10 companies that are using drones

Drone in flight
By Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

19 July 2016

It's hard to believe that not so long ago, drones were only ever heard of in conjunction with military action.

These days, drones are not only commercially available and viable, but are being applied to numerous tasks in various industries.

With PwC's valuation of the market set at $127bn and predicted to rise, Eleanor O'Neill takes a look at the companies already working with drone technology, some in surprising ways.

1. Just Eat

The UK-based online takeaway company has been testing food delivery via drone in selected US and European cities since the end of 2015.

Just Eat has partnered with Starship Technologies to roll out a fleet of small autonomous buggies that will apparently begin bringing food to your door in just a few months.

Chief Product and Technology Officer Fernando Fanton said: "This is another example of how we are pushing technology boundaries to provide our customers and restaurant partners with more choice and flexibility.

"We’ve always been committed to offering our customers new ways to order and pay for their food and now we’re right at the heart of a new way of delivering food, which is as exciting for us as it will be for those who find a robot on their doorstep."

2. BBC

BBC News is one of the media outlets that has been utilising drones as airbourne cameras, going so far as to have its own in-house 'drone journalism' team.

The 'hexacopters' were introduced by producers in the world service's global video unit and footage from one was first used in a 2013 report to capture images of the HS2 railway project.

Broadcasters have been widely testing the potential of the technology, piloting cameras over warzones, natural disasters and situations that would otherwise require a full-blown helicopter.

However, it is worth mentioning that last year a group of BBC journalists flew a drone into a no-fly zone and faced police intervention.

3. EasyJet

Drones using the world's first high definition see-through display system to assess aircraft damage are being used by EasyJet.

The unmanned safety inspections were successfully trialled at Luton Airport in 2014, with technology built in conjunction with Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

Arthur Richards, Head of Aerial Robotics, said: "Aircraft inspection is a great application for drones. Coupled with smart navigation and computer vision, they can get accurate data from really awkward places.

"We look forward to working with EasyJet to develop safe, effective and efficient drone systems for this challenge."

4. Shell

Inspection drones are also being used at Shell, providing images of areas workers previously had to abseil to reach.

They have been implemented in some of the largest energy plants in Europe and are due to be introduced to many more sites in the coming years.

The team at the Bacton import terminal, for example, use a remotely operated aerial vehicle (ROAV) equipped with a gas sensor to perform checks.

Inspection Specialist Mark Bailey said: “Recent inspections at Bacton reinforced our confidence in using ROAV technology. It again proved to be faster, safer and more economical than more conventional high-level access methods."

5. DHL

Logistics company DHL has been trialling drone deliveries for medical applications.

Having previously couriered blood samples and pharmaceuticals, the latest incarnation of their technology, the 'Parcelcopter', was put to use earlier this year making deliveries to a remote German community.

Jürgen Gerdes, Management Board Member for Post, said: “We’re the first worldwide who are able to offer a transport drone – Parcelcopter at DHL – for end-customer delivery.

"With this combination of fully automated loading and unloading as well as an increased transport load and range of our Parcelcopter we have achieved a level of technical and procedural maturity to eventually allow for field trials in urban areas as well."

6. Royal Mail

The CEO of the Royal Mail mentioned in 2015 that drone delivery and driverless trucks may be on the horizon for the company.

Moya Green told the annual CBI conference that the innovative technology could make deliveries to rural areas more efficient and help to combat the threat posed by commercial competitiors.

She said: “I’m old enough to remember when we started talking in Canada about driverless trains. Within five years of the department of transportation doing research into driverless trains it became the norm at airports, and we would never build a train at an airport today that had a driver on it.

“I’d love to see how sensory technology is working, so that we can probably see a day when we’re going to have driverless trucks, and very very well-constructed ways on the highways system."

7. YO! Sushi

YO! Sushi has been trying out 'flying waiters' at its flagship restaurant in SoHo, London.

The drone is piloted by a member of staff using a tablet and features a tray above the rotors to carry and deliver food right to the table.

The company was the first in the UK to introduce the Japanese-style conveyer-belt sushi system and also uses robotic trolleys to serve up drinks to diners.

8. Walmart

Walmart, Asda's parent company, applied for a licence to use flying drones in a number of US states last year.

Shoppers will eventually be able to order their shopping online and have it delivered on the same day.

The project is thought to still be in the early stages.

9. Balfour Beatty

Earlier this year, Balfour Beatty released a video explaining how it uses drones in line with BIM technology and 3D modelling as a powerful visualisation tool.

The footage is overlaid with images of project designs in order to illustrate the construction for clients.

CIO Danny Reeves also stated in 2013 that he planned to assess whether or not drones would be effective for building walls and increasing the safety of their staff.

He said: "They just fly around and build a wall. That takes a lot of the human error and human safety issues out. Those are technologies we’re quite keen to get an understanding of."

10. Amazon

The most famous example of drone implementation is, of course, the Amazon Prime Air service.

The brand has said they hope to deliver packages that weigh less than 5lbs within half an hour of a customer placing an order.

An advertisement for a drone pilot based in Cambridge last year sparked hopes that the innovation would be launching in the UK in the near future.


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