In the past couple of years drones have become the new big player for portable, diverse and reduced-user interaction technology. Valuable at accessing areas that humans and other vehicles simply cannot, there are many good reasons that drones are predicted to become the next big driver of automated gadgets and services within the next five years.
While much of the mapping used for smart cities and smart mobility relies on satellite imaging and street-view photography, drones offer a quicker way to collect images and data which may in the long term make data more real-time. With the explosion of mapping methods and technology for supporting smart cities, the usability and versatility of drones shouldn’t be ignored.
DroneDeploy are an example of a business moving in this space, and have developed their own drone mapping software. Partnered with drone-making companies, the business schedules flight itineraries, data collection on drone sensors, automated mapping and map analysis. Their software can even build real-time maps as the drones are flying.
So, what does this mean for smart cities and mobility?
While it seemingly appears that using drones over crowdsourced, human-driven information would be a good solution, there remain limitations of the method. Firstly, drones aren’t cheap – especially those custom-made for mapping purposes. In fact, the most expensive aspect of this kind of service is employing humans to program, maintain and navigate the drones themselves. This is because the technology is not developed enough to be entirely automated, and still requires human input and maintenance (even more so for complex tasks).
Secondly, humans require a lot of training to become proficient at actually piloting and maintaining specialist drones. This means that the technicians themselves are expensive to train to a high standard, thus making them expensive to hire – they’re actually the most expensive aspect of the technology!
Finally, relying on the automated and programmable features of drones alone removes the “human aspect” of mapping even with a technician looking over their progress. As evidenced by many crowdsourcing projects and businesses, human judgement is a necessary part of smart cities and smart mobility initiatives. This is because there are many aspects of mapping – such as detailed identification tasks – that automated software cannot compete with.
Despite these drawbacks, there are a number of projects around the world that are working to improve drones within smart cities. Search and rescue drones in particular have become a valuable addition to urban areas, with police in Wisconsin (USA) recently reporting that they were able to apprehend robbery suspects using a combination of drones and internet of things (IoT) integrated data.
This method, too, is being trialled in other cities for a range of purposes. For public services solutions cameras and other sensors can be attached so that drones can be sent into at-risk areas – such as building fires – to reduce the risk posed to humans. Similarly, they can also be equipped with storage space to be able to carry or deliver items. This has the potential to reduce transport vehicle emissions and to make delivery more agile.
Evidently, this is an area that has a lot of potential for the continued development of smart cities and with IoT, we look forward to learning more about new innovations in upcoming conferences and events!