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Trough of Disillusionment or Slope of Enlightenment: Where is drone industry headed?

Since 1995, global research and advisory firm Gartner, Inc has been releasing the ‘hype cycle’, a branded graphical representation identifying the current state of popular technologies while in their path to maturity. Like every other emerging technology, the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) sector too is believed to be following this cycle.

As per Gartner’s analysis, drones are 5-10 years away from reaching their ‘Plateau of Productivity’. However, as we witness 2019 in the rearview mirror, the essential question that haunts us is whether the industry is currently heading toward the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ and how long before it reaches the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’?

Once considered a futuristic technology and the most disruptive space, drones have attracted tech-enthusiasts to constantly innovate – be it in terms of rejigging the way we capture photographs and selfies while on a trip, the array of industrial solutions UAVs can cater to, medicine and package deliveries, or developing a complete, autonomous drone-in-a-box ready to be deployed with a simple click of a button. As a result, the technology has developed faster than the regulatory framework and policies that are essential for the implementation and deployment of these miniature devices. This has left the companies working in Drones-as-a-Service (DaaS) space thwarted in their operations.

Alongside slow economic growth and lack of a clear timeline on policies, this industry is also affected by having very low barriers to entry. With only a pair of drones and some cracked software in hand, anybody can easily start their own drone business, providing services and expertise which usually can only be achieved by rigorous experience in this field. With biting competition, businesses offering ridiculously low rates, and further lower costs of manual labor – especially in countries like India – there has risen an ambivalence in the adoption of the technology in commercial space.

In an industry where the output is in the form of spatial data – judged by quality and not quantity – and data that acts as ‘evidence’ influencing decision-making, by the time the client realizes that the results are unsatisfactory, too much precious time and effort has already been invested for the project to be redone. Other setbacks are witnessed in the form of the ruling political party being voted out or tech-savvy decision-makers getting transferred to other departments.

But then, why does everyone still want to be in the commercial space? The sale of recreational/consumer drones which saw a near explosion in 2016 and 2017 was found to be slowly plateauing and declining in 2019. Afterall, there is a limit to the number of rarely used toy drones one can purchase. Even companies with the largest market share from sales of such drones were found to steer themselves toward commercial and agricultural drones and partnering with companies to improve the efficiency of commercial drone use.

Consultants, major tech corps, construction giants have all created a separate UAV division providing industrial solutions. Not a single day goes by without my LinkedIn feed throwing up a unique solution wherein drones and their plug-and-play sensors, powered by artificial intelligence, have helped streamline some business or vertical, created a social impact, or in short, solved a real-world problem.

Be it the traditional volume estimations and stockpile measurements in mines and construction sites, improving conditions and decision-making in smart cities through surveillance, modeling and base maps, identifying and improve nutrient content in soils and plants, mosquito eradication in lakes to counter dengue menace, inspecting and providing automated custom reports for solar panels, windmills, pipelines, transmission towers and lines, and flare stacks without shutdowns. And these examples are just a drop in the bucket of solutions drones can cater to. Each government department or client I interact with has some unique use-case they wish to solve with the power of drones.

It can be said without a doubt that the industry, as a whole, is bound to flourish and while I completely believe in the impact this technology can bring to n-number of business verticals, I wonder: Is the drone industry prepared for the turbulent times ahead?

The need of the hour is transparency and synchronous data infrastructure to avoid redundant captures. It is essential for those working in this industry to collaborate and regroup around businesses and societal problems, prioritizing use cases upon achievability and not attractiveness. What do you think?


Title image courtesy: Bogdan Draghici/Dribble

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Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Australia battles bushfires every year, but the current fire season is decisively one of the worst. The wildfires that originated in the state of New South Wales in September 2019 have rapidly spread throughout the continent, swallowing more than 14.7 million acres across six states till date. Here are some maps and charts that will help you understand the true scale and impact of these overwhelming fires…

Also see: Australia bushfires as seen from space: Satellite imagery reveals hard truth

Where and When Bushfires Occur

Bushfire activity varies across Australia with the changes in the seasonal weather patterns. Wind, temperature, humidity, and rainfall are weather elements that affect the behaviors of bushfires.

Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Burning Australia: 2019-20

This overlay shows a 3D visualization of all the fires Australia has witnessed in this season with its map laid on top of the Google map of Europe — that’s how large Australia’s size actually is. But please note that the top image is not an actual photograph, it’s just a compilation of all the fires this season and not all fires seen in the image are currently active. To see a map of current fires, visit MyFireWatch.

Related: Which is the best map projection?

Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Source: Science Connecting

Shocking Extent of Bushfires

The bushfires in Australia are so severe they have already burnt seven times the land as the 2019 fires in the Amazon rainforest did (the current estimate of scorched land in Australia is almost 15 million acres).

Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Source: Newsweek/Statista

One Fire Can Start Another…

Wildfires are often sparked by natural causes like lightning striking dry vegetation. The current fire season in Australia has also been fueled by a combination of natural causes like extreme heat, unusually long drought, and strong winds. However, once a fire starts, other areas become at risk because embers blown by the wind can cause blazes to spread to new areas. Moreover, bushfires can also drive thunderstorms, increasing the risk of lightning strikes and further fires.

Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Source: BBC

The Plight of Koalas

While there are several reports circulating that most of the koala habitat has burnt down in the 2019-20 bushfires, implying that the species are ‘functionally extinct’, thankfully, that is not the case – yet. National Geographic did some quick research and created the below map, wherein red dots show the locations of fires detected in Australia the week ending November 25, 2019, while the brown area shows the range of the koala habitat.

Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Sources: NASA/IUCN/NatGeo

Relief through Rain?

Since the mid-1990s, southeast Australia – where most Australians live – has experienced a 15% decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall and a 25% decline in average rainfall in April and May. Right now, Australia is facing a severe drought, spurred by three winters in a row with very little precipitation.

Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Worse Times Ahead?

Australia experienced the hottest year on record in 2019, which had a mean temperature of 1.5° Celsius above the mean calculated for 1961 to 1990. On December 18, Australia experienced its hottest day on record when the average maximum temperature climbed to 41.9° Celsius in the country. Dry weather, high temperatures, and wildfires go hand-in-hand.

Top maps and charts that explain the terrifying 2019-20 Australian bushfires

Source: Statista

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