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Drone technology will power the Gulf’s fourth industrial revolution

Once a gimmick in futuristic novels, drones now have the potential to transform the world we live in

Drones will be an essential tool for multiple industries Creative Commons
Drones will be an essential tool for multiple industries

Unmanned aerial vehicles – better known as drones – have been around for decades. However, it is only in recent times that they have begun to revolutionise sectors such as agriculture and logistics.

The technology’s potential is clear: the global market is projected to reach $58.4 billion by 2026.

In the GCC, the market is expected to reach $1.86 billion. This trend is being fuelled by both private use and applications within business and industry. 

Drone technology is also becoming increasingly accessible and affordable.

Boosting productivity

As the GCC countries begin to realise the operational and economic advantages of drones, these flying robots will complement the digital transformation of industrial processes through data capture and automation.

In the fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0 – drones and related technologies, including AI and machine learning, will boost productivity and reduce costs.

Drone-based technologies are expected to cement the Gulf’s leading status in energy and power, utilities, real estate, telecoms, agriculture, transport, logistics and manufacturing. 

They can support world-class innovation by supercharging industry operations. Early adopters of drone technology are set to reap the most benefit and value.

See, sense, move, transform

A paper for the Journal of Manufacturing Technology divided drone capability into four categories: see, sense, move and transform. 

Drones are powerful data capture tools equipped with many sensors to expand their processes. These can include high-resolution cameras, laser scanners, electromagnetic energy sensors and other devices.

Drones allow commercial operations to gather and collect large volumes of data safely, quickly and accurately.

The robots have no physical limits, so they offer a flexible and innovative platform to share real-time insights to help businesses reap the benefits. 

They can also be deployed quickly with minimal operating costs. What’s more, they can run 24/7 and are extremely easy to use, so they have a tangible return on investment.

Drones can improve the safety of workers in high-risk or remote construction environments. Robot surveys can be conducted over tall buildings to complete inspections, removing the need for risky human surveys.

Drones can also ensure safety compliance, assist with predictive maintenance or evaluate work status. 

Multi-industry benefits

According to Falcon Eye Drones, one of the region’s leading suppliers, increasing numbers of construction companies are utilising drone technology. It offers drone-powered solutions, from 3D drone mapping to progress monitoring and drone surveying.

Drones are increasingly used in oil and gas sites such as deep offshore rigs for remote monitoring and surveillance.

Cameras and thermal imagers can detect flaws or defects in pipelines, storage tanks, or marine vessels.

Drones can provide real-time imagery and video analysis in emergencies, such as fires, gas leaks or oil spills. They can cover the ground quickly and prevent disaster.

In agriculture, drones can alert farmers to issues with their crops, empowering them to make faster and better-informed decisions.

Crops require specific soil conditions to flourish and collecting information allows farmers to make precise and timely adjustments to optimise growth. For example, drones can fertilise or spray crop fields with weed control on an automated basis to increase overall efficiency or increase yield rates.

They can also produce maps to help with nitrogen level management and seed planting design.

Large-scale surveillance

Drones can also be used as observation tools on a large scale. A Stockholm-based company, GLOBHE, collects drone data from 108 drone operators to help businesses, researchers and organisations make intelligent decisions. 

Through a network of local drone operators and using the captured imagery and AI, they can detect global health outbreaks. To date, this technology has reduced the risk of malaria for 1.9 million people and the risk of water pollution for 2.3 million people.

Across many sectors drones offer a surveillance tool to monitor activities on exit points or maintain an overview of assets.

Any suspicious object or person will be recognised to facilitate real-time decision-making. Firnas Aero is just one of the startups offering surveillance via aerial vehicles, alongside other drone technology solutions.

Workflow optimisation

Drone technology will be central to Industry 4.0 and automation. As this unfolds before us, drones will significantly contribute to the optimisation of workflows.

Data capture now happens at a fraction of the normal time. When drone technology is integrated with AI and machine learning, it could potentially automate the entire process from capturing the data to analysing it and making the right decisions across various sectors and uses. 

Smart drones have almost human-like problem-solving abilities. These flying robots have the potential to recognise, analyse and act on the information they receive. As these technologies develop, drones will become central to business processes.

The key to success is integrating the data into existing workflows to optimise operational efficiency and exploit the potential of drone technology. 

With the right technology and coding, businesses could be at the forefront of progress. Whether it is saving money, or improving efficiency or safety, the benefits are here to stay.

Alex Cresniov is director of Deep Knowledge Analytics

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