Drones Hover Over the IoT Sector

SAN FRANCISCO -- Former Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson (he of the Long Tail fame) is offering a glimpse of how he sees drones fitting into the developing Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem -- and it's not as far-fetched as you might expect.

Anderson was at the GigaOm Structure Connect event here representing his newest venture, 3D Robotics Inc ., the VC-backed, Berkeley-based startup Anderson co-founded in 2009. The company's mission is to equip drones with mapping and image-capturing technology for relatively mundane B2B applications in industries like agriculture and construction.

In Anderson's vision, a drone can function as just another connected thing on an Internet full of them, and one with a unique perspective to gather intelligence. It's another projected role for drone technology -- one that sits somewhere between drones as hobbyist toys or delivery devices and drones as potential sources of high-altitude, high-speed connectivity. (See Forget the Internet, Brace for Skynet and Facebook, Google in New Drone Race.)

"A drone these days is a connected device -- carrying sensors, fully autonomous, connected to the Internet," Anderson said. "The perspective it gives from the air is one that's not easy to get."

Equipped with the ability to gather a half terabyte per hour per drone, Anderson said, drones can be used to collect big data that -- properly analyzed -- could benefit some of the "world's biggest industries."

"What if you had a drone that could survey daily, even hourly, and spot disease -- then spray pesticides as you need it? Or spot irrigation leaks?" he said. "You see what Google did with Street View -- this is sky view. The question is what you're going to do with it."

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Indeed, the question of what to do with with the collected intelligence -- popularly known as big data analytics -- is an increasingly relevant one for all players in the IoT ecosystem, from device makers to applications developers to network operators. Amar Hanspal, senior vice president of Autodesk, joined Anderson in the event's session to weigh in on how the data collected from such drones could be applied and used in various industries.

"You can start to do assessments of things: Are crops growing the right way? Are buildings in the right spot? You start answering questions," Hanspal said. "We now have software that's making sense of the data from the sky."

The drones-as-data collectors model is far from concrete, especially given nagging drone-related issues of privacy and airspace regulation. But as Anderson pointed out, the concept is more about the data analytics than it is about the method of collection.

"There are so many industries have specific questions that haven't thought about what a drone can do," he said. "We need to answer questions these industries have. A farmer doesn't want a drone, they want answers."

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading

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