Flying high: the rise of the drones

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Until recently, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were most commonly recognised for their military application and, in small scale, as children’s toys. Now, via new technologies, they have uses in areas such as farming, industrial inspection, mapping and search and rescue. Commercial drones are fast becoming big business.

Many drones now carry infrared sensors, which allow them to “see” heat at great distances. For search and rescue and first responders, the technology could make rescue efforts faster and more efficient. UAVs can also cross sector verticals and have applications throughout nearly every industry, aided in part by new sensors like infrared. Energy companies can use them to inspect pipelines and solar farms to prevent leaks and boost efficiencies and transportation and infrastructure companies can test ageing infrastructure to improve safety. Agricultural and mining applications can boost yields and lower costs with improved mapping techniques.

The increasing sophistication and application of drones presents exciting potential to both businesses and tech-savvy investors. Autonomous drones, capable of operating independently, are also in development and could be a reality in the next three to five years. UAVs offer the potential to boost productivity via higher efficiency and resource utilisation as well as lower costs. UAVs may reduce environmental accidents by identifying looming risks. The sky really may be the only limit.

Robert Zeuthen – senior equity analyst, BNY Mellon Asset Management North America.

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