It was a December day, early summer in Australia. Two busloads of schoolchildren had just splashed into the water at Secret Harbour, a beach on the Indian Ocean, when a drone swooped down from the sky and issued a deafening order to clear the water. The drone, equipped with vision-recognition technology, had identified a 10-foot shark swimming in a zigzag pattern just 100 yards from the beach.
Half a world away, in Rwanda, delivery drones ferry life-saving packages of blood and vaccines across the mountains of Central Africa to remote medical clinics. The flying machines automatically text the clinics when they’re two minutes away. Upon arrival, they drop their deliveries from 40 feet up and then promptly turn around and zip back to their home base, or “nest.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., expanding legions of drones monitor pipelines and bridges for signs of corrosion to head off catastrophic accidents.
As drones grow stronger, faster and smarter, new iterations seem to be emerging month by month — each one designed and trained for a different vocation. They’re going way beyond their initial work in the military or meteorology, and plowing into delivery and logistics, the energy industry and farming. Much of this growth is being fueled by artificial intelligence. AI enables the newest generation of drones to not only perceive data, but also to interpret and act on it.
Michal Mazur, who heads Drone-Powered Solutions for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, predicts that business services involving drones will soar above $100 billion by the early 2020s. “They’re getting smarter every month,” he says.