20 March, 2017

Drones set to transform businesses

Connected and mobile machines will increase productivity, with cloud management providing a safe platform.

Drones set to transform businesses
REUTERS/Charles Platiau
20 March 2017
The market for connected and mobile robots is growing fast. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) are set to transform many industries, diminishing the need for human intervention in repetitive, dangerous or physically demanding tasks.

This digitisation will help finance leaders by providing much better visibility on inventories or operational progress, in turn leading to significant cost reductions and improvements in productivity.

Connected machines revolutionise logistics

When top retailer Walmart announced in 2016 that it would soon start using drones to manage inventory at its warehouses, it put the spotlight on the increasing use of drones in logistics and supply chain management.

The drones used by the U.S. giant can take up to 30 pictures per second and can transmit the information immediately. This translates to a considerable reduction in the number of employees required to perform this task, and significantly shortens the process: one day only against the typical month for the traditional manual method, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, AGVs are already a reality in many factories, distribution centres and warehouses. The market is booming, and with an annual growth rate of 10.9 percent, should reach U.S.$7bn by 2022, Market Research Store predicts.

Connected machines will become real allies for the digital transformation of businesses. By 2025, advanced robots will allow productivity gains of up to 30 percent across several sectors, a recent study by  Boston Consulting Group (BCG) revealed.

Drones buzzing in the GCC

In the GCC, the commercial use of UAVs is generating a lot of interest. The UAE even has its own drones award: The UAE Drones for Good Award hopes to encourage the use of drones in creative ways to contribute to society.

In 2016, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) revealed that there were at least 400 registered drones, used for commercial operations such as mapping, security surveillance and wildlife surveys, as well as for environment, transport, agricultural and maritime purposes.

"The key benefits with the use of drones include the need for less man power. In the example of filming, no cameraman is required and when filming from heights, no pilot is needed. There is also an ability to reach different angles and heights with ease and without further expense such as the need for helicopters etc. which is particularly beneficial for viewing construction progress," says Amna Qureshi, technology, media and telecommunications associate with Al Tamimi & Company.

Qureshi notes drones can also accelerate some processes and make them more efficient, which is why businesses are increasingly looking at them for delivery, amongst other areas.

"Drones also have the potential to access remote areas for conservation, monitoring or delivery of goods where vehicles may struggle to access or may otherwise be uneconomical," she says.

Challenges ahead

For drones and other connected machines or robots to become ubiquitous requires a solid regulatory framework.

In October 2016, Dubai International Airport was closed due to unauthorised drone activity in the surrounding airspace, resulting in millions of dollars of losses for the economy.

This is despite the use of drones being regulated in the UAE. "To use a drone, you must be licensed by the GCAA and comply with the safety and privacy standards. Operating a drone without a license can result in serious penalties, including imprisonment and a large fine," remarks Qureshi.

She adds that there are also privacy concerns regarding the photographing of persons without consent.

There are technological hurdles too. When businesses operate fleets of drones or AGVs, there could be tens of thousands of programmable connected and mobile machines devices in operation everywhere, which could cause chaos if their security is compromised.

Furthermore, how will the huge amount of data gathered by these machines be efficiently used and safely guarded?

Automation will be key. The cloud will be essential to provide a safe, efficient and collaborative platform for the management of UAVs and AGVs. 

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