10 Cool Things Drones Already Do, from UMD-Smith Experts

COLLEGE PARK, (PRNewswire-USNewswire)-- As Walmart plans to test delivery drones, experts at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business say consumers don't have to wait to be amazed. Imagine living on a remote German island in the North Sea. When you need medicine, an autonomous drone flies more than seven miles from the continent to deliver it. Is this some futurist scene based on rosy projections in a PowerPoint presentation for potential angel investors? It's already being done by DHL — in field tests that would be restricted in the United States.

"We are missing out on a commercial opportunity that other countries have already embraced," says Smith School professor Oliver Schlake, a drone hobbyist who challenges his MBA students to develop business applications for the technology. "We have missed the plane — or the drone."

Hank Lucas, another Smith School professor who wrote a book on disruptive technologies, says the impact will be immense as more companies discover commercially viable applications for drones. "It's well beyond our imagination," he says.

Schlake and Lucas share 10 cool things that drones already do — including some solutions that work within the U.S. regulatory environment.

1. Package delivery: "Delivery drones already exist outside the United States," Schlake says. Besides the DHL example in Germany, he cites a document delivery system in Dubai using tubes mounted on the drones' bellies. Dutch firm TU Delft is also experimenting with ambulance drones, which carry defibrillators and telephone systems that connect recipients with emergency medical technicians.

2. Wildlife conservation: Thermal imaging cameras mounted on drones allow teams to monitor wildlife populations in remote areas. Watch highlights from a chimpanzee census this summer in Tanzania.

3. Insurance adjustment: Insurance agents often need to inspect roofs and other difficult-to-reach places, such as traffic accident scenes blocked by backed up traffic. Using drones, claims examiners can capture aerial views and detail shots from within one foot of an object.

4. Farming: Lucas says farmers can plow their fields using autonomous self-driving tractors. Now they also can use sensor-equipped drones to deliver precise applications of pesticides, water and fertilizers. Here are five specific applications of agriculture drones.

5. 3D mapping: Digital images from lightweight drones can be combined to make 3D maps. Satellites can do the same thing, but how many small companies can afford space technology? One innovator shows off a mapping drone in this 2013 TEDx Talk.

6. Storm watching: Drones can fly into the eye of a hurricane or hover over an active volcano, sending back data without risking lives. Global Hawk drones developed by Northrop Grumman can monitor stormy areas for up to 30 hours, generating data not available any other way.

7. Search and rescue: After severe storms hit Texas and Oklahoma in May 2015, the FAA sent drones from one of its test sites to search for survivors along the Blanco River.

8. Wind turbine inspections: Inspectors must routinely check the blades at wind farms, but massive new turbines make the job difficult. In many cases, the turbines are taller than the Statue of Liberty. The job is perfect for drones, which provide similar services at oilfields and mines.

9. Security: Drones equipped with headlamps, cameras and alarms can startle intruders and records their movements — and they often can arrive at the scene faster than police or private security officers. A company with commercial security contracts in New Zealand plans to deploy the technology by the end of 2015.

10. Photography and videography: Cameras mounted on drones can go places that humans can't, resulting in amazing footage. Aerial scenes in this video from the Sea of Cortez in Baja California, Mexico, were shot using a simple GoPro HERO4 Black Edition camera mounted on a quadcopter.

Driverless Cars v. Drones

Which technology will be more disruptive? Lucas and Schlake, along with Matt Scassero from UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering, share insights in this infographic (http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/files/drones-cars-final.pdf) via Smith Brain Trust, which highlights research and insights of Smith School faculty.

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