life is able to evolve and be utilized for longer periods of time, drones will be able to deliver a variety of products (such as packages, foods and medicines) and fulfil services more effectively. Both the battery and navigation technology will need to become stronger in order to achieve efficient autonomy and serve a variety of purposes.
As drone technology gains momentum to become commercially viable and more dependable, so will the possibilities for adopting new functionality continue to grow.
Victorio Pellicano is the founder and CEO of Avianna, which offers a suite of autonomous artificial intelligence software for robots, including Fleet AI, Vision AI and Mission AI. Pellicano is a veteran in software manufacturing.