What are drones used for answered here in this comprehensive list. First we look at the broad uses for drones in the various sectors. Then we list how drones are been used in specific sectors.
The drone industry is growing fast and every week we see press releases and research papers on new ways drones are being used.
The usage of drones in some of these sectors was originally completed using helicopters and airplanes. These are expensive to hire and were not always available when they were required.
Using helicopters and airplanes is also very time consuming as they have to fly in from another locations and then do their work.
Along with present uses for drones, we also list the drone uses which are still in the experimental and research stages. You will also see many hundreds of new uses for drones in the coming years and the reason why. There are also some terrific videos throughout this post.
What Are Drones Used For – Broad Categories
- Film making
- Site surveying
- Parcel Deliveries
- Imaging structures
- Precision agriculture
- Family Fun Occasions
- Lighting Concerts Shows
- Counting Stockpiles
- Search and rescue
- Weather patterns
Hundreds Of New Drone Uses Are Coming
If you follow the drone industry, you will read about so many new uses for drones every week. A few years ago, ordinary cameras were the only payload mounted onto drones.
Not any more. Now, we have Thermal, Multispectral, Vision, ToF, LiDAR and Photogrammetry camera sensors being mounted onto drones creating new uses for drones. These are creating new solutions across various sectors.
Just in the past week, an article was published on how researchers are looking at developing methane sensors for drones. This will allow drones to fly over landfill dumps and monitor the levels of gas being emitted into the atmosphere. From this data, new solutions can be developed to create a cleaner environment.
So many sectors are benefiting from the user of drones whether they are commercial, conservation or environmental works. In many sectors such as mining and quarrying, they save time and more importantly they are a safer way of surveying structures, buildings or quarry faces. So, no need to put workers into hazardous or dangerous areas.
Drones With New Sensors And Transducers
There are hundreds of various types of sensors and transducers which can be mounted onto drones. New sensors are being developed all the time. In other instances, there is huge research in making sensors and transducers smaller to fit onto drones.
There are many types of transducers such as gravitational, mechanical, thermal, electromagnetic and chemical. These can be mounted individually or combined. Sometimes it is the combinations of sensors working together which will bring about many new uses for drones.
One of the best small book on sensors and transducers is called “Sensors, An Introductory Course“. It is excellent knowledge on the various types of sensors and their applications. The next few years are going to be total groundbreaking years for the drone sector and new solutions to everyday problems.
Drone Uses In Specific Areas
Drone Uses – Search
Drone usage in search and rescue is growing rapidly. Here are just a few of these positive uses for drones;
- Research into heavy payload drones to drop lifebuoys to swimmers who are in trouble
- Life Guards use drones over beaches keeping an eye on swimmers and watching out for sharks
- Finding missing persons. Neighbors and communities have found missing persons using drones
- Mountain and Search and Rescue teams (SAR) use drones to find hikers and mountaineers in trouble
- Disaster regions use drones to get an overall picture of the extent of damage, find people and allocate resources
- Police, Fire Crew and Rescue teams use drones with thermal cameras to find missing persons at night or in burning buildings
Drone Uses – Marketing
Drone today have GPS, the best stabilization and also 4k cameras. They film and photograph perfectly which is exactly what you need for marketing videos and brochures. Here is some of the best usage of drones in the marketing sector.
- Drone tourism videos promoting top national parks and reserves
- Resort and hotel promotional videos and stills for brochures
- Overhead videos of homes and properties to assist sales
- Natural wonders and UNESCO site documentaries
- Event videos of gardens, shows and concerts
- Sales Of Automobiles with aerial videos
Marketing and advertisement is so important for any business to grow. To be able to produce professional quality aerial film and still photos cost effectively is extremely important. Using a drone such as the DJI Inspire 1 will allow you create professional marketing material over and over.
Drone Uses – Professional Film Making
You don’t need to spend a fortune to produce absolute stunning videos or films. The drones in the past couple of years come with minimum 4k cameras and perfect flight stability. They are being used to create scenes in many movies and TV productions. DJI, Yuneec and Walkera to name a few are all producing top drones which output stunning quality film.
One of the best and yet affordable professional film making drones has to be the DJI Inspire 2. This was released a few months ago and was produced specifically for professional quality film making.
It comes also with a ground gimbal so you can film all your film shots with it’s CineCore 2.0 image processing system which is capable of recording 5.2K videos in CinemaDNG.
Below is an excellent short film which was created 100% by using the DJI Inspire 2 drone and ground gimbal which comes in 1 package.
Drone Uses – Construction / Building Site Surveying
This is a vast area where drones are presently being used across many sectors. Drones are terrific for getting an overview and close ups of buildings and structures. Drones are also a safer method of inspecting tall structures. No need to send men up in a harness or scaffolding to inspect a roof, structure or building.
Drones save loads of time as no there is no need to build scaffolding to survey a building or structure. More importantly using drones for many surveying work also saves employees from having to take on the responsibility of dangerous work.
Drones are presently being used to survey all the following large building projects and maintenance works;
- Surveying factory buildings and industrial chimneys
- Detailed close up inspections of telecom masts
- Checking fences and agricultural buildings
- Maintenance of road and rail structures
- Road and highway building projects
- Major railway building works
- Laying of pipelines
This is probably the biggest usage for commercial drones at present. Site surveying moves across many sectors such as construction, mining, rail, forestry and parks to mention a few.
Drone Uses – Parcel / Medicine Delivery Service
This area is constantly in the news. We’ve seen drones being used to deliver pizza and Amazon are always releasing information about their Prime Air Delivery Project. There are so many big Postal companies across Europe and Asia which are trialing drone parcel deliveries.
In the USA, Walmart are also testing drone deliveries. With all these big names testing and pushing, drones being used to deliver parcels is more than likely going to happen across countryside and cities.
Drones are already been used to deliver essential medical products right across Rwanda. The Zipline drone uses a small UAV to deliver blood products, vaccines and medicine. The medical worker can place an order by text message and within minutes the UAV is on it’s way.
Flying at 100 kilometers per hour it goes straight to it’s destination and deliveries the essential supplies. The parcel has a small parachute which is deployed when the parcel is released with the medical supplies landing safely.
Drone Usage – Imaging Structures
There are perhaps thousands of statues, monuments and structures which don’t have an accurate 3D Image. For example, in 2015, Pix4D, together with Canadian drone manufacturer Aeryon Labs Inc and PUC University of Rio de Janeiro created the first accurate 3D model of Brazil’s most famous monument, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
The drone used automated flight plan using GPS and waypoints while at the same time taking thousands of photographs. These photos were then stitched together into an accurate 3D model of the statue using Pix4D software.
Here is a terrific article about Photogrammetry and Lidar mapping. This next video shows you the massive project under difficult weather conditions to accurately create the 3D model of the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Drone Uses – Agriculture
For the past few years now, drone use on farms from livestock to crops and vines have been benefiting the farmer immensely. Multispectral sensors on drones along with GPS waypoint navigation enable the owner to manage the farm more effectively in the following ways;
- Provide data on soil fertility to refine fertilization by detecting deficiencies
- Identify pests, disease and weeds. Optimize pesticide usage through early detection
- Help with land management as multispectral imagery will show whether crops need to be rotated in fields
- Control crop irrigation by identifying areas where water stress is suspected and if extra drainage or water is needed
- View damage to crops from farm machinery and make repairs or replace problematic machinery
- Count plants and determine spacing issues allowing estimation of crop yield
- Monitor livestock and also find sheep or cattle if lost
- Survey fencing and farm buildings
Drones To Help Pollinate Plants
Researchers in Japan have created small insect sized drones which can pollinate plants. This will assist with indoor pollination and assist the real honeybee population.
Drone Use – Family Occasions / Events
While many people today focus on all the commercial, environmental and conservation uses for drones, it has to be remembered that these drones are also tremendous fun. It’s another item to pack along with the picnic basket and outdoor trip.
Drones are easier than ever to fly and have many autonomous flight modes which allow you to concentrate on filming.
Many drones come with follow me technology which make adventure filming so very easy.
All the top drones have GPS, 4k cameras and have excellent stabilization which allow you to create professional videos and still shots. Drones such as the DJI Mavic and Phantom 4 Pro are just so easy to fly and film with. These come with inbuilt cameras and autonomous flight modes.
One of the best drones on the market has to be the DJI Phantom 4 Pro. This drone has so many autonomous flight modes that it practically flies itself. These flight modes including follow me, collision avoidance, terrain follow and many more.
A number of wedding planners are now using drones for some of the outdoor scenes. It’s an extra memory from the biggest day in many peoples lives.
For most drone owners, there is a challenge to capture some beautiful scenery or great adventure. Many of the best drone videos of beautiful scenery have been made by hobby drone pilots who just love been outdoors flying and having fun.
Drone Uses – Synchronized Drone Light Concerts
This is a new form of art entertainment and there have been a number of drone light show concerts to date. This new form of light show may in fact take over from fireworks displays. Here is a list of the some of the top drone light shows to date.
Intel are the big name so far as they have put together shows with 300 to 500 drones in the air at any time. The drone light shows are syncronized to music. They are absolutely terrific events. Here is just a few;
- 300 Drones Created An American Flag For The 2017 Super Bowl Halftime Show
- Sky Magic Drone Entertainment Show At Mount Fuji
- Starbright Holidays Drone Show at Disney Springs
- Intel’s 500 Drone Light Show in Sydney
What Are Drones Used For Continued
Drone Uses – Counting Stockpiles / Aggregate Numbers
Drones with either LiAR or Time-of-Flight sensors can be used to measure stockpiles of material such as stone, gravel, rock, pulp, paper, logs, wood chip, mulch, manure and much more.
This is how it works. A drone with ToF sensor flies over the stockpile and captures the area in 3D with a single light pulse. The light pulse is measured in picoseconds (extremely fast).
This data is automatically uploaded into cloud storage. Next, the data is processed using specialized software and the aggregate of the stockpile can be presented in a couple of minutes, including the perimeter, area and volume of each stockpile. More detailed information of the stockpile is then generated over the next few hours.
Stockpile density and cost factors can be entered to calculate stockpile weight and value which is required for stockpile inventory reports. Even odd shaped stockpiles against walls can be measured using Time-of-Flight sensors.
Using drones to measure stockpiles is big for many industries such as
- Forestry and Logging
- Road Construction & Maintenance
- Railway Construction & Maintenance
Here is an excellent article about Time-of-Flight cameras on drones. It is relatively new technology and has many terrific uses.
Without using Time-of-Flight sensors, drones have been used with ordinary cameras by towns to count the wild cat and dog populations to see how big the problem is. Another community used drones to fly over areas which had a big problem with illegal dumping of waste and was able to take action using this data.
Drone Uses – Search and Rescue (SAR)
Drones are perfect to be used in all types of search and rescue such as;
- Finding missing persons
- Avalanche watch on ski slopes
- Surveying parks and knowing where hikers are located
- Searching and surveying disaster zones after earthquakes, flooding and hurricanes
- Fire departments are using drones to fly over burning building to see the full extent of the fire
- Thermals cameras on drones can be used to see the temperature a fire is generating even when it looks out
- Drones using thermal cameras can be used during the night to find missing persons and also work in disaster zones
The DJI Inspire 1 is being used in many SAR operations as it can be fitted with the Flir Thermal Cameras and has options for zoom cameras.
Drone Uses – Weather Patterns
In areas affected by Tornadoes, researchers are working with drones to measure the lower atmosphere. They hope to be able to give earlier warning announcements well before the Tornado strikes. Oklahoma Researchers are expecting weather drones to help forecasters predict weather patterns more precisely allowing tornado warnings to be given anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes earlier.
Presently, meteorologists use radar, satellites and balloons to check conditions in the upper and middle atmosphere. However, conditions at the lower atmosphere where we live are observed by instruments and people which puts their lives at risk.
Drones Uses – Conservation And Environment
Drones and it’s sensor data driven technology have a wide range of conservation and environmental protection applications. From glacial feature modeling and erosion monitoring to animal counting and species identification, the list of projects which drones are being used for is long and continues to grow.
There are many reasons why professionals such as environmental engineers and scientific researchers are increasingly using drones. The benefits to using drones in environmental and conservation projects is many. Here is just a few of the types of conservation and environmental projects were drones are being used;
Animal Management & Conservation
- Nest surveys
- Migration tracking
- Habitat management
- Species identification
- Perimeter assessment
- Animal/flock counting
- Camera trap image retrieval
- Vessel monitoring (e.g. whaling ships)
- Anti-poaching activities (identification, deterrence)
- Animal tracking (e.g. via radio tracker collars/triangulation)
- Soil property & moisture analysis
- Growth/coverage monitoring
- Plant health/stress analysis
- Species identification
- Biomass estimation
- Plant/tree counting
- Forest mapping
- Biomass estimation
- Fire detection & tracking
- Vegetation health analysis
- Storm damage assessment
- Planting / re-planting campaign planning
- Deforestation / illegal logging / farming / incursion monitoring
- Pre and post comparisons of storms and landslides
- Monitoring coastal and soil erosion
- Forest degradation
- Glacial dynamics
- Volcano craters
- Glacial features
- River banks
- Cliff faces
- Volume estimation
- Erosion monitoring
- Storm damage assessment
- Beach replenishment planning
River & flood assessment
- Flood damage assessment
- River mapping & modeling
- Flood defense planning
- Water-flow simulation
- Erosion monitoring
- River surveys
Earthwork And Rock Face Management
- 3D modeling
- Control screen inspection
- Crack / unstable area detection
- Rock fall assessment
- Project planning
- Illegal activity detection & monitoring
- Compliance monitoring (e.g. over fishing, illegal logging and entry into protected areas etc.)
Drones Used For Environmental And Conservation Works
One of the big names and most popular drones for use in environment and conservation work is the SenseFly eBee. It is a long range drone and can carry multiple sensors such as RGB cameras, Near-infrared (NIR), red-edge (RED), multispectral and also thermal cameras.
There are many other drones which can also do this work. If you know your project completely, then you will know the type of drone and sensors which you need for the project.
Drones Uses – Insurance
Insurance companies are now using drones to help access damage to buildings from fire, flooding or from heavy winds. Drones may also be used to fly over car and rail accidents to also access the damage and to assist with the claims process.
- Accessing damage to buildings and structures
- Maybe be used around accident areas to also access damage costs
- Insurance companies are also now starting to insure commercial drones
Drone Use – Policing
Drones are far more cheaper and are more widely available than police helicopters. You will definitely see more drones being used by police forces in the following ways;
- Survey and assist with crowd management at concerts and demonstrations
- Aerial views to assist with investigations into car and rail crashes
- Help as part of search and rescue to find missing persons
- Used in search and rescue in natural disaster areas
- May be used as part of community watch
Drone Uses – Sports
Drones are finding their way into so many aspects of sports. Here is just a few way drones are being used in sports;
- American Football teams analyzing strategy and play
- Drone racing league race events supported by ESPN
- Assisting athletes to analyse their running techniques
- Filming of extreme sporting events in scenic locations
- Excellent for filming water skiing and big wave surfing
- FIA World Rally Championships’ filmed for WRC+ TV