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Ask the expert: Finding value in drones for business use

The use of drones for business is gaining popularity, but the technology's value will vary widely across industries as use cases expand, according to Anil Nanduri of Intel.

One doesn't have to look too hard to see the potential business value of drones, according to Anil Nanduri, vice...

president and general manager at Intel Corp.'s drone group. Whether in agriculture, construction, delivery, insurance or videography, drones for business are beginning to bring new value to organizations across industries by helping save time, money and resources. At the recent InterDrone conference in Las Vegas, Nanduri sat down with SearchCIO staff to discuss the different ways drone data is creating new value for businesses.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How can industry tap into the business value of drones and drone data?

Anil Nanduri: People think of drones more as a toy -- I can go take some pictures, I can take some videos. But if you [look beyond those] applications, you can see there are many different applications of drones for business. There are applications in the military that people may be familiar with, but use cases are primarily seen in the commercial, civil and 'prosumer' [pro consumer] spaces -- these are areas in which people want to create professional videos, survey, do construction, do inspections or do deliveries. The value proposition looks very different depending on the application that you're looking at across the spectrum.

Let's take an example of a survey. Today, the first task in any new construction is to survey the land. Guess what? The world is a 3D world and to survey it, the tools we use are basically tripods that we put a little laser scanner on. In the past, we just had visual scans, but, today, you have a laser scanner and you mark points every hundred meters, every hundred yards or so. You acquire a set of points to map the terrain. With a drone, you can get millions of points with a 10-minute flight while there are people around because it's safe. You don't have to worry about it; it's flying in the sky. And you can get a complete recreation of that space in 3D, accurate to the centimeter or even lower, depending on some of the resolutions you can get. All this is done with a flight system capturing pictures from a camera.

In that case, the value proposition comes from weighing how much time is spent surveying, its associated workflow costs, any workflow interruption that occurs because of doing the survey and the business ROI from completing it. The business value in the case of surveying is different than the business value for a delivery system in which they're looking at the last mile costs. We all know that, logistically, it's the last mile that's the most expensive part of a delivery. So, for delivery companies, it's a logistics and value chain problem; it's the cost per mile that a drone delivery will take as compared to having a person deliver it. That's the business value; they look at it from that perspective. If you look at an oil refinery, it's about the safety of people. Their business value is different.

Business value within the commercial space is going to be very different based on the application. Even [within an industry like] agriculture, different value can be derived from the same application -- crop inspection creates value for farmers, insurance providers and seed providers. To different people, it could mean very different things. And there's a very interesting trend in all of this: data. It's the value that the drone data is going to create. Data analysis is what's really driving some of this.

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