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AI & Drones: A Match Made in the Sky

Nov 20, 2023

We are currently living in the AI revolution. Normal day to day people have access to a technology seemingly straight out of science fiction, with more functionalities popping up each day. In the drone industry AI is currently reshaping the way we use drones entirely, from navigation to data capture and processing, the opportunities we thought impossible are now endless.  


The success of drones and AI is being facilitated by the increased access to big data and the rapid development of complex algorithms​ . Deep learning combined with trial and error is allowing drones to learn to fly completely on their own. An article published by Carnegie Mellon university titled “Self-Supervised Robot Learning” Published in 2019 used drones made from cheap, easy to replace hulls integrated with deep reinforcement learning through self-supervised methods and got them to fly indoors in a clustered environment in under 40 flight hours.​  


Roles of AI  

AI is increasingly being used to automate the navigational functionality of drones. Instead of time wasted on mapping and planning by a human operator, the drone’s navigation system takes over localization, mapping, and path planning, allowing a human operator to focus entirely on capturing the perfect footage.   


The safety of a country’s citizens is at the forefront of any government’s goals. Drones are being used together with image recognition technology to detect traffic violations, suspicious behavior, and currently there is ongoing development of drones capable of detecting fires and acting quickly to put them out.   


Another example of the relationship between Drones and AI is the implementation of deep reinforcement learning in drones to create a nature-like swarm intelligence. This allows drones to complete complex tasks in a wide range of fields, including but not limited to: Hight level monitoring, surveillance, cluster analysis, search and rescue, and even in entertainment in the form of light shows. ​ 



Drones and Data  

By combining drones with AI, we are able to not only efficiently capture data, but also analyze it and providing insights such as safety, progress, problem identification and recommended solutions.   


Real life examples of this include a project by Ocean Alliance that measures and identifies whales in real time using drone image recognition and machine learning. Another example would be counting and monitoring the behaviors of livestock in farms to ensure the healthy development of said livestock, and finally they can be used to automatically capture and preserve architectural heritage sights threatened by looting, urbanization, mass tourism, conflict and climate change.​ 


Challenges and Opportunities  

The advantages of using autonomous drones are plentiful. With no human controlling the drone human error is removed from the equation. Additionally, this allows drones to operate in areas deemed hazardous to humans such as radioactive zones like Chernobyl and even at the top of volcanos. Moreover, we can’t forget about the efficiency factor, AI can increase the efficiency of drone use by suggesting quicker, less expensive, and less time-consuming ways to complete certain missions.  


The challenges that face the drones powered by AI are either regulatory or due to technology not being advanced enough to keep up with demand. Since drones are relatively new, not many countries have proper regulations to monitor and manage their use. An issue faced by both drones and aircraft pilots is that there is no proper air traffic management between manned and unmanned aircraft. On the technology side, since AI is a very young and yet undeveloped sector, there aren’t that many specialized AI software that can be integrated with drones. ​ 


What’s Next?   

The success of AI and drones are facilitated by the increased access to big data and the rapid development of complex algorithms. In the near future we can realistically see drones acting as tools for deliveries, maintaining public order, and even fully automated inspections in the industrial, agricultural, and energy sectors. ​ 


At Sager, we've harnessed the power of AI across multiple applications, streamlining data capture and analysis in innovative ways. To explore the future of geospatial intelligence, contact us and find out more about SagerSpace, our AI-powered geospatial intelligence solution.  

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