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What do you get when you combine incredible flying and navigation skills, honed intelligence and state-of-the-art vision? If you guessed 'a honeybee', you'd be very close – I can imagine the first drone builders looking at these perfect flying machines for inspiration. With almost 360° eyesight, precision flight and unmatched navigation capabilities, bees provide an ideal for what drone technology - which incorpoates robotics, aviation, Artificial Intelligence and state-of-the-art photographic and sensory equipment - could achieve in the future.

Like many of the technologies we take for granted, drones were first built for military applications. Since then, they have been put to use in various ways in a range of industries, from agriculture and mining to film and even sports. And, as drone technology becomes more commonplace, we’ll see them being put to use in more niche applications. But what’s next for these flying lawnmowers?

Photography and sensor technology

The hobby drones that are available today are equipped with some pretty awesome camera technology. Professional-level drones can carry heavy-duty camera equipment over vast distances, and they’ve made it much more affordable to shoot high-quality video of landscapes and car chases.

In the future, drones will be equipped with a range of sensors to orient themselves in space. They’ll also be able to carry better camera equipment for longer, do 3D imaging of landscapes, and be able to measure everything from smog levels to population density.

Miniaturisation - or not

One of the smallest commercially available drones is the DJI Spark. This little quadcopter can land on your hand, and you can operate it using various gestures. You can even get the drone to take selfies of you and your fam.

But, it’s not difficult to imagine drones becoming smaller and smaller, to the point where they are difficult to detect. So, if you see a cockroach with particularly prominent eyes, you might have some more reasons to squash it.

Drones will also become bigger and start carrying cargo and humans around our congested cities. Amazon is already working on technology to deliver small packages to US homes, but as the race for drone airspace heats up, we can expect to see much more competition here.

Artificial Intelligence

As sensor and Artificial Intelligence technologies develop further, drones will have complete awareness of the airspace around them and be able to plot a course to their destination. The research that companies such as Waymo and Tesla are doing for self-driving cars will be applicable to drones, as well.

Taking over the skies, the roads and the seas

Drones will also increasingly take over our roads and our waterways, something that bees have not been able to do. Again, there are applications in jobs that humans don’t want to do, or that are too risky. Tesla, for example, is developing a fleet of electrically powered trucks, which, combined with their constantly improving self-driving technology, will not need a human in the cab at all. In the oceans, drones could explore for oil or be used as early detection systems for earthquakes and tsunamis.

Drone leaders

Here are some local companies that are expanding the use of drone technology:

  • Integrisense uses drone technology in agricultural applications, for example to 3D map and analyse farms.

  • Rocketmine uses drone technology in various mining applications, including blast monitoring and industrial inspections.

  • Ranmarine has developed an aquatic drone that removes trash and invasive plant species from the ocean.

Get the latest in technology today from Vodacom Online. If you want to find out more about the rules of hobby drone flying, read our article here. See some amazing drone footage here


Photo by William Bayreuther on Unsplash

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