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Drone Use Increases in Industry

October 20th, 2015 by Sarah Ricard

Unmanned aerial vehicles, familiarly known as drones, originally were developed for military use. In a Smithsonian magazine article, Mark Bowden explains how drone technology has evolved from radio-controlled aircraft used to drop bombs in World War II to the present-day drones piloted from anywhere in the world with global telecommunications systems and live video feed.

Commercial use of drones has increased as their technological capabilities give industries safer and less-expensive alternatives to traditional tasks, according to a recent article by Wendy Koch in National Geographic. Consumers Energy, a public utility in Michigan, is testing the use of drones to inspect three large wind turbines in the Lake Winds Energy Park and plans to increase testing to six turbines.  The drone inspections would eliminate the current semi-annual inspections by helicopter.

Until recently, the Federal Aviation Administration banned the commercial use of drones; however since February 2014, the FAA has “approved more than 1,400 waivers for two dozen industries, including energy.” Oil and gas companies, including BP, recipient of the first FAA waiver for commercial drone use, are testing drones for inspections of “pipelines, power lines, wind turbines, and solar farms.”

Although drones give easier and safer access to remote locations and high altitudes, concern for safety has limited the scope and use of drones. The National Agricultural Aviation Association says drones have similar risks as birds for colliding with “crop dusters and other low-flying aircraft.” The U.S. Department of Transportation gets approximately 60 reports a month of “incidents” between planes and drones.

The use of drones for business and industry is expected to increase in the U.S. as drone manufacturers implement safety measures and as regulation becomes more consistent.