The season of drones as mere hobbyist devices seems to be permanently over. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have evolved into reliable autonomous robotics platforms for a number of corporate and commercial applications for manufacturing, warehousing, logistics, and more.

Some of the most promising business cases deal with the Internet of Things. According to Gartner, worldwide IoT enterprise drone shipments will grow at a CAGR of 24% in the next ten years, and the installed base will exceed 13 million units by 2029.

Drones are increasingly integrated as mobile endpoints into existing IoT networks, bypassing their physical limitations to enable innovative applications at their edge. In this kind of setting, a UAV could operate as a sort of mobile sensor to collect and transmit data from inaccessible or harsh locations: think of the opportunity of replacing potentially dangerous human inspections along pipelines, tower-based systems, or any other remote equipment. It might represent a simpler, safer, and more convenient way to monitor critical installments and provide information to schedule maintenance activities or device repairs only where and when needed.

Among publicly known projects, the New York Power Authority has recently introduced a drone-based solution for the live video inspection of its lines, refraining to use staff to fly by the lines in order to control them. The Authority is the largest state public power organization in the US and it operates more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines.

Similar needs push drones in the construction industry, followed by fire monitoring services and insurance companies. Over the next several years, all these domains are expected to double their use of drones. A survey conducted by Drone Industry Insights and published in the Drone Industry Barometer 2020 report, reveals inspection/maintenance is the top drone use case, as noted by 35% of drone service providers and 18% of business users, respectively. Other key uses included mapping, surveying, and photography or filming. Sixty percent of respondents said saving time is the most important benefit when adopting UAVs, closely followed by improving quality of monitoring activities (59%). Fifty-three percent said drones contribute to improving work safety.

Other possible applications relate to border controlling. As part of its maritime air surveillance services, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) has decided to use remote-controlled and long-ranged UAVs over the Mediterranean to identify boats loaded with migrants trying to reach Europe. The first tests will be carried out on the Greek island of Crete.

Agribusiness represents another relevant destination industry. Large farms relying on IoT-connected devices to gauge watering, soil quality, and other key metrics are now considering drone-borne sensor equipment to easily gather rich data such as infrared pictures and other aerial imagery.

Nevertheless, drones are a nascent industry, with a lot of room to grow, particularly in IoT environments. The future of UAVs will be driven by technology progress and integration, but most importantly by a mix of regulatory and business elements. In summarizing the top lessons learned about successful enterprise drone programs, Commercial UAV News highlighted that UAV adoption makes sense only when this technology fits the challenge of a specific organization or industry, it grants a satisfactory return on investment, and it is implemented within an agile and future proof infrastructure. And that’s not too far from critical success factors we experience in other IoT domains.