Clarity from above: How can drones take business to the sky?
One of the newest initiatives of PwC’s Polish office is the Drone Powered Solutions team, which leverages Poland’s leading position in implementing a regulatory framework for the use of drones. That framework – the first in the world – has helped the country position itself in the forefront of the drone revolution, which is transforming industries worldwide. From its base in Poland, Drone Powered Solutions is helping PwC clients around the globe to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by this new technology. That in turn is helping to reinforce Poland’s position as a global centre of excellence for the development of commercial applications for unmanned aerial vehicles.
Drone technologies are revolutionising contemporary business
The IT revolution that began in the 1980s completely transformed the modern economy by enabling companies to re-engineer their operations. Today we are witnessing a comparable disruption, on a similar scale, as drone technologies upend business models and reshape industries ranging from agriculture to filmmaking. In the very near future, clients in all areas of the economy will begin to see the impact of drones on their operational processes – from the way they receive deliveries, to how they interact with their insurers.
UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) were used commercially for the first time in Japan at the beginning of the 1980s, when unmanned helicopters proved to be an efficient way of supplementing piloted helicopters to spray pesticides on rice fields. At that time, remote aircraft technology was expensive and cumbersome. Progress has surged forward in technological capabilities, regulations and investment support, providing many new possible applications.
Several features make drones superior in data collection services. First, they allow for faster gathering of data on certain objects. Second, data collected by drones are more precise and cheaper than those obtained using traditional methods. Finally, drones are perfect for performing tasks that are hazardous to human life and health. That is why even though drone technology was initially developed for military purposes, producers are today more focused on commercial applications.
Drones are becoming crucial assets in numerous industries
From its position in Poland, the Drone Powered Solutions team has charted how the application of drone technologies in existing business processes is allowing companies from various industries to create new business and operating models. Each industry has diverse needs, and as a consequence requires different types of drone-powered solutions, and various drone functionalities. Some of them value flight speed and payload capacity, while others wish to concentrate on solutions delivering high-quality, real-time data in a cost-effective way.
The total addressable value of drone powered solutions in all applicable industries is estimated by PwC at over $127bn.
In the case of infrastructure, key drone applications are investment monitoring, maintenance and asset inventory.
During the pre-construction phase, drones can improve the speed and quality of the design process. They are able to capture high-resolution video and images, enabling 3D modelling and providing data about a site’s initial status before work begins. In the construction phase, drones are perfect for quick surveys of sites. Investors can easily monitor progress by imposing overlays of plans onto photos of the actual state of construction, in addition to identifying discrepancies as small as 1 cm, and simultaneously verifying contractor reports. On the construction site, contractors can use accurate data gathered by drones to perform precise work such as positioning steel slabs in concrete or measuring the depth of pipelines. UAVs can be used also for final work assessment, environmental impact verification and reporting.
Maintenance is a fundamental part of infrastructure management. Today, most such work is based on in-person inspections, a slow and costly process that yields incomplete, poor-quality results. Not only can drones locate defects faster and more thoroughly, they can do so more cheaply and safely. To illustrate: a standard wind turbine inspection currently costs around $1,500 per tower; performing the same inspection using a drone cuts the cost by around 50%.
Drones can be also used in stocktaking and inventory management. Performing inventory assessments with UAVs allows companies to cut costs and accelerate the entire process, while providing more detailed information about the assets.
While initially the industry underestimated their utility, UAVs are starting to be used in a wide spectrum of transport activities. The Drone Powered Solution team forecasts that the industry will turn to drones for their speed, accessibility and low operating costs compared with other forms of transport that require human labour.
Drones enable fast delivery to a specific, predefined point, without much human action required. Such concepts have already gained the attention of the largest players, such as Amazon and Google. Amazon has been running Amazon Prime Air, which seeks to automate last-mile delivery of packages using small drones, able to reach a destination in 30 minutes whilst carrying a small parcel. Sending a 2-kg package within a 10 km radius in the US by ground transport costs Amazon $2 to $8, compared with just 10 cents using a drone. Google is also running a drone testing programme, Project Wing.
Another application for drones is in medical logistics. Last July, Flirtey, NASA and Virginia Tech received special FAA approval to perform the first official drone delivery of medication in the United States. Drones, unlike cars or motorcycles, are not subject to traffic delays, so samples can reach healthcare workers much faster, making it easier to maintain ideal storage conditions. A drone can also be summoned by a patient with heart attack symptoms; the device can reach the patient, travelling at speeds of 100 km/h, locate and identify him or her and then perform an automatic defibrillation.
However, one of the most promising uses of drones in transport may be food delivery. Using drones to deliver products such as frozen food, ready-to-eat dishes or even daily groceries from large chains may become be the next big thing in the food and restaurant industries.
In the insurance sector, there are three areas where drone operations can enhance an insurer’s procedures: risk monitoring, risk assessment and claims management (including fraud prevention).
An excellent example of drone applications in the insurance sector is their use in centres for monitoring areas exposed to natural disaster. By monitoring threatened areas, governments working with insurance companies can control the situation and alert local residents if an emergency arises. This helps prevent casualties and major damage, with obvious benefits not just for insurers, of course, but society as a whole.
Additionally, more precise risk management thanks to data from drones can support underwriting processes such as calculating property and casualty premiums. Insurance companies can use drones to gather information about an object or site to capture its initial state before a policy is issued, or support a decision to refuse to issue a policy.
Data gathered by drones can be used to improve claims management by checking the initial state of a property and its condition after a reported incident. Drones can serve to assess possibly damaged areas faster, more cheaply and more precisely, as well as providing indisputable documentation to mitigate the risk of fraud.
Media & entertainment
Possibly one of the most popular fields for drone-powered solutions is in the media & entertainment industry.
The primary functionality of drones for this sector is aerial photography and filming. Drones can shoot commercials and movies; some prominent examples of the latter in which drones were used are Skyfall, The Wolf of Wall Street and films from the Harry Potter series.
Drones may play a notable role in advertising. They can do this indirectly, for example by monitoring cellular and Wi-Fi signals to determine users’ locations and send advertising to their phones on that basis – e.g. ads of stores that the consumer is walking past. Drones can also be used in promotional activities more directly. They can carry banners with promotional messages, a solution used by the Russian agency Hungry Boys to advertise a Chinese takeaway restaurant in Moscow. Drones can also be used for skywriting.
Drones can help companies in the telecom industry to address some of their most pressing challenges. These include issues related to infrastructure – specifically maintenance, optimisation and further development in order to expand coverage – as well as pressure to reduce costs. Drones can also become a part of the infrastructure, by playing a role in broadcasting telecommunications signals.
In the case of maintenance, drones can carry out routine inspections of antennas by taking videos, still photos, readings and measurements. There are numerous advantages of using these devices instead of employees, mainly in the area of safety. Another advantage is lower cost and higher speed: It is quicker to fly a drone than to set up equipment for an employee to climb a tower. T-Mobile demonstrated this when it used drones to conduct a pilot test of antenna masts at a stadium in Utrecht, which took 15 min as opposed to the one week that it would have taken with traditional methods.
To keep up with increasing demand, agriculture will have to revolutionise the way it produces food, and become much more productive. Furthermore, production should be kept sustainable and help to prevent environmental damage. Drone Powered Solutions has identified several key areas where UAVs will help make this a reality.
Drone technology offers a large variety of crop monitoring possibilities at a lower cost. Drones provide data for irrigation and nitrogen level management. Hyperspectral, multispectral and thermal sensors are able to tell exactly which parts of a field lack water or need improvements. Additionally, once the crop is growing, they allow the calculation of the vegetation index, show the heat signature and assist with crop planting.
One of the latest developments helps farmers to assess a plant’s health and spot bacteria or fungal infections on trees. Scanning a crop using visible light (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) light shows which plants reflect different amounts of green light and NIR light. This information can produce multi-spectral images that spot changes in plants that indicate changes in health.
Crop spraying is another area of drone applications in agriculture. Drones can scan the ground, and maintain the right distance from the crops to spray the correct amount of liquid, modulating spraying in real time for even coverage.
Technology has always supported security firms with advanced electronics, sensors and video; however, many tasks still require a large amount of human involvement. Drones are changing the status quo. They are the perfect supplement for ground security teams seeking to perform monitoring tasks more efficiently. Drones can quickly cover large and difficult-to-reach areas, reducing staff numbers and costs. In Abu Dhabi, ADPC – the company that manages all the city’s ports – decided to supplement its security system with drones. UAVs have also been used to ensure safety during sporting events such as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Their main task was to track crowds in high-traffic areas and provide vast amounts of real-time data for security teams in the event of any disturbances.
The commercial applications for drones in the mining industry are not so obvious at first sight; however, drones are currently being tested and introduced mostly in open-cast mining, where they are replacing labour-intensive methods of inspection, mapping and surveying, as well as ensuring safety on extraction sites.
Drones can be used to quickly map the area, optimise hauling routes and provide control information. UAVs can be equipped with special features to supply spare parts or take soil samples for deposit analysis. They are able to transport tools and lubricants required for maintenance or repair work. Drones are able to detect erosion, track changes in vegetation and search for defects in mining infrastructure that may endanger the environment.
Early detection of irregularities and correct assessment of the open pit allows for quick response and better planning of work. It can also boost automatization of the entire extraction process, reducing costs.
Poland as the perfect place for drone-powered businesses
Poland introduced a complete legal framework and institutions regulating the commercial use of drones in 2013. Significantly, many other countries have yet to develop regulations to guarantee a business-friendly legal environment.
In order to provide end-to-end drone related services for its clients, including consulting, drone operations, data processing and data delivery, PwC Poland set up its Drone Powered Solutions team in 2015. Since then, PwC has prepared dedicated software that allows users to display geospatial data and integrate materials from various sources (PwC Geospatial.App), working with numerous clients from a variety of sectors and countries.
Taking into account Poland’s stable and friendly legal framework, its longstanding aviation traditions and initiatives such as PwC Drone Powered Solutions and the Aviation Valley industry cluster in the Subcarpathian Province, Poland is a prime candidate to become a leader in drone technologies and services.
Adam Krasoń, CEO of PwC in Poland
Michał Mazur, partner at PwC Poland, leader of Drone Powered Solutions team