Commercial Drones Ramp Up in New Markets


Amazon and Wal-Mart may not be dropping off drone-delivered packages yet, but that’s not stopping the aircraft from pushing into a slew of emerging commercial markets. 

Drone use for mapping and data analysis is growing in industries such as oil and gas extraction, emergency services, insurance and real estate, according to a recent report by DroneDeploy, a cloud-based drone mapping and analytics platform.  

The San Francisco-based startup said more established drone-using sectors, such as surveying, construction, mining and agriculture, are also using the aircraft in new ways by integrating existing data into new maps and models to solve problems. Agronomists, for example, are comparing plant health maps from drones to soil data to improve fertilizer use. The construction industry is comparing 3D maps of a site’s conditions with design plans to ensure grading measurements are accurate.   

“Global adoption is growing explosively,” Chief Executive Officer Mike Winn said in a blog post. Winn said the number of acres around the world its software has mapped has more than doubled in the last four months, compared to when it began recording in late 2014. 

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 rule, which goes into effect Aug. 29, should only accelerate drone use, Winn said. The rule, announced in June, set regulations allowing for commercial drones under 55 pounds to operate in daylight if they’re flown below 400 feet in altitude and away from airports. It also lifted the requirement of a pilot’s license for drone operators and replaced it with a certification obtained through a written test. 

The FAA will open the waiver process for its new rule on Aug. 29, so commercial operators can apply to fly over people, at night and out of the line of sight.