Drones have slowly become a fun device that individuals can fly around like a high-tech toy. They can be used to take fascinating videos, scout new areas, and even deliver packages through sites like Amazon. In the few years since their release, they’ve been found useful by dozens of leading industries from security to agriculture.

As their popularity increases, companies pop up to provide unmanned aerial vehicles for both commercial and corporate use. Until recently, the use of these drones was limited to handheld controls. The future of drones, however, lies in artificial intelligence.

Understanding Drones

Before discussing how AI will be integrated into UAVs, we first have to ask ourselves, “What is a drone?” Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, are a form of aircraft that require no human pilot. They require a ground-based controller, someone to use that controller, and a system of communication between the controller and the plane.

While earlier models were much larger in stature, the planes most individuals are familiar with today are made of a light composite material and compact. They come in all shapes and sizes but usually rely on a couple of helicopter-like propellers to ascend.

Commercial drones are often fitted with a camera capable of taking either pictures or videos and are widely used to survey hiking trails or take aerial mages for fun. Often times, advanced technologies such as GPS positioning and return home features are added to make them more usable.

Adding to their technological features, drones rely on Gyro Stabilization for smooth flight against wind currents, and the ability to relay real-time information to a smart device. Internal compasses are also used to aid drones in their “return to home” feature, which allows them to fly back to the user in the event of a signal loss.

While the answer to “What are drones?” might seem like a complex mix of technology, the most critical aspect to remember about them is their many uses. Whether it is for fun or military operations, their ability to capture data comes in handy on all sorts of occasions.

Analyzing Data

Capturing data via drone allows individuals to analyze all sorts of data. The real estate market uses this method of data capturing to:

  • Improve estimates
  • Create designs
  • Track building progress
  • And report on worksites

The same can be said for several industries and the factors they wish to monitor and better control. The agricultural industry, for instance, now uses drones to monitor the health of their crops. This information is vital to the future success of these industries, and drones provide a cost-effective way to gather and analyze it.

However, the prospect of paying workers to man these drones is something that several companies are looking to change. If the drones can fly themselves, then this vital information can be gathered more efficiently. That’s where artificial intelligence comes into play.

Understanding AI

The realm of artificial intelligence is still considered unknown territory. While advances are rapidly being made, the world is still a long way off from fully functioning, autonomous robots as you might expect from Hollywood movies.

There’s a genuine concern that giving robots the ability to think for themselves could result in potentially dangerous situations. While the world of science fiction creates compelling stories, it is important to remember that it is only fiction and not the actual future of drones.  

Aside from sci-fi movies and novels, many also fear the use of AI in military machines. Drones have already been equipped with weapons such as shotguns, grenade launchers, and flamethrowers for unmanned combat scenarios. However, real-world use for truly autonomous drones is far less frightening.

One of the most advanced UAVs to date is only capable of adapting to its surrounding in order to figure out a flight path. The machine was tested in various aerial obstacle courses where it learned to correct its flight pattern through trial and error, similar to how a Roomba figures out where it can sweep the floor in a home. By crashing into obstacles, the AI system learns to fly around them.

Researchers in the field of artificial intelligence are interested in utilizing this robotic understanding to gather data for scientific research. Analyzing wildlife with these machines is far less invasive than a human-made expedition into their habitats, targeting weeds in a field of crops then applying pesticide with a robot saves immense costs for farmers, and exploring hard to reach locations is made easier thanks to this technology.

The ability to provide real-time data via an autonomous robot relies on an area of AI called Machine Learning. A robot only has to be smart enough to navigate on its own while sending its user data that can be analyzed or, in the case of commercial drones, used for fun.

Implementing AI into Drones

While some the more innovative advancements are decades away, you can expect to see AI technologies implemented in various commercial drones. The number of applications is only limited by your imagination, but here are some of the top uses people are excited about.

Sporting Events

The world of BMX has readily embraced the use of drones to help record races and stunts in a way that a stationary cameraman simply cannot. By allowing these drones to fly themselves, footage can be taken in ways previously thought impossible.

Imagine viewing a dirt bike race from the point of view positioned right next to the racers, which would be made possible by drones having previously learned the layout of the racetrack. The same could be possible for car and horse races, giving spectators a never before seen view of their favorite events.

Hockey, football, baseball and more can also benefit from machine learning capabilities. New coverage of these events could shed light on previously hard to determine calls by referees, as well as provide new angles to make you feel as if you’re right there on the field.

With the help of AI, drones would instinctively know to keep a minimal distance from players while staying close enough to the action to capture the best shots imaginable. While sports may be part of the future of drones, this is only one realm of application.

Speedy Delivery

Amazon has already begun using drones to deliver packages, but this pales in comparison to what AI can do for you in the future. As machine learning progresses, both the cost and time of deliveries decreases. Companies have quickly recognized the benefits of drone technology and are eager to hop on board this new trend.

Domino’s recently tested out a pizza delivery drone, which flew two large pizzas to a customer four miles away from the store in a mere ten minutes. Yes, the pizzas were still hot when they arrived despite being flown in.

A San Francisco startup is also looking into the benefits of fast food delivery with a drone that could deliver their tacos to residents all over the city. Cutting out the driving time through dense city traffic would save employees thousands of dollars in gasoline each year while keeping customers as satisfied as ever.

Sending Aid and Enforcing Law

The Federal Highway Administration is working with the Georgia Department of Transportation to develop a drone that monitors traffic via cameras and laser mapping. Its purpose is to alert officials of accidents, allowing rescue vehicles to respond in a timelier manner.

At the same time, its ability to monitor traffic jams would provide real-time alerts for commuters and travelers. Similar drones are already used by law enforcement agencies to crack down on traffic violations, which can take a photo of your license plate and send you a speeding ticket. Law enforcement also uses these drones in search parties for lost hikers.

Drones and You

All of these applications are fascinating news for the future of drones, but how could an AI system work for you? While you could theoretically use them for whatever you would like, here are a few exciting ideas.

  • Take aerial footage of your home to put it up for sale
  • Map out a trail the day before a big hike
  • Pick up groceries from a nearby supermarket
  • Locate a lost pet
  • See if the community pool is overcrowded
  • Deliver a letter to a nearby relative
  • Locate a new park for a picnic or walk
  • Explore a nearby abandoned building
  • Check out nearby traffic routes before work
  • See how dangerous last night’s snowstorm really was

These are just a few useful ideas, and the possibilities are near endless. The future of drones is a bright one, and their helpful benefits will provide hours of fun as well as vital research and societal benefits.

As machine learning and AI further develop, who knows what drones might be capable of in the near future. One thing is for sure, however. They’re about to become ten times more fun than they already are.