Autonomous Drone Challenge

Drones At Work
Drones are going mainstream. Though its expected use for deliveries hasn't panned out, here are some common applications:
  • Surveys - Want to repaint your office building or high rise? Likely, the painter will use a drone to inspect the building to scope the work more accurately. The drone can be used to document the state of the building including surface condition, water marks, cracks, moss, the presence of pigeons etc.
  • Surveillance - During the height of recent lockdowns, some locales had police drones asserting a presence and reminding people to not venture out unless necessary. It was effective, people on the street were generally spooked by the black, foreboding drones and had also assumed their images were being recorded for possible further enforcement action.
  • Videography - For long, drones have been used for sweeping, overhead shots for events, news, movies & video productions.
  • Others - Other increasing uses of drones are for agriculture (tree counting, fertiliser and pest control application), forestry (tree counting, land usage), facilities management (tower and powerline inspections) and checks (construction work-in-progress).

Autonomous Drones
The use casess we listed in the previous section require human operation: an on-ground operator must guide the drone and instruct it to collect data etc. The next frontier is autonomous drones. Imagine:
  • Surveys - Say, an operator takes two hours to survey a building: he travels to the site, launch the drone, and flies it around the building to survey it. If the drone can be autonomous, he would travel to the site, launch the drone and come back in two hours to retrieve it, while moving on to survey other sites in the meantime.
  • Surveillance - Manual surveillance needs skill and is extremely labour intensive. Imagine autonomous drones that can be instructed to carry out independent patrols. A possible useful application is night flying drones that use infrared to spot illegal burning (of plastics, waste etc). Some locales are regularly smothered by toxic fumes (children are especially vulnerable) at night by illegal, stealth burning. In this scenario, while residents sleep, drones can be hard at work keeping them safe.

Drone Competition
  • As with autonomous vehicles, autonomous drones have immense potential. To further this emerging field, Abu Dhabi is holding a maritime drone challenge with a bounty of USD 3 million.
  • The challenge is for drones to autonomously fly, spot and report rogue sea vessels (pirates, illegal fishing boats, traffickers, smugglers, dumpers, intruders). Closing date is Dec 30th, 2021.