Drones: 10 Novel Uses For Your City - InformationWeek
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7/23/2015
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David Wagner
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Drones: 10 Novel Uses For Your City

Drones are becoming more than mere law enforcement adjuncts, as cities find new ways to save money and even raise revenue with the unmanned aerial vehicles.
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(Image: ivansmuk/iStockphoto)

(Image: ivansmuk/iStockphoto)

Drones have a pretty bad name.

They're mostly thought of as killing machines or privacy invaders. Many of us envision a world with millions of them buzzing through the skies, causing constant noise, or with drones falling from the sky like hail and crashing around us.

But drones are also cheap and incredibly useful tools. Because FAA regulations still limit who can use them, "drones-as-a-service" will remain relatively rare, for now. But state and local governments have started seeing the potential.

The obvious first potential is in police work. Everyone sees the killer drone as the extension of the SWAT team or the bomb squad. That’s all well and good, but for drones to get out of the Hollywood-created perception that they are killing machines we need some other uses for them.

Drones are cheap. Police in Tennessee estimate they can run a drone for $3.80 per hour, compared to a helicopter, which costs $600 per hour. Because of the relative cheapness, there is no reason to restrict the drone's role to that of extension of the police. We found 10 cities around the world that are using drones for other situations.

[Want to learn more about drones? Here's a look.]

Some are still related to emergency services. Some are probably a little frightening. A fair number could be money-makers for governments. But all have a money-saving component. In the right environment, a drone can save governments money and do a job better than traditional assets.

One recent example happened after an earthquake in Washington, D.C. Instead of using drones, human teams rappelled down the side of the Washington Monument to check it for cracks. The same service could have been performed faster, cheaper, and safer by drones.

Hopefully, these 10 use-cases can inspire cities to be more creative with drones. Check them out, and tell us which you think more cities should be trying.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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Flathead
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Flathead,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/18/2016 | 12:19:57 PM
Another use for drons
Pipeline/power line inspection and ariel crop dusting planting are obvious canidates for drone usage, especially, if the FAA relents and allows fully automomous operation.  

Those applicatiions involve  low level flight flying fixed patterns.   Programing drones to do it would be fairly simple.  Since the required drones need not be large, at the end of their flight, they could be landed and then recovered and transported by relatively unskilled personel using pickups.  

Crop dusting would be a bit more difficult since the drone would have to be larger and probably operate from an airfield.  The operating costs of a helicopter with a ton lifting capacity would probably be prohibitive.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2015 | 4:08:29 PM
Re: Not So Much Savings Here
Unions will not be happy if drones are taking their jobs.  There are things policemen can do that no drone can such, as community policing and engaging the community.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
7/29/2015 | 6:21:08 PM
Not So Much Savings Here
It will be interesting to see how the police unions and/or the public unions react to cities that downsize their $40/hr pensioned and platinum bennies personnel in favor of a $3.80/hr. drone to perform the same work.  Prediction:  The city raises taxes to avoid any political inconveniences.
BillDChandler
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BillDChandler,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/28/2015 | 4:14:51 PM
Drones
Dont forget almost every drone needs a piolt, trianed and in range.  The FAA currently requires the operator have line of sight to the drone.  Which puts big limits on speed and range.

I like the window washer idea. Much safer, proably faster. A well defined unocupied area of operation.  But you still need a person to give commands.  So probly not cheaper.

Maybe window washing could be fully automated without much trouble.  But an autonomus drone is a whole new area.  Not what there talking about here.
ChrisD103
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ChrisD103,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/27/2015 | 6:37:41 PM
Wrong photo on slide 7
Ahem, slide 7 is about Duxbury, Mass but the photo is of a drone flying near Greenpoint Stadium, Cape Town South Africa. It's a view I know well, as I used to fly a hang glider over there in my more adventurous days.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/27/2015 | 1:22:15 PM
Re: Call me a skeptic
@yalanand- I think the problem with street cleaning is having access to water or carrying heavy blowers around on an affordable drone. There's a reason no one cleans city streets with a helicopter, right?
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/27/2015 | 1:17:29 PM
Re: Call me a skeptic
@nasimon- Well, even if we do see drones cleaning buildings, this list was more on what cities were doing and since cities own few skyscrapers, they are less likely to take advantage. Maybe I'll do a followup on commercial uses for drones that looks into use cases like that.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/27/2015 | 1:09:21 PM
Re: Call me a skeptic
@progman2000- Right, I'm of two minds about arming a drone (even with pepper spray) for law enforcement. With all the trouble we have with police shooting unarmed people, I'm not thrilled about a drone possibly doing it. On the other hand, drones don't get nervous. They don't have racial or gender bias. They have sensors that are better than the eye. They don't fear for their lives. It is possible that a drone will make better decisions than a person on when to fire.
Sundance98
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Sundance98,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/25/2015 | 12:29:12 PM
Drone use
Lost Hikers, Escaped Felons.....lost children.....stolen cars....anything with a GPS locater, NYC Crime calls, Detroit Crime Calls, reported Fires in Commercial Buildings, Reported auto accidents, Reported in progress burglaries,reported in progress Breaking and Entering or Domestic Violence.....as seem to fit.

 
embeetee
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embeetee,
User Rank: Strategist
7/24/2015 | 12:41:32 PM
Re: Call me a skeptic
> at least some of the early movers are doing some interesting things

You bet.  I don't mean to say drones are a total miss, just that we're in the throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks stage, a stage in which some will declare they see drones as the solution to every problem and there will be some real head scratchers.  Drones could have a number of valuable uses when it all settles out, and I freely admit I'll be surprised at some that I'd never have thought of in a million years.  I'm a skeptic, not a cynic, just saying we should do some good critical thinking about uses =-)

Plus even at the basic level we have SOOO many issues to resolve still, like who gets to fly them and where.  Witness recent story about pending legislation (can't recall offhand where in the US) to give firefighters the right to shoot down drones that they find are interfering.  Brilliant thought.
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