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Key use cases for drones in your city

Written by Olivier Usher

December 15, 2017

There are many, many uses that drones can be put to. Some are happening already, like fire brigades inspecting the sites of fires. Others are more speculative, such as widespread use for delivering packages or transporting passengers. These uses cover a wide range of different types of drone, from fixed wing drones that look much like aeroplanes, to multicopters and even tilt-wing aircraft. There are different sizes from drones that can easily be carried by a person to drones big enough to carry a person.

There are also different broad categories that drones’ uses can fall into, outlined in our recent publication, Use Cases for Drones in Your City. These are monitoring, inspecting, transporting goods, transporting people and intervening. We have now drawn up a shortlist of uses that we think are particularly compelling. This isn’t just a list of the uses we think are most likely or most impactful. Rather, we have aimed to gather a broad and representative sample, ensuring examples from each of the five categories of use, covering drones of all different sizes, with both commercial and public service uses, and uses that apply to hazardous and challenging environments.

Within these constraints, we have highlighted the specific use cases that we consider to have significant economic or social impact, are likely to be technically feasible, and/or have engendered significant interest from cities or companies. We’ve also combined, where appropriate, uses from the longlist in Use Cases for Drones in Your City that are relatively similar, or which might be combined in future (for instance, monitoring railways and power lines; or both identifying and repairing roads).

Between now and the close of the open call, we will publish further details on each of these use cases, the key benefits and risks they entail, and how they might pan out in the more distant future. We’ll have the first batch of these published here next week, and the rest early in the new year.

Our list is not, of course final – if there is a use case that you or your city are particularly interested in which is not listed here, let us know. If there is significant interest, we can add it to the list.

Without further ado, the use cases we have shortlisted are:

1. Tackle Air Pollution

Test and assess the concentration of polluting gases and particles in the air to determine pollutant emission levels from a known source, such as a flue-gas stack, or to determine air quality in a designated area, such as a residential neighbourhood.

2. Map fires

Identify, locate, and model fires in relation to surrounding and nearby areas to help assess fire size and intensity, anticipate hazards and predict fire progress, inform fire-fighting and evacuation decisions, and manage active fire-fighting operations.

3. Manage Marine Ports

Watch for and respond to changes in ports by testing water quality, tracking and communicating with incoming and outgoing vessels, providing marine pilot services to large ships, and policing waters for unauthorized anchorage.

4. Oversee Construction Sites

Map, survey, and supervise active construction sites to track project progress, identify unanticipated factors leading to scope change, spot hazards, and monitor the health and safety of workers on site.

5. Explore Hazardous Environments

Collect spatial, material and environmental data to support the modelling and inspection of places dangerous for in-person observation, such as condemned or damaged buildings, nuclear power plants, sewers, or pipelines.

6. Inspect Large Infrastructure

Collect spatial, material and environmental data to support the modelling and inspection of infrastructure that is difficult, expensive or dangerous to inspect otherwise due to factors like height, proximity to high-traffic urban areas, or position over water or within sensitive environments.

7. Respond to Traffic Accidents

Attend to traffic accidents to assess victim health, support first responders with medical supply delivery, collect accident data and map crash scenes, and remove crash debris once investigation is complete.

8. Upgrade Road Networks

Identify and inspect potholes, spot debris and other on-road hazards, monitor traffic congestion and response to current signals and signage, and track progress of roadworks as part of a ‘smart road network’ strategy.

9. Maintain Utilities

Examine critical utilities infrastructure like power lines, pipelines, railways, and flood-control waterways to improve early detection of faults that could lead to interrupted service or compromised systems.

10. Supply Hospitals

Deliver critical materials between hospitals such as organs or blood, test samples, or urgent medical supplies quickly and efficiently while minimizing risks associated with ground transport and traffic congestion.

11. Deliver Goods

Deliver goods from a central vendor warehouse directly to the homes of consumers who placed product orders, either by making one-at-a-time trips or delivering multiple orders to several homes in one trip, and possibly providing product return services.

12. Transport People

Transport passengers between variable locations, offering a door-to-door service that meets safety requirements as well as passengers’ needs for safety, capacity, efficiency, and convenience.

13. Boost Mobile Networks

Improve the capacity and speed of mobile networks and mobile internet in areas with sudden and temporary high demand due to crowds, as in the case of large festivals or public events.

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Written by Olivier Usher

December 15, 2017