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What are drones good for? Common commercial applications of drones in agriculture, business and the military

By Divya Joshi From Business Insider

Considered to be one of the most resourceful and multipurpose innovations of the century, drones have managed to perforate numerous segments of the global economic sphere.

Having uses in fields ranging from filmmaking to farming, drones have managed to capture a major share of the commercial, personal goods, and military service market.

From quick deliveries at rush hour to scanning an unreachable military base, drones are proving to be extremely beneficial in places where man cannot reach or is unable to perform in a timely and efficient manner.

Increasing work efficiency and productivity, decreasing workload and production costs, improving accuracy, refining service and customer relations, and resolving security issues on a vast scale are a few of the top uses drones offer industries around the world.

In this article, BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, answers questions surrounding UAVs and their potential uses in the fields of business, farming, and the military, along with their future trends and current developments.

What are the commercial uses of drones?

Drones have proven to be beneficial in a wide range of industries and businesses. Adoption of drone technology across industries leapt from the fad stage to the mega-trend stage fairly quickly as more and more businesses started to realize its potential, scope, and scale of global reach.

Below, BI Intelligence explores the aggressively growing trend’s uses and benefits across the industries of farming and agriculture, enterprise businesses, and military operations.

Drone use in farming and agriculture

Precision agriculture is a farming management concept that uses drones for agriculture to measure, observe, and respond to variability found in crops.

Drones in action

From automated planting to crop management with real-time monitoring, drones have a vital role to play in the future of farming.

Although unmanned aerial drones for agriculture are in their infancy in the United States, Japan has been using them for years to help rice growers.

Some of the top rated drones in 2017 for agricultural/farming use are:

  • Honeycorp AgDrone: The drone has a wing that is composed of Kevlar fiber composite, a material that cannot be cracked like carbon fiber, or which quickly fall to pieces like foam can. It therefore makes for a very durable, versatile, and powerful selection for drones in agriculture.
  • DJI Matrice 100: It has dual battery components that allow for extended flight time of up to 40 minutes, making it a good choice for farmers and agriculturists.
  • DJI T600 Inspire 1: This drone is suitable for agricultural use and has a 4K video recording capability, separate flight and camera control, with a carbon fiber frame.
  • Agras MG-1 – DJI: This is an octocopter designed to spray large areas of farmland with pesticides or fertilizers. As it can cover an extraordinary amount of distance quickly – 4,000-6,000 m² in just 10 minutes – DJI, the Chinese drone manufacturer claims that it is 40-60 times more efficient than manual spraying.
  • Ebee SQ – SenseFly: This is a precision agricultural drone designed to monitor crops from planting to harvest.
  • Lancaster – Precision Hawk: This drone has many possible uses within the agricultural industry- It’s proprietary AI reacts to changing weather conditions and real-time diagnostics, while it can also be fitted with a range of imaging functions depending on what is required. Offering topography mapping, weather and temperature profiles, fast disease detection and drainage estimations, the Lancaster is an adaptable, precision solution drone.

The AgDrone is probably the “cream of the crop” as far as this category is concerned, but the Inspire is a great way to test the waters that lie just above the Phantom line of DJI.

Drones in agriculture are a big boon to farmers. They carry the potential of completely transforming and revolutionizing the farming and agriculture industry.

Agricultural drones are high-tech systems that can do things a farmer can’t: soil health scans, monitoring crop health, applying fertilizers and watering the fields, even tracking weather and estimating yields, and then collecting the data and analyzing it for prompt action.

In short, drones can mechanize every step of farming, eliminating the costs of human errors and enabling farmers to react quickly to threats (such as drought conditions and pests), helping them maximize income and returns on investment in the end.

Drones in action

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report pegs the agriculture drone market to be worth $32.4 billion, second to infrastructure.

Agricultural efficiency is poised to take a big leap with drone technology now that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is streamlining regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Statistics and recent reports suggest that PwC isn’t the only one expecting drones to revolutionize agriculture.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch projects agriculture to make up almost 80% of the commercial drone market in the future, with the potential to generate $82 billion worth of economic activity in the U.S. between 2015 and 2025.

Goldman Sachs predicts the agriculture sector to be the largest user of drones in the U.S. and the second largest in the world in the next five years.

Research company Markets and Markets estimates the agricultural drone market to grow at a compounded average rate of 30% through 2022.

Drone use in business

Commercial usage of drones is gaining steady momentum and has become the talk of the hour, as multiple industries are working with drones as part of their daily regular business functions.PwC

The market for commercial drones will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19% between 2015 and 2020, compared with 5% growth on the military side, according to BI Intelligence.

Drones in business can be used for a variety of purposes:

  • Filmaking/videography/photography from heights
  • Short services (repairs)
  • Shipping/delivery of parcels/spare parts/food
  • Geographic mapping
  • Inspection of sites (construction sites/industrial zones)
  • Storm tracking/safety reporting
  • Risk monitoring (insurance companies in times of disasters)
  • Advertising/marketing (banners/delivery of merchandise)
  • Internet service

At the end of the day, the impact of commercial drones could be $82 billion and a 100,000 job boost to the U.S. economy by 2025, according to AUVSI. Global drone manufacturers are raking up on the opportunity and the growing future trend of drones in business.

Drone use in the military

Military usage of drones or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems) has become the primary use in today’s world. Used as target decoys, for combat missions, research and development, and for supervision, drones have been part and parcel of military forces worldwide.

Drones are used in situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult. They provide troops with a 24-hour “eye in the sky”, seven days a week. Each aircraft can stay aloft for up to 17 hours at a time, loitering over an area and sending back real-time imagery of activities on the ground.

Those used by the United States Air Force and Royal Air Force range from small intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance craft (some light enough to be launched by hand) to medium-sized armed drones and large spy planes.

According to a recent report by Goldman Sachs, military spending will remain the main driver of drone spending in the coming years. Goldman estimates that global militaries will spend $70 billion on drones by 2020, and these drones will play a vital role in the resolution of future conflicts and in the replacement of the human pilot.

The U.S. military operates a large number of unmanned aerial systems: 7,362 RQ-11 Ravens; 990 AeroVironment Wasp IIIs; 1,137 AeroVironment RQ-20 Pumas; and 306 RQ-16 T-Hawk small UAS systems and 246 Predators and MQ-1C Grey Eagles; 126 MQ-9 Reapers; 491 RQ-7 Shadows; and 33 RQ-4 Global Hawk large systems.

An X-47B pilot-less drone combat aircraft is launched for the first time off the USS George H. W. BushREUTERS/Jason Reed

The UAVs organization deem the following to be the main uses of drones in the field of military and its operations around the world:


  • Security and Control
  • Aerial Traffic and Security Watch
  • Battlefield Management
  • Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Conditions

Search and Rescue

  • All Terrain Search and Rescue
  • Life Raft Deployment
  • Rescue point marking


  • Waterways and Shipping
  • Pollution Control and Air Sampling
  • Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Deployments


  • Secure Telecommunications
  • Telecom Relay and Signal Coverage Survey


  • Air to Ground Missiles
  • Anti-Tank Missiles
  • Air to Air Missiles
  • Wide Area Munition Deployments

How will we use drones in the future?

According to the report published by PwC, the future of global industries will be shaped by drones, thus saving them time, costs, energy and wastage of resources and manpower.

In the future, 3D printing technology will be combined with drone technologies to maintain and repair infrastructure. Construction companies will be able to attach 3D printers to drones, to produce on-site replacement parts for damaged elements of infrastructure.

For the insurance industry, combining drones with other disruptive technologies such as machine learning will allow insurance companies to improve predictions of damage and apply accurate premiums.

In the field of telecommunications, drones may be used in radio-planning and line-of-sight (LoS) testing between radio towers, for example to identify obstructions (such as trees or buildings) and determine power needs. Drones are also predicted to be used for broadcasting telecommunication signals, such as radio, television, and internet in both permanent and temporary roles.

For the future of high-tech farming practices, Drones will allow farming to become a highly data-driven industry, which eventually will lead to an increase in productivity and yields. Due to their ease of use and low cost, drones can be used for producing time series animations showing the precise development of a crop.

Future uses of drones for site security monitoring and safety management are highly promising and attractive.
The data gathered by UAVs will be instantly processed in the cloud, providing complete scene recognition supplementing human supervision, thanks to motion sensing and biometrics-based behavior analysis, as well as facial recognition.

UAVs will create systems enabling mass surveillance, where potential threats can be identified and data is immediately transmitted to response teams.

Whether drones are controlled by a remote or accessed via a smartphone app, they possess the capability of reaching the most remote areas with little to no manpower needed and require the least amount of effort, time, and energy. This is one of the biggest reasons why they are being adopted worldwide, especially by these four sectors: Military, Commercial, Personal, and Agriculture/Farming.

More to Learn

The technological potential and future uses of drones seem limitless with drones progressing into more and more sectors and fields of our economy. Their future advancement and mass adoption is yet to be determined and further explored, which is why BI Intelligence has spent months compiling the greatest and most detailed collection on drone technology called The Drones Report: Market Forecasts, key players and use cases, and regulatory barriers to the proliferation of drones.

To get the full report, subscribe to an All-Access pass to BI Intelligence and gain immediate access to this report and more than 250 other expertly researched reports. As an added bonus, you’ll also gain access to all future reports and daily newsletters to ensure you stay ahead of the curve and benefit personally and professionally. >> Learn More Now

You can also purchase and download the full report from our research store.



Drones in action (2)


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