Cargo Drones

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Contents

Introduction to Drones

Definition of Drones

Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as "Drones" are aircrafts without any human pilots, crew, or passengers on board. Some different types of drones include multi-rotor drones, fixed wing drones, single rotor drones and hybrid VTOL drones.

Multi-rotor drones

Predominantly used by amateurs, hobbyists, and drone enthusiasts, multi-rotor drones are mainly used in conventional activities like photography or surveillance. Although somewhat cheap and simple to build, they have a number of drawbacks such as lower speed, flying time and endurance compared to other types of drones.

Multi-rotor drone

Fixed-wing drones

Fixed-wing drones are designed to have wings like normal manned aircrafts which help its air control and flying time. The wings allow the drone to not exhaust energy trying to remain balanced in the air but a drawback is that they cannot hover.

Fixed-wing drone

Single-rotor drones

A single-rotor drone has only one larger sized rotor as the name implies, but also has a smaller rotor at the end of the drone to maintain direction. They mimic the structure of a modern helicopter and are more efficient and productive with higher flying-time compared to multi-rotor drones.

Single-rotor drone

Hybrid VTOL drones

Hybrid VTOL drones combine the advantages of both the rotor-based version and the fixed-wing version of the drones. They are able to remain still in the air but still have higher flying time.

Hybrid VTOL drone

Drone History

By defining UAVs as unmanned aerial vehicles, one might believe that the first UAV maybe when a Neanderthal threw a rock in the air. However, when looking at the definition of a vehicle as a machine that is capable of transport or carrying a person of goods from one place to another, [1] then a more suitable starting place for drone technology begins in Annonay, France in 1783. French brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, invented untethered and pilotless hot air balloons capable of traversing and transporting goods from one area to another. This invention was initially scientific, but was later weaponized by Austrian forces in 1849 when they deployed approximately 200 UAV hot air balloons in their attack against Venice. These attack balloons were designed to hold up to 30lbs of explosives and would drop their contents once in position. However, these primitive UAVs lacked any guidance systems and the majority of them were blown off course before they could reach their respective attack zones.

Pre-Modern Drone Era

In 1898, Nikola Tesla unveiled the first radio-controlled(RC) device, an RC boat, before a crowd in Madison Square Garden. The audience was mesmerized by its feats and believed it was some kind of sorcery, telekinesis, and even that there was a tiny monkey controlling it from inside. Tesla connected his remote controller to the remote through electrical signals that programmed the boat on how to maneuver. The US military rejected Tesla’s concept of RC, and his boats did not sell well, but the concept began to be adopted in other ways.
Graphic depiction of Tesla's public demonstration in Madison Square Garden


In 1916, during WW1, British engineer Archibald Low designed the first unmanned plane called the Ruston Proctor Aerial Target. Dubbed “the father of radio guidance systems,” his Ruston Proctors employed a radio guidance system and were launched out of trucks using compressed gas. The British were uninterested in his schematics, but the Germans were highly interested and attempted two failed assassinations.

Between 1930-1945, the world began adopting drone technology. Every world power was vying for their own version of unmanned reconnaissance or fighter aircrafts. The British developed the first modern RC drone in 1935 known as “Queen Bee," which is the point in time where the term 'drone' is believed to have derived from. In the same period, the United States mass-produced around 15,000 models of the Radioplane OQ-2. The Germans deployed the V-1 "Doodlebugs” which fired the first cruise missiles in history. Credits for RC aircrafts during this period go to Edward M. Sorensen, a US scientist who enabled drones to fly beyond the line of sight, up to 8 miles ahead of its controller. The terminal controller was placed in the back of a manned aircraft, where one could receive feedback from the drone and footage to track its movement. The US drones could be fitted with a torpedo or 2000 lbs of explosives, and were able to return after its flight.

Modern Drone Era

In 1950, the US continued its drone adoption and deployed several UAVs in the Vietnam war. These drones were capable of fixed missile targeting, reconnaissance, and psychological warfare; drones would drop leaflets with false information over enemy territory.

In 1982, Israel won the battle of Jezzine with minimal casualties thanks to their drone technology. These results inspired the joint operations between Israel and the US in 1985, where they developed thousands of military drones. These drones, such as the RO2 Pioneer, were so overpowering that when Iraqi forces saw drones overhead, they simply surrendered during the Gulf war.

In the 1990s, the creation of micro and mini drone took a pivotal step in militarization with the birth of the predator missile by Abraham Karem in 1996. This changed the mental positioning of drone strikes in the minds of everyone, creating the image of missile strikes on targeted areas. [2]

In 2006, drone technology begins to shift away from militarization. After the events of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Aviation Administration authorized UAVs to fly into civilian airspace for search and rescue purposes. Predator drones could sense thermal signatures from up to 10,000ft away which provided a significant use case for future search and rescue operations. [3]

Golden Age

By 2010, consumer drone technology began to form. French drone manufacturer, Parrot, released the first smartphone-controlled drone. [4] Henri Seydouk, CEO of Parrot, explained that "(with) video cameras and a powerful computer, we have developed a very stable drone that is easy to control and flies like a dragonfly." In 2013, as FAA regulation on commercial drone use is contested in the FAA v. Pirker case, [5] major companies such as Google, Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and Uber began researching and testing the implementation of drone technology into their delivery and supply chain platforms. As of August 2013, the FAA was granting drones licenses on a case-by-case basis. [6] Consumer adoption began to proliferate between 2013-2015 for personal drones to take photos and videos with. With the expansion of the consumer industry in 2016, regulatory bodies began releasing more inclusive governance frameworks such as 14 CFR Part 107 that can be summarized as:

  • No operations at an altitude higher than 400 feet above ground level
  • No operations in excess of 100 miles per hour
  • No operations of an aircraft weighing 55 pounds, or more
  • No operations at night or with less than three statute miles of visibility
  • No operations above persons not directly involved in the flight
  • The aircraft must remain within the pilot’s visual line of sight at all times
  • Pilot must only operate one aircraft at a time
  • The UAS must yield the right of way to all other aircraft
  • Operations in uncontrolled airspace are permitted without authorization
  • Operations in controlled airspace are permitted with authorization [7]

Technically in Canada, you must register any drone and can face fines or jail time for

  • Putting aircrafts and people at risk
  • Flying without a drone pilot certificate
  • Flying unmarked or unregistered drones [8]

After the pandemic, with China as the lead, several countries began implementing UAV technology throughout several industries, namely healthcare. We are moving into an era where drone technology will become truly prevalent throughout several industries and become a drive for disruption.

Drones in the Healthcare Industry

Drones carrying out deliveries for the Healthcare Industry

Within the healthcare industry, drones have become a hot topic after the recent cases of drones being used for vaccine and organ deliveries in the last year. Drones have many uses in the healthcare industry:

  • Vaccine deliveries
  • Prehospital medical care
  • Expediting laboratory and diagnostic testing processes
  • Broadcasting information
  • Delivering medications and supplies directly to hospitals or patients [9]


COVID-19's Impact on Drones

Drones' increase in funding after COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID pandemic has raged on, the number of COVID-related cases for drones has increased. More attention has been brought to the practicality of cargo drones, and the pandemic has essentially kickstarted the age of drone deliveries. Back in 2000, the ideas of air taxis or drones were introduced, but they were very underfunded and did not gain much traction in the media.

As of 2021, startups building autonomous drones to carry passengers and packages have raised $5.1 billion, up from $1.1 billion in 2020. In comparison, between the entire decade of 2009 and 2019, only $438 million in venture capital funds were raised for drone technology. A key factor in this increase in funding came from the pandemic causing factory shutdowns, port closures, fluctuating consumer demands, scrambling supply chains, closed railroads and shortages in personnel and equipment in the trucking industry. As a result, the usage of long-range cargo drones became more prevalent, and an increase in popularity for the drones ensued to combat the jammed supply chains that the pandemic had caused. Furthermore, people realized that moving cargo through the air could help reduce traffic in the cities. [10]

Drones fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic

Currently, 18 countries around the world have deployed drones for delivery of vaccines during the COVID pandemic. Some of these countries deployed drones only for experimentation and tests, while others have maintained their regular drone delivery operations. Three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda, Ghana and Malawi reported the use of drones to deliver regular medical commodities, COVID-19 supplies, and medical samples since the beginning of the pandemic. [11]

Drones in India

The Make-In-India drone used to transport vaccines from the Bishnupur district hospital to Loktak lake, Karang island in Manipur for administration at the PHC

India is one of the countries that have continued to use drones against COVID-19, as on September 2021, India launched a 'Make in India’ drone to transport COVID-19 vaccines over an aerial distance of 15 km in 12-15 minutes from the Bishnupur district hospital to Karang Island in Manipur. The drones were used for administration at a primary health centre, and the aerial distance of 15 km was much quicker compared to the regular distance of 31 km between the two locations. Over three weeks between September and October, more than 70 UAV flights, each carrying 900 vaccines per drone, took off to the primary health care centres in Telangana.

There are many benefits to using drones in India, and these benefits can also carry over to other countries, as well. The majority of India’s 1.4 billion people are served by roughly 30,000 government-run primary health care centers, but at least five percent to 10 percent of these centres are inaccessible to medical suppliers because of difficult terrain and weather hazards. Drones would be able to maneuver the difficult terrain and that is currently impeding current transportation methods. Furthermore, it makes deliveries much more efficient, as the aerial vehicles would be able to cover 100 kilometres an hour, carrying payloads of 15 to 20 kilograms. [12]

Zipline Delivers Vaccines to Ghana

Zipline, another drone delivery service based in San Francisco, California, has partnered with the Government of Ghana to deliver vaccines. The Zipline CEO, in an interview in June, said that the company had delivered at least 2.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses across the country and planned to deliver over 2.4 million more, with a particular focus on remote and roadless areas, by the end of the year. [13]

UPS Delivering Vaccines

Drone being prepared for vaccine delivery by UPS

In the United States, drones have also been deployed for vaccine deliveries. UPS has also started delivering COVID vaccines on August 24 of 2021. They have been working with Atrium Health Wake in North Carolina over the past year since July 2020, and have already expanded its environmentally sustainable drone services program to include lab samples.

One of the advantages of these autonomous, battery-powered drones is that they produce zero operational emissions and are subject to fewer vibrations than moving packaging via ground transport. Additionally, they require less insulation and can use gel packs instead of dry ice, since they spend less time in transit. Each drone can carry about 25 vials each, for a total of 450 doses. Furthermore, these drones are able to maneuver over difficult terrain and therefore deliver supplies or vaccines to the locations more quickly than traditional transportation. Lastly, delivery drones can also operate in conditions such as degraded visibility or unpredictable weather while eliminating the need for some human steps in the process.

The process and procedures for the delivery have been officially approved by the CDC based on the guidelines for handling, storage, and transportation of the vaccines. The test conducted in August was a 1.6 km distance between the Atrium Health in Winston Salem, to Piedmont Plaza. The drone was equipped with a specialized cargo box that contains Cold Chain Technologies’ customized PCM Gel Solution, which is basically a temperature-sensitive packaging mixture that keeps the COVID vaccine at around 2 to 8 degrees celsius. Also, they equipped a temperature monitor to the cargo drone so that it can be monitored remotely. [14]

Delivering Healthcare Supplies to Indigenous Communities

Drones in the healthcare industry can improve the quality of life by removing difficult steps or tasks in certain areas of the world. Take the First Nations Community, Stellat’en First Nation in British Columbia for example. Within this Indigenous community, members need to use alternative methods for receiving medical supplies due to the difficult terrain and isolated areas of the community, such as ordering supplies from helicopters or ferries. The community says that using drones can take off lots of stress from the elders, and community members that need to pick up the supplies from helicopters.

To assist this community, UBC partnered with Air Canada, Life Labs, and Drone Delivery Canada to launch a project which deployed drones to the Stellat’en First Nation community. The project’s purpose was to make medical services more accessible to rural areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first drone took off on October 13, flying about 4 km to carry healthcare supplies from the village of Fraser Lake to the nearby Indigenous community. [15]

Fighting the Pandemic in China

In China, drones were also being used in China to fight COVID, but not necessarily for deliveries. At the beginning of the pandemic last year, they used drones equipped with speakers that were warning citizens to wear their masks and stay indoors back in 2020 January. These drones also carried cameras and were reported to chase citizens around whilst warning them to wear masks for the purpose of enforcing coronavirus pandemic rules. [16]

In June 2021, there was another set of 60 drones deployed in the city of Guangzhou to keep people indoors and wear masks if they are going outside. The reason for this wave of drones was due to a flare-up of a recent delta variant at the time that caused 6 new cases to be reported in under 24 hours. [17]

Organ Deliveries

An unmanned drone completes a testing flight in Toronto. The world's first lung transplant delivered by UAV is completed by University Health Network and Unither Bioélectronique on September 25.

Another implication of drones in the healthcare industry is delivering organs. On September 25, the University Health Network partnered with Unither Bioelectronique to complete the first lung transplant delivered by a UAV. Unither Bioelectronique is a Biotechnology company in Bromont, Quebec that is trying to deliver an unlimited supply of United Therapeutics manufactured organs to waiting patients, with a low impact on the environment. Their drone carried the lungs from Toronto Western Hospital to Toronto General Hospital, a 2.2 km distance, and the journey took six minutes, compared to a 9 minute delivery via traditional vehicle transport. The recipient of the lung transplant confirmed in an interview that the transplant went well.

Several U.S. firms have already completed similar deliveries in the past via cargo drones, but with other organs such as corneas, kidneys and pancreases instead. This lung flight test only took 6 minutes, but previous deliveries in the past were done by the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where they sent a cornea on a 10 minute journey, and a kidney on a 25 minute journey earlier in May this year. In the future, we may see drones transport these organs over even longer distances. [18]

AED Deliveries

Other than organs, drone transportation can be meaningfully extended to many different uses in healthcare, especially when delivery time is a major factor for success. For example, drones can quickly deliver automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to cardiac arrest patients which can increase the chances of survival up to 70%. However, because they are required to be used in the early-cardiac-arrest phase, accessibility and use of AEDs are still low even though hundreds of thousands are available in high-income countries. Therefore, utilizing drone technology for delivery may potentially solve this barrier to adoption for AEDs. A study done in the European Heart journal found that these drones were able to decrease first-responder times, especially in places where emergency medical services struggle to respond quickly. [19]

Drones to Rescue Drowning Swimmers

Another example of real-time drone deliveries in healthcare include drones being used to deliver floatation devices quickly to drowning swimmers. In 2017, 28 tests were performed to simulate rescue operations with and without a UAV. The results found that UAVs reduced the time on average by more than half in both moderate and rough sea conditions. The integration of UAVs in this and similar rescue operations can both reduce the time it takes to deliver first aid, while simultaneously keeping lifeguards away from dangerous sea conditions. [20]

Telehealth and Virtual Healthcare

Finally in healthcare, Telehealth and virtual healthcare drones are also currently being developed, seeking to improve current basic telehealth services. Currently, telehealth services consist mainly of speaking with a doctor through a webcam. Developing drone technology seeks to upgrade this service by connecting with physicians virtually from home through the use of drones. These drones would ideally be big enough to carry medicine/supplies directly to the patient while being small enough to navigate through the house. As this technology further develops, drones will hopefully be able to allow for more physical components of the healthcare system such as blood tests or imaging to be integrated into virtual healthcare. [21]

Drones in the Logistics Industry

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Drone Transportation and Logistics is estimated at US$12 Billion in 2020. It is projected to reach a revised size of US$45.5 Billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21% over the period 2020-2027. [22] Freight drones are fast, efficient and customizable for low-cost freight services especially for remote areas. So far the e-commerce industry is most applicable and are primarily opting for drones to transform delivery services. Last mile operators and small package delivery companies are the perfect business segment for drones to be implemented because of drones current technological limitations such as travel distance. Shipping costs can be significantly reduced in comparison to truck delivery expenses such as maintenance, fuel, and insurance.

To really understand how drones can change the shipping industry in the future, here is an example of what can be implemented. Amazon Prime Air has already been introduced since 2013. However, it has only recently received federal approval to operate its fleet of Prime air delivery by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). [23]

Amazon has since accelerated their research and development in this field with further testing while working closely with the FAA. Companies such as Google and UPS have also received FAA approval to operate a fleet of drones. The fastest a package can reach someone right now in America is with Amazon Prime Now. They are two-hour deliveries when you meet $35 minimum spend. If a customer wants more items or wants a faster delivery to 1 hour they have to pay $8-10. However, Amazon Prime Now mostly caters to groceries and household items. For other items, Amazon prime same-day shipping can be offered usually when you order items in the morning and receive them in the evening. The same-day shipping options such as UPS and FedEx generally mean the items will be delivered within 24 hours.

Amazon is looking to implement Prime Air delivery in the future which is expected to ship out packages directly to customers from warehouses within 30 minutes for as low as $1.00. No longer will an item need to follow the procedure of getting packaged at the warehouse, picked up by the delivery truck, then have to follow the delivery truck around on their delivery route. The package can be put in the Amazon Prime Air drone that flies directly to your house without being restricted by the truck route and traffic. Drones can also be dispatched for returns. In comparison, customers need to print shipping labels, repackage items, then drop them off at shipment centers.

Freight Drones

Freight drones can exhibit many benefits over traditional cargo logistics which utilize a network of cargo planes, freight ships and trucks. Freight carry much larger loads in comparison to smaller “last mile” drones that carry small packages such as groceries. Freight drones can carry entire medical suites or tons of food supplies. A cargo drone manufactured by Sabrew Aircraft Inc. can carry a cargo load of up to 6000 pounds (2700 kg) for 1000 miles (1800 km) in any weather. Their aircraft can fly as fast as 200 knots (370 kph) which is much faster than a helicopter. [24]

Freight drones can carry significant amounts of supplies to remote areas. Locations that can’t be accessed by trucks such as a flooded area can easily be accessed by a drone. Additionally, it is more efficient to build and certify an unmanned cargo aircraft due to today’s regulation. A helicopter is required to meet specific regulations for carriage of humans in similar cases. For most drones, large airstrips that aircrafts need are not needed in drones that can takeoff vertically.

Points of Value Created from Cargo Drones

  • Drones improve efficiency and reduce costs
  • High level of maneuverability and get reach remote locations normal vehicles and aircrafts can’t
  • Reduce operation and maintenance costs for freight and delivery
  • Increase freight service offering with solutions that can be operated out of usual working hours and potential to increase efficiency
  • Reduction in damage to and maintenance required for road infrastructure as many heavy vehicles could be taken off the road in favour of UAVs.
  • Potentially enhancing the economic, social and environmental value
  • Increase efficiency enabling cheaper delivery services and shorter waiting times for deliveries through automated real-time optimization of delivery routes, and less pressure and congestion on the road network.
  • Reduce emissions and pollution, as road vehicles are replaced by UAVs powered by electricity.
  • Improve road safety by reducing the number of freight vehicles on the road and replacing them with aerial vehicles in a dedicated aerial space.

Drones in the Agriculture Industry

In agriculture, drone use has also given rise to practices such as precision agriculture as part of an effective approach to sustainable agricultural and land management. The modern farming industry is currently facing large climate change impacts along with predicted agricultural consumption to increase by 69% from 2010 to 2050. [25] By utilizing UAVs along with current global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) tools, agronomists, agricultural engineers and farmers are able to perform robust data analysis to gain effective insight into their land and crops. [26] These tools will allow for fine-scale monitoring and mapping of aspects such as yield and crop parameter data to provide more efficient cultivation methods. For example, the data that UAVs are able to capture can provide insights into crop supervision, soil and field analyses and assessing the health of plants. In crop supervision, drones can be integrated throughout every stage of the crop lifecycle, allowing for greater crop monitoring at lower costs, especially in unpredictable weather conditions. For soil and field analyses, drones are able to capture information such as irrigation and optimal nitrogen levels by producing 3D maps and tracking heat signatures. In health assessment, drones are able to preemptively identify crop diseases through scanning crops using visible light (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) lights.
Drone seed planting in Myanmar


Along with greater data capturing, UAVs are also able to provide better and more efficient crop planting. For example, a project in Myanmar in September 2018 used drones designed by an ex-NASA engineer to fire mangrove “seed missiles” into remote areas of the country. While it took the Worldview Foundation 7 years to plant 6 million trees in Myanmar, two operators could now send out a mini-fleet of drones which could potentially plant 400,000 drones in a single day. [27]

Although drone use has not yet been adopted into mainstream use in agriculture, companies such as Microsoft are paving the way to allow for more agriculture professionals to access this technology. In particular, Microsoft Azure’s FarmBeats program uses the data analytics from UAVs to boost farm productivity and reduce resource usage.

Drones combating Natural Disasters

Every year, natural disasters kill over 60,000 people, affect 200 million people, and cause over $150B USD in damages. [28] Governments and other stakeholders are always concerned about how to mitigate these risks, and drones are being used in a variety of ways to combat natural disasters. When disaster strikes, it is oftentimes that the natural terrain is altered and search and rescue teams are incapable of reaching affected areas. Disaster-stricken areas can become isolated and it is imperative to locate injured people as soon as possible. Rapid deployment of first response within the first hour of an incident can mean the differences between life and death, thus, drones are highly valuable in making the first assessment to aid emergency services in figuring out how best to plan their rescue efforts. Governments all around the world such as India[1], China[2], Ireland, and the US have begun implementing drone technology into their emergency response planning because of how powerful the technology is.

Search and Rescue

As current technologies; ATVs, helicopters, cars, etc., are limited in their transportation when the terrain becomes altered or maybe too expensive, UAVs are the perfect solution. When disaster occurs, it is vital to locate missing persons as soon as possible, and drones do this with their accurate and extreme maneuverability, tools, and lower costs. Commonly, search and rescue drones use thermal imaging cameras to detect missing persons in difficult areas. [29] After the events of Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi government used drone technology to find and identify survivors in towns that were cut off by debris. [30] Other forms of life detecting drones are being developed by the Middle Technical University of Baghdad or the University of South Australia include photoplethysmography (iPPG) to detect if people are still alive based on skin colour analysis (this method is still in the works) and cardiopulmonary motion-detecting from chest movement in survivors. [31] Ultimately, the drones are equipped with some kind of camera or sensor capable of detecting life, and relay this information back to a control centre with vital stats and locational information, saving lives much faster than the current technology at limited costs.

Emergency Communication

In the case of natural disasters or terrorist attacks when communication lines are possibly taken down, drone technology can be used to provide emergency communication much faster than current processes. Major telecommunication provider ZTE and the Quanzhou branch of China Telecom have successfully deployed drones that can provide emergency communication within 10 minutes. [32] The drone uses 4G macro cell signals for backhaul and is cheap to manufacture compared to emergency base stations of emergency communication vehicles which take 10-48 hours to set up. Within a 5km-radius, users can reach up to downlink data rates of 30mbps. This can be taken one step further with drone swarm technology, which can collaboratively finish tasks with greater efficiency and lower costs than traditional single drones. Drone swarms function similarly to a traditional drone, but create a network amongst one another and reduce the load on individual nodes. This allows drone swarms to create larger communication fields, as well as increasing the difficulty of being taken down by enemy forces. [33] Although drone swarms are heavily associated with military use, they can be used in other settings such as tactical edge networks, which are characterized by wireless links that have limited capacity and are likely to disconnect, or smart cities:

Smart cities put data and digital technology to work to make better decisions and improve the quality of life. More comprehensive, real-time data gives agencies the ability to watch events as they unfold, understand how demand patterns are changing, and respond with faster and lower-cost solutions.

3 Layers of Smartness Diagram

Three layers work together to make a smart city hum. First is the technology base, which includes a critical mass of smartphones and sensors connected by high-speed communication networks. The second layer consists of specific applications. Translating raw data into alerts, insight, and action requires the right tools, and this is where technology providers and app developers come in. The third layer is usage by cities, companies, and the public. Many applications succeed only if they are widely adopted and manage to change behaviour. They encourage people to use transit during off-hours, to change routes, to use less energy and water and to do so at different times of day, and to reduce strains on the healthcare system through preventive self-care. [34]

Emergency Supply Delivery

When missing persons are located during search and rescue attempts, another function drones can use is providing emergency equipment to people in these remote areas. Furthermore, UAVs are being used to deliver medical supplies around the world, from organs[3] to vaccines[4]. The use of UAV immensely reduces transportation times and costs, such as the medical deliveries in the Scottish Highlands; delivery of PPE supplies and COVID test kits were reduced from 6 hours by conventional transportation (ferry, roads, etc.) to 15 minutes by drone. [35]

Disaster Recovery and Planning

Besides locating missing persons, UAVs can also be used to track the damage that has been done after a disaster. After Hurricane Irma, local governments in Florida used UAVs to assess the structure of damaged buildings, allowing them to accordingly plan rescue efforts and reduce exposure to danger. Live maps and 3D maps allow for collaboration between safety teams and create updated means of communication. For example, in Mesa County, Colorado, drones are being used to understand the scope of mudslides without sending workers to the site while simultaneously tracking altered terrains. The 3D maps and live maps can be used to identify which areas have been most heavily affected and allow response teams to figure out the best course of action, expedite relief efforts, and follow clean-up protocols.[36]

Drones in the Construction Industry

The construction industry is ripe for innovative and disruptive technology to improve the productivity of the workforce
Construction Labour Productivity
. Construction is one of the lowest digitalized sectors and the technology in the 21st Century has yet to provide the changes necessary for improvement. On average, projects also take 20% longer than scheduled and are 80% over budget. [37] Not only that, but cost and schedule overruns are the norm.
Comparing levels of digitization between sectors
Shortages of skilled labour and supervisory staff are only some of the concerns and problems within the industry. [37] It is not difficult to see how construction labour productivity has not kept up with overall economic productivity. As we move into a generation more concerned about climate change and the impacts of our actions, there is also a growing demand for environmentally sensitive construction which means traditional practices must change. [37] The adoption of UAV Drone Technology has the potential to improve efficiency, work safety and reduce costs. Drones can enable companies to make intelligent and informed decisions about their projects in a much faster and efficient way.

Design Management

Under Design Management, drones can change the way land surveying is conducted. Surveying is done before, during and after construction to ensure that the land and building is up to standards. Traditionally, an engineer must physically access various parts of the site, many which are hard to reach locations. Many building surveys require visibility of the building’s roof to identify it’s conditions and assess any defects. Accessing these tricky and difficult spots require additional effort by using ladders and scaffolding. A drone can perform the same functions while the surveyor is on the ground at all times. It can remotely perform surveying tasks without the safety risk associated. It will reduce time and cost of these functions which will allow projects to move at a quicker pace. Advanced technology such as Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) systems equipped onto the drones can provide more in-depth knowledge of the vegetation and characteristics of the land being developed. It can provide more accurate data to engineers and builders which will ultimately hasten decision making and land understanding. [37]


Single 5km Road Survey
Time Cost
WingtraOne 2.5 hours $270
Multirotor Drone 9 hours $970
Laser Scanner 6 days $5,200
Helicopter Outsourced $11,000
The company Wingtra based in the UK has developed a specialized drone to efficiently conduct road surveying. [38] To map and survey road or highway constructions, it would take around 6 days to get onto the field to perform the necessary functions with traditional methods. Their drone named WingtraOne demonstrates how much faster it could be done.
WingtraOne
Surveyors are able to obtain data much faster without the expense of reliability or time. Below is a graph comparing drones to traditional methods. [38] Economic value is being found today and this is only the beginning.

Performance Management

Drones can improve construction site inspections and logistics. As construction sites are always moving and plans do not always pan out, drones can provide a real-time update to better understand the situation. Having a drone equipped with a laser scanner is a quick and easy way to collect extremely accurate data about the on-site conditions. [39] Laser scanning produces a point cloud which is a set of data points in space that represents a 3D shape or object. It is created by simply performing a scan of an object or structure. In construction, point cloud surveying is used for modelling: (A) existing buildings before renovation, (B) surroundings before creating a new building and (C) the built structure to detect any deviations from the plan. [40] This provides complete and accurate information which can reduce the need for site revisits and conformance checking. Nonetheless, improving project turnaround and reducing costs.
3D Modeling

Health and Safety

Drones can help construction operators in monitoring site safety, hazards and concerns. Site inductions are safety briefings which outlines important information, training and instructions to protect contractors and anybody around them. Often, this is in the form of a premeditated talk in a site cabin or pre-recorded videos. A drone can provide real time demonstration of vehicle operations and the H&S risks during the construction site. A program manager of unmanned aircraft systems states that “Drones provide views that are inaccessible, too expensive and risky to capture by other means.” [40] Dispatching drones instead of workers provides flexibility, speed and the ability to obtain an in-depth understanding of the site.

Quality Control and Maintenance

Quality control and maintenance inspections will also be much more efficient with the use of Drones. Thermal imaging capabilities equipped on drones allow engineers to identify cold or hot spots in buildings with electrical components. Builders and surveyors may rely on this information when it comes to identifying any defects or issues. [39] It is currently difficult to carry out planned or reactive maintenance of high structures. Locations such as bridges, towers, and scaffolding require costly access and site personnel working at height. [39] Drones can prove a quicker and easier way to carry out inspections, providing HD real-time footage to the engineer or surveyor from the ground at all times, reducing safety risk. Maintenance teams can quickly inspect assets, target wear & tear damage which will mitigate failures that could have catastrophic environmental and financial consequences. This will help in avoiding costly project delays or governmental penalties.

Project Reports

Construction progress reports are often prepared monthly to record site progress against the current project timeline. [39] Drones can provide constant aerial site monitoring to allow for daily or weekly updates which allows site managers to make decisions much quicker. A regular drone flight can be a fast and easy way to record and visualize project progress through a series of aerial shots and HD videos.
Aerial view of the construction progress
The data of drones can be accessed on multiple platforms such as desktop, laptop, tablet or even smart phones. [41] This provides stakeholders the flexibility to gain better insight into the situation without having to be there in person. Overall, this will improve accountability and productivity within the project as it moves through each construction stage.

Opportunities in Africa

Utilizing drone technology in first world countries such as Africa can assist them in developing “Smart” infrastructure such as buildings and cities rather than the traditional, slow, expensive process of upgrading old infrastructure. [39] Currently, African countries have little limitation and legislation on the use of drones. Companies are in the position to utilize drone technology to obtain a competitive advantage in the development of buildings, monitoring progress, inspections, and security patrol. Equipping a drone with thermal imaging is effective in patrolling construction sites at night by showing human activity which will enhance security measures. This enables companies to make intelligent and informed decisions about their projects in a faster, safer and more efficient way. [39]

In the future, Drone technology may become fully autonomous systems that can carry out flights on their own. By planning a flight-mission and without any control necessary, drones can work independently and replace certain time consuming labour intensive activities. Further developments in emerging technology such as AI will accelerate the growth of drones. Construction labour productivity will rise and thus reduce over budgeting and schedule issues.

Weather Drones

A drawback to the globalization of drones is the effects of weather on flyability. However, this is not a hindrance specifically to weather drones, which are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions such as immense winds and rain from hurricanes. NASA has developed a high altitude UAV that is capable of observing meteorological parameters and can more accurately track seismic waves, tornadoes, meteors, lightning, magnetic storms, hydrodynamic waves, etc. [42] Current technologies measure and track weather phenomena from fixed positions, so by allowing instruments to track phenomena at closer ranges, we can receive more accurate, efficient, and sensitive results. Additionally, it’s cheaper and more controllable than alternatives like radiosondes which are not reusable and can only be used in fixed positions. [43] These more precise results can be transferred to local weather reports, and are in fact being integrated with some local weather forecasts. [44] South Korea has recently invested $32M USD into weather drones and plans to develop stratospheric drones by 2025. These high-performance drones are expected to monitor from altitudes of 50 km, from Earth’s stratosphere. This is because weather activity is rarely abnormal at this layer, making it an optimal area to observe from. The South Korean government intends to surveil wildfires, marine pollution, rise in sea level, and other distressing weather phenomena. [45] Current solar-powered stratospheric drones are can fly for up to 26 days and carry loads of 5 kg. South Korea’s Ministry of Science stated on September 15, 2021 that they expect to build a drone that can fly for over a month’s duration and carry up to 20 kg. Weather drones are expected to allow better predictions for natural disasters and potentially save lives.

Underwater Drones

Underwater Drones or Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVS) range from units about a meter long to vehicles the size of small boats, and they can cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to $10 million or more. Underwater ROVs are used in a variety of industries: Search and Rescue, Military, Recreation and Discovery, Aquaculture, Marine Biology, Oil, Gas, Offshore Energy, Shipping, Submerged Infrastructure, and more. They are used for a diverse set of activities that are dangerous for human divers. They allow operators to capture photo and video footage to inspect and monitor ports, harbours and vessels, bring innovation to pipe inspections, locate underwater targets and explore the depths of our oceans, lakes and rivers. ROVs are linked to a host ship by a buoyant tether when working in rough conditions or in deeper water, a load-carrying umbilical cable is used along with tether management system (TMS). The TMS is either a garage-like device which contains the ROV during lowering through the splash zone or, on larger work-class ROVs, a separate assembly which sits on top of the ROV. The purpose of the TMS is to lengthen and shorten the tether so the effect of cable drag where there are underwater currents is minimized. The umbilical cable is an armored cable that contains a group of electrical conductors and fiber optics that carry electric power, video, and data signals between the operator and the TMS. Where used, the TMS then relays the signals and power for the ROV down the tether cable. [46]


The Four types of ROVS

Work Class ROV

A work class ROV is used for ocean floor exploration and inspections at depths that divers are often unable to reach. They act as a safe alternative to divers and are often used in offshore energy projects and deep archaeological investigations.

Light Work Class ROV

A light work class ROV is ideal for moderate to deep depths; the ROV is deployed from ships as an alternative to divers to operate. It can be used during inspections to make repairs. Large extensions, such as laser scanners or specialized inspection devices and sensors, can be added on.

Observation Class ROV

An Observation Class ROV is small in size, used to explore lakes, rivers and coastal waters. They are often used to test water safety prior to a diver entering the water during missions and conducting inspections, Able to be equipped with sonar and custom sensors, they are versatile vehicles.

Micro or Mini ROV

The micro or mini ROV is the smallest class, often used to inspect hard to reach areas at shallow depths, such as pipe systems and submerged infrastructure.


Benefits of the ROV

Many of the benefits of a ROV are synonymous to the benefits of aerial drones. The unmanned aspect of drones promotes similar benefits across all usages of drones. Moreover, technological innovation and engineering also promotes similar benefits in using unnamed vehicles across industries.

Quick Deployment

Due to ROV’s compact design and easy to use technology, underwater ROVs can be deployed promptly. For example, deploying a drone can almost be as easy as deploying a remote controlled car. This is highly beneficial in emergency situations where time is limited, and in areas that are too narrow or difficult to reach by divers.

Minimal Maintenance

Underwater ROVs are specially designed to withstand the conditions that they are tasked for and require minimal maintenance while staying reliable for years before major repairs.

Extended Dive Times

Depending on the conditions and type of operation, divers can only remain submerged underwater up to 30 minutes to an hour at a time due to air limitations and most jobs require a dive team consisting of 2-3 divers for a single mission. Depending on its battery life, an ROV can remain underwater for hours on end.

Video Recording Capabilities

Many ROVS are equipped with cameras capable of taking photos and videos. In dark and murky waters where it is dangerous for a diver, an ROV can be deployed to record, and later be reviewed for documentation and results.

Maneuverability

ROV’s are designed to be highly maneuverable. Depending on its size, an ROV is capable of maneuvering and inspecting small and hard to reach underwater areas such as crevices for different applicable missions. This is especially useful when collecting data that would otherwise be unattainable by human divers.

Safety

ROVs provide a safe solution to explore dangerous areas for divers. ROVS can be deployed underwater while operators are on shore or out of water. In situations where divers are needed, ROVs can guide divers and find the safest paths for them to operate.

Cost-Effective

In comparison to larger submersibles, a micro ROV is much more cost-effective. A micro ROV is great for anyone interested in exploring narrow underwater areas and gathering footage or collecting data; it is also a very affordable option.

Military Drones

Military usage of drones was first introduced during World War I with the US and France looking to develop an automatic airplane. France then was able to develop the Voisin BN3 airplane which could only fly for about 100km. While further interest in UAVs were developed in World War II, the first time drones were actually used in observation was during the Vietnam War in 1973. The usage of drones are highly convenient but also highly controversial, often sparking fierce ethical and political debates as military operations using drones result in attacks causes a blind eye to the actual ramifications and consequences of their warfare. However, in military operations today, many different types of military drones are still being developed, categorized based on their weight, range, speed and specific capabilities. [47]

Categories of UAVs

Weight

Class I Drone
Class I (< 150 KG): Micro, Mini or Small Drones

Class I drones are typically used to perform Computerized Command, Control, Communication & Information solutions. Their top speed is usually launched by a small catapult and can reach top speeds of 100 km/h, a maximum altitude of 4000m and a payload of 8 kilograms. Because of their small size, they are usually launched by a small catapult from the land or a ship's deck and can provide ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Renaissance).

Class II Drone
Class II (150 - 600 KG): Tactical

Class II drones are often used for medium range surveillance and are used similarly to Class I drones but on a larger scale. These tactical UAVs have a good combination of endurance and flexibility, providing usage in situations such as target acquisitions and situational analysis.

Class III Drone
Class III (> 600 KG): Strategic

Class III drones have a wider range of applications and are usually referred to as Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) and High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAVs. These drones have state of the art infrastructure and can be used to determine the position of enemies or certain populations, and can be used to compile lists of targets.


Functions

Target and Destroy UAVs: Can simulate an enemy missile or aircraft and can provide aerial or ground gunnery at a target.

Reconnaissance UAVs

Used to provide information and intelligence on the battlefield.

Combat UAVs: Provides attack capabilities for high-risk missions.

Research and Development UAVs: Can be integrated into deployed UAVs and are used to further develop UAV technologies. Civil and Commercial UAVs: Designed to be used for civil and commercial applications.

UAV Anatomy

Sensor fusion

Uses different sensors on board the vehicle to obtain information

Communication UAVs

In the present of incomplete or imperfect information, these can help in the handling of communication and coordination

Motion planning (path planning)

When encountering certain obstacles, these UAVs can help determine the optimal path

Trajectory generation UAVs

Determines the optimal control maneuver to take to follow a given path or go to from a given location.

Task allocation and scheduling

In the case where there are time and equipment constraints, these UAVs can determine the optimal distribution of several tasks among a group of agents.

Cooperative tactics UAVs

With the goal of optimizing or maximizing the chances of a missions success, these UAVs can formulate an optimal sequence as well as spatial distribution of activities between various agents.

Industry Outlook

The drone industry is projected to grow on different scales based on which industry it is being used in. Some projected numbers include:

  • Healthcare - $643.3 million by 2027 [48]
  • Construction - $14 billion by 2028 [49]
  • Military - $32.14 billion by 2025 [50]
  • Logistics - $46 billion by 2027 [51]
  • Underwater - $4.3 billion by 2026 [52]
  • Agriculture - $43.4 billion by 2025

Summary of Benefits

With drones' large variety of usages over the many industries covered, there are also many benefits that come with using drones over traditional transportation methods:

  • Reduced costs in labour
  • Minimizes workplace dangers and lives lost(especially in industries such as Construction)
  • Improved labour productivity (GDP)
  • Improved accuracy in forecasting and mapping
  • Decreases time to respond to emergencies
  • Reduces transportation delivery time and costs
  • Faster delivery and retrieval of life saving supplies and organs [53]

Technological Vulnerability

As with any emergent technology, many technological aspects of a fully functional drone are still in development. Drones are currently technologically limited by factors such as battery capacity, bandwidth and security. This limits the distance and the weight a drone can carry. Security is important because drones pose a large risk to the safety of the public if it were to be hacked. In today’s age anything that is connected to a network that can be remotely controlled increases the threat of public safety. In relation to general safety, skilled operators and technicians must be trained to support drones. With safety in mind, bugs and potential malfunctions must be also smoothed out before drones should be allowed to operate in services that may cause harm with failure [54].

Drones will need to be technologically adequate to maneuver in the air to avoid birds and other objects such as infrastructure. Currently, AI technology is implemented in some drones to avoid obstacles and land safely. Moreover, technological infrastructure must be further developed to pave flight paths and allow fleets of drones to be simultaneously functioning in different industries.

Tech vulnerability also includes privacy issues. Amazon products such as Alexa keep most of their consumers' data. Tesla cars take in data and store it to improve their self-driving capacities and improve the safety of their cars. Anything that takes in data to function likely saves that data. In terms of drones, drones use cameras and different types of sensors to operate. Data will need to be collected in order to operate a drone. This raises privacy concerns over storage of personal data and files such as data on a house when a drone flys over or delivers to one.

Drone Insurance

Drone insurance is used to protect the aircraft owner against claims due to damages, accidental injuries, and any malfunctions during flight. There is a large liability when it comes to flying drones recreationally and commercially. For example, a drone could crash into someone’s property, causing damage to their assets. At the bare minimum, purchasing drone liability insurance coverage is recommended even for recreational purposes. Although it is not required in the United States and Canada to purchase insurance, it is required in China to purchase liability insurance before flying. [55] [56]


A liability insurance coverage ensures protection against claims resulting from injuries and damages to people or property. This type of insurance policy covers any legal costs and payouts if the insured party is found to be legally liable. [57] There are also hull and add-on coverages available for drones. Hull coverage is used to cover physical damage to the drone. Add-on coverage is used for equipment, remote controls and other specific cases. Those who are interested in purchasing insurance must request for a quote through the selected company. Those who are interested in one of the highest coverage limit providers, BWI Fly is a drone insurance company that can cover around $500,000 to $25 million based on user need. [58] It is especially valuable that insurance policies can be tailored, as drones come in all shapes and sizes. Since the insurance policies can be tailored towards user needs, which is valuable as drones come in all shapes and sizes. The use case of the drones is also considered when a quote is requested. Insurance companies evaluate the different activities the drones are operating in. Some activities are at more risk of causing harm than others, and that would require additional costs. They provide hull add-on insurance that covers from $800 to $500,000 for all damages related to the physical drone and any equipment attached. Add-on coverage is also available which covers advertising liability coverage, bodily insurance, property damage and more. [58] For those who fly drones recreationally, Thimble provides a single occasion or packages of drone coverage. This is perfect for those who fly their drones occasionally, and therefore need insurance on a case by case basis. One feature is that they have a mobile app which allows users to purchase their insurance without needing to consolidate the company directly. In terms of coverage, the same typical protections are applied such as bodily injury, property damage, legal defense and medical payments coverage. They provide more or less coverage depending on the liability risks and the add-ons provided.

Broad Challenges for Adoption of Drones in 2021

Governmental Regulations

Remote ID

The regulation of UAV’s is a difficult process that is still under development today. The most prominent companies in the commercial drone airspace has unanimously identified a system called Remote Identification (RID), which is the first step in creating accountability within drone operators. RID would be similar to a license plate on automobiles, where it acts as an accountability measure when things go wrong. Accidents with drones can be quickly identified by their RID, and enforcement can swiftly track down the drone operator. Although it sounds good on paper, some drones are minuscule and the RID can only be seen within a meter of a person. A method that could be used to resolve this problem would be to have the RID emit a unique radio signal. It would be a dedicated system that is available to law enforcement, homeland security, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight inspectors or even an app on smartphones. [59] With the app, it could reveal the drone’s RID and registration number, where it will help assist authorities if necessary. In 2017, Chinese drone manufacturer DJI implemented a RID system on all of their drone aircraft. In tandem, they also created an AeroScope product, which is used for government officials to identify and track drones created by the company. [59] This is only the start of a worldwide adoption of new regulations, as this approach was endorsed by the congress. Even with the limitations, it is recognized that that RID is the first step in expanding the commercial UAV operations.

On December 31, 2019, the FAA announced the RID standard. However, it was met with heavy criticism as it came to be a cellular-based system that would require drone pilots to subscribe to a private third-party tracking service. [59] It would be around $2.50 a month for commercial or hobbyist for this subscription. Additionally, new hardware that is unfamiliar in the drone market was required to support this standard. As the RID must be on a stable network to be monitored, it allows the possibility of losing service mid-flight due to network failures or flying outside of cellular coverage areas. This financial burden is expected to diminish the drone market for operators of all kinds. The RID standard has been put on pause as industry leaders and UAV communities were eager to call out the RID proposal as “expensive, burdensome and intrusive”. [59] Two organizations that represent crewed aviation AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), expressed concerns of the limits the new standards would impose on the drone industry. It would reduce the rate of adoption and disincentivize any further investments. Due to the negative reaction from the public, the FAA has paused the rollout of the RID standard and is undergoing review.

Canada

Operation Types
Basic Operations You fly it in uncontrolled airspace You fly it more than 30 meters horizontally form bystanders You never fly it over bystanders You fly it more than 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or military aerodrome You fly it more than 1 nautical mile from a certified heli port
Advanced Operations You want to fly it in controlled airspace You want to fly it within 30 meters of bystanders You want to fly it over bystanders You want to fly less than 3 nautical miles from a certified airport or military aerodrome You want to fly it less than 1 nautical mile form a certified heliport

All drones between 250 g and 25 kg in weight must be registered. [60] Drones under 250 g do not need to be registered unless something is attached to it that increases its weight more. Drones over 25 kg do not need to be registered but require a special flight operations certificate instead. [61] Licenses are categorized by basic operations and advanced operations. For basic operations, drones must be registered, marked with registration number and pass the Small Basic Exam. For advanced operations, the basic standards must be met in additional to having an appropriate safety declaration for operations and pass a flight reviewer. Lastly, with either licenses, the operator must have their Pilot Certificate either Basic or Advanced as proof. [62]

United States

Licensing Types
Recreational Flyers Fly only for recreational purposes Follow safety guidelines of FAA-recognized Community Based Organization Fly within visual line of sight (VLOS) or use a visual observer who is co-located Fly at or below 400’ in controlled airspace Fly at or below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace Take the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and carry proof of test
Remote Pilot / Commercial Operator Become FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by passing knowledge test Register your drone with the FAA


All drones must be registered, except those that weigh 0.55 pounds or less than 250 grams. [62] The requirements for registration is that you must be 13 years or older to register, or have another person that meets this requirement register for them. The FAA registration certificate you get for drone use requires the operator to have it on them in possession when they fly. The drone must be marked with the registration number before engaging flight. Remote pilot or commercial operators must be 16 years old and be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a unmanned aircraft system (UAS). [63] Regardless of size, commercial flyers must register their drone with the FAA and become a FAA-Certified Drone Pilot. [63]

China

Standard Rules
Max altitude of 120 meters Max distance of 500 meters Fly at speeds less than 100 kilometers per hour Fly a drone that electronically records flight path Fly within visual line of sight (VLOS)

All drones weighing more than 250 g must be registered with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). [63] Any drones that weight between 7 kg and 116 kg requires a CAAC license. The CAAC must license all drones used for commercial purposes. A pilots license and UAV certification are required to operate any drones over 116 kg. There are “No-Fly Zones” that drones must adhere to. These zones are airports, military bases, and specific cities such as Beijing. The drone operator does not need a permit or license if it does not meet any of the registration or licensing outlines.

Next Steps for Businesses

Businesses can establish an intelligent digital approach to begin the drone journey. There are 5 steps to help position a company as a leader in realizing the potential of drones. [64]

  1. Establish implications of drones: Conduct strategic reviews of the technological development around drones and use cases relevant to the business. Examine operational challenges that drones can help overcome. Businesses should also look at the future implications of emerging technology such as AI and LiDAR that can work together to enable UAV Technology to flourish.
  2. Formulate and prioritize the response: Ask questions such as How drones can achieve business goals? Does the organization want to be an early adopter or fast follower? How can we integrate drones within our digital systems? Is the solution to implement drones technologically, economically and socially feasible?
  3. Look beyond technology: Put the right talent and culture in place to ensure that the business is ready to integrate drone technology. Create a data driven culture and systems that can ensure captured drone data is used to deliver key insights and enable high quality decision making.
  4. Ensure the right levels of governance, controls and trust: High levels of transparency and trust must be established with the public, government and other businesses before the adoption of UAV Technology. Privacy concerns must be addressed so that the public can feel confident with drones flying over their heads.
  5. Societal and ethical implications: Similar to the previous point, mechanisms must be created and in place to ensure that the quality and integrity of data is being preserved. Businesses should actively engage with the public to get feedback on how customers perceive the use of drones and adjust practices accordingly.

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