Sunday, December 13, 2015

Drones: Mandatory for Business?

Recently I gave a class about Drones for Business Applications at the IE (Instituto de Empresa) of Madrid (Spain) as part of the IT Management & Digital Innovation Program. IE is one of the most important Business Schools, with 27 offices around the world. 

The participants attending to the class were professionals from different important companies. Professional people with different perspectives around the uses of drones and their applications, since what matter most for companies, as potential customers of this technology, is to have results that give them real added value to solve problems or take decisions as quickly as possible, at the lowest cost and with the less possible complexity.

Drones are fashionable nowadays and lot of people try to sell the idea that drones could do almost anything, but drones are not always the solution. In some cases even being a possible solution, other factors such as laws limitations, costs or risks could make drones not to be the appropriate solution. At the time of deciding if drones technology could help us, I suggest to ask ourselves the following questions:
  1. What problem do we need to solve?
  2. Is drones technology the unique, easiest, cheapest, fastest, less risky and feasible way to solve the problem?
  3. If so, is it better to buy a drone, or to contract a service company?

The first question and how to deal it is critical. For instance, if you are a farmer and your crop production is nice for you, apparently you do not have any problem, but what happens if there are new ways to improve your production and you do not do anything to use them (possibly because you do not know them), you may have a potential problem, because other farmers will use this new ways to have a competitive advantage over you. This will allows them to reduce prices or to improve the quality. We live in a competitive world and to know the state of the art and ways to continue being competitive is a key task of any company. In the case of farmers, technology give them tools to do what is called “Precision Agriculture”: a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops. With the use of drones and multispectral cameras, it is possible to acquire and process images to derive maps of crop biophysical parameters. Also with wireless sensors networks is possible to measure parameters like temperature (air/soil), humidity (air/soil/leaf), wind or stem diameter [1]. Connecting this information with other databases, about climate statistics and other historical information, mixing everything in a cocktail, and calling it Big Data, we could get crucial information that can significantly reduce the amount of nutrients and other crop inputs used while boosting yields. Farmers thus obtain a return on their investment by saving on phytosanitary and fertilizer costs. This is just an example on how technology could give a competitive advantage.

The second question is also a key point. Nowadays that drones are so fashionable, it seems that they could solve all our problems, but maybe there are other ways to approach issues, may be simplest, cheapest, or just less risky. For instance, if you are thinking on the use of drones in cities, to ensure the delivery of urgent parcels for Christmas in less than half an hour instead of the day after, why drones are supposed to be so important for that? I receive my warm pizza at home in half an hour and I do not need a drone for that. 

In the case of the third question my opinion is always the same: If having your own drone and working with it is not your core business, then contract a specialized drone service company. They will do better, with lower economic impact. They will take the risks, maintain their own drones, prepare all the legal documentation and take care of the logistics; to sum up, give you what you need: The added value for your business. Do not waste your time and money trying to introduce this kind of technology in your operations if someone else could do it with less problems, without a learning curve and faster. The money you pay for the service will worth you the effort.

Written by: Alejandro Alonso-Puig. HISPAROB Robotics Platform Vicepresident, IXION Industry & Aerospace MR Systems Manager and Quark Robotics Partner.

[1] Precision agriculture. Wikipedia.