Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are growing in commercial popularity by leaps and bounds, and Goldman Sachs recently predicted businesses and civil governments will spend $13 billion on drones by 2020. From farming to filmmaking, there seems to be no shortage of resource-saving applications for commercial UAVs.
Until recently, most of these applications were exclusively outdoors. However, leading retailers like Amazon and Walmart are spearheading efforts to bring commercial unmanned aerial vehicles inside.
While indoor environments may not offer the same freedom of movement as the great outdoors, they do have plenty of logistical problems that drones can solve. These are a few of the most promising indoor applications proposed for UAVs.
Indoor Applications for Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Warehousing and Logistics
Amazon, UPS and other major shippers have created quite a bit of buzz over their plans for drone delivery. Before their big rollout, however, they may focus on using drones to improve logistics and maximize efficiency within their warehouses.
A variety of warehousing tasks can be made safer, faster and more efficient by replacing human workers with drones. Take inventory management, for instance. Instead of scanning thousands of RFID tags by hand—many of which are two or more stories high—a manager might program a UAV to automatically fly through a warehouse and scan at regular intervals. Likewise, UAVs could be used to efficiently locate misplaced palettes and items, cutting down on labor costs, loss and overdue deliveries.
Manufacturing Quality Control
Easily equipped with cameras and sensors, commercial unmanned aerial vehicles could find use in streamlining quality control processes on production lines. Oftentimes, finished or partially complete products must be routed to inspection stations, where either a human worker or machine vision system analyzes some component, fitting or finish. Instead, a drone could be programmed to fly directly to a given item and perform the inspections, which in turn saves space, labor and time.
Security and Law Enforcement
The military has long used drones to gain an eye in the sky, and law enforcement personnel may soon use UAVs for delicate indoor situations. In scenarios with shooters, hostages and even explosives, drones could help inspect the environment and make decisions from a distance. They might even be used to deliver pepper spray and other non-lethal weapons, allowing officers to handle the situation without harm.
Search and Rescue
Likewise, commercial unmanned aerial vehicles could help first responders stay safe while saving lives. Burning buildings and rubble piles pose significant risks to would-be rescuers, and fallen objects invariably restrict human movement. On the other hand, a fireproof drone can slip into small spaces and spot survivors, saving precious time.
Farmers are already using drones to assess crops and livestock, spray fertilizers and pesticides and monitor irrigation. These same tasks could be accomplished indoors with UAVs programmed for irrigation, fertilization and pest control in greenhouses.
Modern hospitals face a range of logistical challenges, from a shortage of staff to the delivery of medications and supplies to appropriate rooms. Commercial unmanned aerial vehicles could address both concerns by flying parcels from stockrooms to patient rooms, emergency rooms and even operating rooms. They might also use scanners and cameras to assess charts and determine what products need to be delivered, without intervention from doctors or nurses.
Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Challenges and Opportunities
With these proposed indoor applications of commercial UAVs come a host of challenges. Drones’ carrying capacities are often limited by size and battery life; spinning blades pose small but significant risks to personnel; and designers must find effective ways to enable autonomous flight.
At Switzer, we see these challenges as opportunities for innovation and growth. Our team strives to contribute to cutting-edge UAV applications by designing and manufacturing durable, high-precision metal parts. We understand that manufacturing UAV parts is a delicate process, which is why we use chemical etching to create lightweight, tight-tolerance components with prototype-to-production capabilities.
To learn more about the benefits of chemical etching in UAV design, download a free copy of our eBook, 3 Ways Chemical Etching Improves Your Metal Parts.