HomeDrone businesses such as Propeller Aerobotics and Swarm have lift off

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Drones are being touted as the solution to a wide range of issues such as delivering packages to remote locations, combating shark attacks, and providing visual inspections in hard-to-reach locations.Using drones for deliveries is attracting the bulk of attention. Australia Post announced it would launch a drone delivery trial in 2016, while Domino’s Pizza has investigated the potential of using drones to deliver pizzas to customers.When it comes to delivering things, sometimes drones will make sense but there will also be other robots around.

The market continues to look promising. A BI Intelligence report released earlier this year found the market for commercial and civilian drones is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19 per cent between 2015-2020. But despite the excitement around delivery drones, the report found e-commerce and package delivery would not be an early focus of the industry.


Hype ahead of the market?
Francis Vierboom​, co-founder of Propeller Aerobotics​, agrees and says drones are at a point where the hype may have gotten a little ahead of where the market is. He says while delivery drones are an interesting potential avenue and he likes the idea, he believes where the technology is going to “grow up” is in industrial applications.

“When it comes to delivering things, sometimes drones will make sense but there will also be other robots around,” he says. “Some will be in the skies while others will be driving cars.”Propeller Aerobotics works with professional drone operators to deliver data, such as 3D maps, to industrial companies via a digital platform. Vierboom says the founders “spent our life savings to get to our first customers” before being accepted into the Startmate accelerator early this year.

“Then in October we raised $1.05 million from Blackbird Ventures, 500 Startups and various local Australian angel investors,” he says. “We’ve already got significant revenue – more than $100,000 – from some major customers, including users in the US, but our focus is really on engaging with the major users of drones to help them get the business uses right.”

Shark spotting by drone
Drone specialist Swarm Group has invested over $3 million to drive its business. It says it’s close to cracking the code for identifying a shark in the water. This means it will soon be able to fly drones over – for example Sydney’s Bondi Beach on a set grid – and be able to identify a shark.

Swarm general manager Ryan Hamlet says this will in turn notify the beach patrol, who can then close the beach. “The drone sends back images to a screen in the control tower and will hover over the shark,” he says. “To identify the shark is pretty amazing technology as the algorithm needs to be written and then input for a species specialist so they can identify that it really is a shark.”

Tracking wildlife
Another practical application of drones, which has received global interest is a radio-tracking system used to locate radio-tagged wildlife. Developed by researchers at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney, the system detects tiny radio transmitters weighing as little as one gram in animals.

Lead researcher Debbie Saunders says drones have been the perfect solution for this type of application. “We needed something that was flexible and that allowed us to track from the air,” she says. “There is great potential here using drones and we’re hoping to further develop our prototype into something that we can potentially package and sell.”