By Jaydeep Saha, Contributing Writer, HCL Technologies Ltd. 


As far back as World War I, drone usage was adopted for military purposes. Today, the environment is dramatically different. Drones have applications for personal use, such as photography, as well as in a variety of consumer industries, such as retail and agriculture.

Mass adoption may still some way off, but the recent announcement from the UK that the country will become home to the world’s largest automated drone superhighway within the next two years – covering 164 miles – suggests drones are set to take over the sky.

Drones on the rise

The Global Commercial Drone Market size is projected to reach $61.95 billion by 2027, up from US$ 18.92 billion in 2022.

A key driver for this growth is increasing consumer expectations for same-day delivery. Delivering on this expectation is a major focus from companies like Google, DHL, UPS, and Amazon, with some expected to launch their services by 2023. The global drone delivery market is expected to witness substantial growth in 2023-2030.

E-commerce delivery and logistics or express delivery and shipping is just one of a variety of drone use cases. It is already serving other sectors, such as medical and photography.

Drones are improving medical care, including the safe and fast delivery of organs. Bill Wimberley, Head of Business Development, WINGCOPTER GmbH (Germany), said the top five areas in healthcare where drones can be the most helpful are blood product and hazardous material transportation; vaccine and medicine delivery; diagnostics; organ transfers; and transport of small medical devices.

Drones are also playing a pivotal role in the aerial photography for journalism and film market, accounting for 32 percent of the market share in 2021 – making it the largest segment by application.

Other industries include:
  • Food delivery

  • Horticulture and agriculture, such as precision crop monitoring

  • Mapping and surveying of inaccessible locations

  • Unmanned cargo transport

  • Building inspection and maintenance

  • Law enforcement surveillance and monitoring

  • Overhead asset inspection

  • Assessment of damage in natural disasters

The adoption of drones will fundamentally change how these commercial industries operate, by transforming how they interact with consumers, deliver services, and approach potentially dangerous situations.

The military also continues to use drones in conflict situations. In the Ukraine War, for example, Colonel Oleksii Noskov, assistant commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, told the BBC: “The army of drones will allow us to constantly monitor the 1,535-mile-long frontline and to field an effective response to enemy attacks, using modern technology.”

Adoption hurdles

The mass adoption of new technologies, especially in consumer facing industries, presents challenges. The proliferation of drones is no different.

Currently, there are approximately 861,669 drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. Efficient detection systems can play a great role in alleviating potential risks associated with drone usage. Factors challenging the growth of the market are:

  1. Congested airspace in urban areas and inherent risks

  2. Limited battery life of aerial delivery drone

  3. Concerns relating to privacy, security, and safety of the drones

  4. Lack of infrastructure for drone delivery operations

The increase in the use of commercial drones and incidents has resulted in the need for counter-UAS technology that neutralizes rogue drones. This market is earning interest and popularity among several countries. The global counter-UAS market is estimated to reach $6.44 billion in 2031 from $1.57 billion in 2021, with North America dominating the global market. Some of the C-UAS technologies are:

  • Drone Guard  Housed in a single unit, this integrated passive drone detection and jamming solution is field-proven and successfully protecting borders, large events, airports with its rugged, compact counter-drone system, which passively monitors the drone’s communication data link to detect, classify, track, and defeat drone threats.

  • Giraffe 1x — The compact concept makes this the perfect choice when continuous air surveillance is required as part of short-range surveillance and ground-based air defense as it’s an ideal air surveillance component in this domain with engagement quality target data, drone detection and counter-artillery, rocket, and mortar (C-RAM) sense. It warns within a single solution and can be used as a C-UAS solution.
Others include:
  • High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator

  • Drone Sentinel

  • Drone Tracker

Overcoming these hurdles is a priority for drone manufacturers and organizations looking to capitalize on the growing list of applications.

Converge next-gen tech capabilities with drones

There is a further opportunity to converge drones with other technologies, such as IoT, automation, 5G, and augmented reality to produce new, future-proof use cases.

By 2025, the total data usage worldwide will rise to 163 zettabytes and 20 percent of the total coming from Internet of Things (IoT).

In the power utility industry, where outages are costly and, on the rise, IoT-enabled autonomous drones and AI/ML can help optimize the outage management process and improve grid reliability. Drones can carry out periodic inspections to detect any faults, and during an outage, images captured by drones can be processed in real-time using image analytics – at the edge – to automatically detect the faulty asset.

At the same time, a new drone economy is emerging in the “post-quantum” 5G world for network security. Drones will act as intermediary trusted nodes in the [5G] network and enable long-distance quantum key distribution. They will enable true “on-demand” wireless connectivity, reduce network operating costs, and improve network coverage.

In this evolving partnership, 5G will also enable the network connectivity that supports ubiquitous drone usage.

Augmented reality and associated technologies, like computer vision, multi-sensor data analytics, and 3D video generation can also be paired with drones to bring full time visibility and understanding to any emergency, such as a flood rescue operation.

Augmenting live drone video feeds with geo-information layers, including maps, building layouts, and points of user-generated markers can empower first responders to understand any emergency operational scene with real-time collaborative visual intelligence.

Combining these technologies with drones will create new opportunities that can only be seized by working with a technology partner.

The role of technology partners in making drone use ubiquitous

Technology partners have an important role to play in helping drones enter the mainstream. They have the technical expertise and infrastructure to support mass adoption.

As an example, Edgybees – the visual intelligence company – and HCL Technologies have worked together to enable real-time visual intelligence from remote drones during flood rescue operations.

HCL Technologies’ enterprise proven AIOps platform, DRYICE, when combined with drones can provide real-time video feeds with geo-information layers, including maps, building layouts, and points of user-generated markers that can empower first responders to understand any emergency operational scene with collaborative visual intelligence.

HCL Technologies has also worked with ideaForge, the provider of unmanned aerial Systems, to allow users to setup a Drone command center and provide remote drone ops.

“Extending the enterprise proven AIOps platform into drones management is a powerful means to augment the automation of the entire stack,” said Kalyan Kumar, Global Chief Technology Officer and Head of Ecosystems, HCL Technologies. “In the case of drones, AIOps allows a level of predictive analytics and other functional data that substantially enhances the drones’ capabilities.”

Working with technology partners and aligning next-gen software and network technologies will ensure drones have complete commercial suitability, with compliance, regulation, and safety built in at the design stage of product development.

These drone fleets will be fully autonomous with full airspace awareness. Their mass adoption will transform several industries, as well as human’s view of the sky.

Find out more about how drones will transform several industries in this infographic.