Drones will take $127bn worth of human work by 2020, PwC says


Google and Amazon were quick to put drones to use delivering orders.

But new research suggests delivery is just one small way drones are going to replace humans. The tiny airborne vessels will soon clean windows on skyscrapers, verify insurance claims and spray pesticide on crops.

The global market for drones, valued at around $2 billion today, will replace up to $127 billion worth of business services and human labour over the next four years, according to a new research by consulting firm PwC.

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Drone technology could soon become part of our everyday lives, monitoring problems with crumbling infrastructure such as cracks in tarmac, bridges and houses and even repairing them as part of $45.2 billion of infrastructure work currently done by humans.

Construction companies, amid other things, will be able to attach 3D printers to drones to produce on site-replacement parts for damaged elements of houses or roads.

Drones will be able to perform most tasks at height, reducing the risk of death and injury and increasing efficiency.

In transport, one of the most promising uses of drones is predicted to be food delivery.

“Providing products such as frozen food, ready-to-eat dishes or even daily groceries from large chains may become be the next big thing in the food and restaurant industries,” analysts at PwC said.


As soon as regulation permits, drones will be able to decrease the time it takes to deliver food, PwC said.

Google is for instance already trying to solve the problem of how to fly drones safely in yards without endangering pets or other potential obstacles.

In agriculture, drones will increasingly be used to gather and analyse data on crops quickly as well as to do precise spraying on plants.

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“It is fascinating to see how the combination of drone technology with deep analytical capabilities is reshaping the business world,” Piotr Romanowski, CEE advisory leader at PwC, said.

“The key barrier is actually the lack of legislation regarding the use of drones,” said Michal Mazur, head of drone powered solutions at PwC Poland.

Owners of drones in the US will soon have to register their machines with the US Department of Transportation, as the federal government attempts to regulate the devices more tightly.

Concerns over the use of drone around sensitive areas such as airports have also been raised after a British Airways pilot has revealed his flight was stuck by suspected drone as it came in to land at Heathrow airport.

Top drone markets by 2020 according to PwC

1. Infrastructure ($45.2 bn)

2. Agriculture ($32.4bn)

3. Transport ($13bn)

4. Security ($10bn)

5. Media and entertainment ($8.8 bn)

6. Insurance ($6.8 bn)

7. Telecoms ($6.3bn)

8. Mining ($4.4bn)

DJI Phantom 4 review

The drone takes off, hovering a few feet off the ground. I guide it up to about 12 feet with the throttle on the remote control. Then my three year old son takes over. He taps the screen on an iPad running our piloting app. The drone, a DJI Phantom 4, begins to ascend, heading towards an abandoned grainery. My son happily taps away at the screen, shifting the drone here and there. You wouldn’t notice how frantically he’s tapping from the footage he captured, which is buttery smooth.

Eventually he taps on tree. The Phantom 4 cruises towards it, adjusting slightly to avoid the obstacle. The end result is a dramatic shot, with the drone splitting the difference between two trees, sunset shining on their outstretched branches, passing far closer than I would have felt comfortable with if I was the one in control.

Before the Phantom 4, the best a camera drone could offer was the ability to follow your GPS signal. It works well enough, but has serious limitations. In practice it’s a bit like playing Marco Polo. The drone has a general sense of where you are, but can’t actually see you or the world around it. With just GPS to rely on, drones struggled to adjust for sudden changes in direction or speed, to keep subjects in frame when in close range — and of course, to avoid obstacles like trees, lampposts, and ski lifts.

I spent the last few days putting the Phantom 4 through its paces, spending most of my time on the brand new fully autonomous features. It took me a while to get up the courage to fly it full throttle at a wall, and I felt physically sick with fear when I did, but the unit never failed to sense a crash and come to a halt. It picked out brick walls, trees, even chain link fences. Along with obstacle avoidance, the Phantom 4 can be flown simply by tapping on your screen, as my son did. And it can use its computer vision to identify a specific person and follow them, keeping the subject of your film perfectly in frame.
DJI’s Phantom has been our favorite model of drone for the last few years, but this latest version doesn’t merely hold onto the mantle as the best unit you can buy. By adding computer vision and fully autonomous capabilities, the Phantom 4 has dramatically raised the bar on what is possible with a consumer caliber camera drone, both for complete amateurs who want to start flying and for professionals who are crafting complex and dangerous shots.

dji phantom 4 belly angle
The basics of the Phantom hardware maintain the high quality of previous editions with some small tweaks and improvements. TL;DR, it is still the best overall drone in terms of reliable flight, beautiful footage, and overall build quality. If you want to dig into the nitty gritty, the rest of this section if for you.

For starters, the Phantom 4 comes with a new carrying case, a grey styrofoam suitcase which looks like it should be holding the key codes for a nuclear submarine. It’s far more compact and durable than what came with the Phantom 3, which just had a handle on its cardboard box.
In our testing, battery life averaged above 25 minutes, which is equal or better than comparably sized camera drones. It went from empty to fully charged in an hour. The remote control can be charged at the same time as the battery and in our testing lasted through three full flights without a problem.

The new Phantom has a glossy plastic frame and a thinner, more aerodynamic body. The colored bands are gone from the arms, which now end in shiny metal on the exposed motors. It’s belly is grey plastic, which is a nice break from the all white design. From a distance it’s impossible to tell apart from previous editions, but from up close it’s a slightly more aggressive and attractive design. The controller is identical to previous editions, except it traded out a matte plastic for a shiny coat to match its drone.

Assembly is basically the same, except now the rotors have a new locking mechanism. DJI says it needed a stronger connection to keep the rotors from flying off in “sport mode” (more on that later.) The end results is just as simple — and quite a bit faster — the the previous assembly method. The battery is a bit bigger but otherwise identical. It snaps into place snugly and detaches easily.

dji phantom 4 motor
The Phantom 4 now essentially operates at three speeds. When you have object avoidance turned on, it tops out at a little above 22 miles per hour. In normal flight mode it can reach 35 miles an hour, and in the new sport mode it can fly at an astonishing 45 miles per hour. For experienced pilots, sport mode is a real treat, adding a lot of horsepower and agility to the craft. For professional camera operators sport mode will enable a lot more dynamic chase shots while filming high speed stunts or races.

DJI claims the Phantom 4 is five times more stable than its predecessor, and in our testing it delivered incredibly smooth footage. While hovering it never had an issue holding its exact position to within an inch or two, even in moderate winds. The extra stability come courtesy of an additional IMU, and double the number of downward facing cameras and sonar sensors, which the Phantom uses for its visual positioning system. When executing an automatic return to its home position the craft always landed within a few inches of its takeoff position.
The Phantom 4 uses the same remote controller and Lightbridge video downlink technology as the Phantom 3. In our testing it never lost connection and the video stream was extremely clear and free of lag. I don’t have an expert eye for film, but according to our video team the footage from the Phantom 4 was a big improvement. It looked more “raw” — a higher dynamic range, less digital sharpening, and less saturation — all perks that give you more flexibility when editing and coloring the footage later on.
All the intelligent flight modes found on the Phantom 3 — waypoint navigation, orbit, follow, and track — are available here as well. They still rely on GPS and haven’t changed much, although I found them a little bit more accurate at close range. Given the new autonomous features available, however, you probably won’t rely on this mode for anything but waypoint navigation.