Drone technology extends reach of mobile IoT
Unmanned aerial vehicles—more popularly known as “drones”—have turned the Wright brothers’ dream of manned flight on its ear by introducing pilotless flying machines to the airways.
Drones can be used for a variety of endeavors, from the solemn task of remote warfare to the antics of amateur aviators. But there’s a lot more drone activity filling the gap between military tool and hobbyist toys as enterprises have begun to appreciate the operational and economic benefits of drone-enabled functions.
Drones range in size from barely a foot in length to the size of a small airplane, depending on the task at hand. Of those tasks, some of the more intriguing applications have appeared in Internet of Things/Industrial IIoT/IIoT environments. Drones can effectively add mobile IoT endpoints to extend a network beyond what would otherwise be physical limitations. This has become critical as many enterprise processes take place at the edge of the network. In turn, drone technology has extended many mobile IoT devices’ capabilities into new territory at the edge.
“I think drones are very much IoT devices and there’s a lot of overlap in terms of technology and also customers and use cases,” noted Adam Bry, CEO of Skydio, a Redwood City, CA manufacturer of drone hardware and software.
Variously referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), drones are uniquely able to explore and report on locations that may be inaccessible via other means. In an IoT setting, a drone could act as a mobile sensor to gather data and relay it back to a cloud app or some other analytics service.
Drones can also be used as remote inspection devices to help maintain IoT endpoints and other components. For example, a drone can check on the physical condition of tower-based sensors or other IoT-connected gear, thus eliminating the need for potentially dangerous in-person inspections. In some cases, it might be possible to use a drone to effect the necessary maintenance activities or device repairs. At the least, it’s a fast, safe and economical way to keep an eye on critical equipment.
Drone Market Grows
Research firm Gartner projected growth for commercial drones. “In 2020, worldwide shipments of Internet of Things (IoT) enterprise drones (defined as flying drones) will total 526,000 units, an increase of 50% from 2019,” Gartner noted in its Forecast Analysis: IoT Enterprise Drone Shipments, Worldwide. “Global shipments are forecast to reach 1.3 million units by 2023.”
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