Send in the drones

A delivery drone releasing its payload during a demonstration in San Francisco last week. PwC says drones will soon be boosting crop yields and delivering mail - among other tasks - in a business set to boom by more than 6,000 per cent by the end of
A delivery drone releasing its payload during a demonstration in San Francisco last week. PwC says drones will soon be boosting crop yields and delivering mail - among other tasks - in a business set to boom by more than 6,000 per cent by the end of the decade.PHOTO: REUTERS

Global market for commercial applications of drone tech will soar to $174b by 2020: PwC

WARSAW • Drones will soon be boosting crop yields, verifying insurance claims and assisting in future Hollywood blockbusters in a business that is due to boom by more than 6,000 per cent by the end of the decade.

The global market for commercial applications of drone technology will balloon to as much as US$127 billion (S$174 billion) by 2020, from an estimated US$2 billion now, consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said in a report published on Monday.

With Poland leading the way in drafting laws for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, non-military applications are already being designed that may revolutionise thousands of industries.

One project envisions drones flying over wheat fields to detect areas where crops are failing and then calling in reinforcements to tackle affected zones by spraying pesticide or nutrients.

"The cost of drone technology is falling so quickly that a number of everyday applications are becoming cost-efficient," Mr Piotr Romanowski, a PwC partner and business advisory leader for central and eastern Europe, told reporters.

The new technology is allowing drones to accurately create three- dimensional maps and observe how they change over time, which could prove useful for infrastructure projects, verifying insurance claims and also for security applications, PwC said.

The transport industry may also be revolutionised by drones starting to provide "last mile services", as already seen in tests in Switzerland, where flying vehicles have replaced postal carriers in tough-to-reach mountain regions.

Drone-based applications are also helping the movie industry generate special effects, and they can be used for marketing as well as photography and movies, PwC said.

The key barrier is the lack of legislation regarding the use of drones, said Mr Michal Mazur, PwC's head of drone-powered solutions.

Poland was the world's first country to draft legislation regarding the commercial use of drones, including required training for pilots, rules for BVLOS (beyond visible line of sight) flights and insurance regulations, followed by South Africa and Singapore, PwC said.

The consultancy is setting up a team of as many as 40 people in Warsaw focused on the use of drone technology and data analytics in business.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'Send in the drones'. Print Edition | Subscribe