John Daly: Opportunities in drone technology ‘too big to ignore’

If the coming business year could be defined by a few select words, surely ‘drone’ must figure prominently amongst them.

John Daly: Opportunities in drone technology ‘too big to ignore’

If the coming business year could be defined by a few select words, surely ‘drone’ must figure prominently amongst them.

These aerial wonders will be everywhere in 2020, it seems, delivering everything from our favourite novels to midweek comfort food takeaways.

With perfect timing to herald this coming era of convenience, the New Year celebrations in Shanghai included a spectacular display utilising 2,000 of these unmanned aerial vehicles, flying in a variety of perfect formations over the city.

While other capitals around the world opted for traditional pollution-laden fireworks on December 31, China’s biggest city offered an alternative that was as environmentally aware as it was spectacular.

Rising into the air against the dramatic skyscraper skyline of the city’s Pudong district, the carefully choreographed performance illuminated the Huangpu River and incorporated firework-like explosions, leaping dragons and a giant running man, all culminating in a countdown spelling out 2020 with Chinese characters in the sky.

Hailed as a low-pollution and climate-friendly alternative to traditional fireworks, it marked another forward step for drone technology into our daily lives.

While drones technology may have been the exclusive preserve of hobbyists up to recently, we are clearly entering a decade when these ‘toys in the sky’ will become a ubiquitous commercial reality in a variety of sectors.

In tandem with the advances in the controlling software, these unmanned aerial automations will find multiple uses in agriculture, oil rigs, construction, mining, geological surveys, traffic monitoring, crowd control and large-scale security.

Their assistance in helping relief agencies cope with natural disasters has already been proven in the current bushfires throughout Australia — a test-bed for search and rescue activities in future climatic calamities.

“Like the internet and GPS before them, drones are evolving beyond their military origin to become powerful business tools,” according to Goldman Sachs.

“They’ve already made the leap to the consumer market, and now they’re being put to work in commercial and civil government applications from fire-fighting to farming. That’s creating a market opportunity that’s too large to ignore.”

By the end of 2020, the investment bank forecasts a €90bn market opportunity for drones — helped by growing demand from the commercial and civil government sectors.

At last week’s CES2020 convention in Las Vegas, one particular Irish drone company was garnering a great deal of attention on the back of its plan to revolutionise food deliveries over the coming year. Dublin-based Manna Aero experienced plenty of interest in its aim to make “three-minute food delivery a reality”.

In the company’s declared ‘Manna-festo’ to completely replace road-based delivery and reduce dispatch times significantly, its custom- developed aerospace-grade drones are poised to deliver directly from restaurants and centralised kitchens to consumers’ homes.

Flying at an altitude of 80m and a speed of 80km/h, these 21st-century takeaway warriors of the aim to deliver a Sicilian pizza, tandoori chicken, or Cao Lau noodles anywhere within a 2km radius in less than three minutes.

“2020 for us is going to be about showing everyone in Ireland what it looks like, and showing the world that we are the first to do it properly,” said Bobby Healy, CEO of Manna.

Flying “a hundred times more flights than the largest airline in the world,” he added, that Manna deliveries will “have to be hundreds of times safer than anyone who flies in aircraft”.

Manna will begin deliveries in a designated Dublin area this March.

Manna intends to have a fleet of 100 drones in the air by the end of the year. “We are on the cusp of the fifth industrial revolution, powered by drones,” says Bobby Healy. “Our intention is to make drone delivery as pervasive as running water.”

Even looking beyond its establishment in food deliveries, Manna is poised to roll out services pharmacies or convenience stores — “basically anything else that the local economy needs”.

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