Editorial: Drones Are Really Taking Off | AIChE

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Editorial: Drones Are Really Taking Off



Last year, during the Black Friday sales, my husband purchased a drone. The drone is quite small — it is only about two hand spans wide — but its maneuverability is impressive. It is able to hover in the air easily, zip around with great speed, and soar up to great heights — high above the trees — in mere moments.

The drone is equipped with a camera that allows for panning, zooming, and video and photo capture. Using this functionality, my husband inspected the siding, gutters, and an antenna on the roof of my parent’s house, looking for problems caused by a recent wind storm. Performing a similar inspection the old fashioned way, using ladders to climb onto the roof, would have been dangerous at my parent’s three-story home. But with the drone, this process happened safely from the ground and took only about 15 minutes. (Luckily, the inspection found no problems, aside from a few faulty gutter guards filled with leaves.)

In the article “Establishing a Global Robotics Program” (pp. 35–39), authors from Dow’s R&D robotics group discuss how drones and other robots are used to perform inspections on equipment and vessels at Dow facilities around the world — eliminating a large percentage of confined space entries and decreasing potentially life-altering injuries or fatalities. Today, before a confined space entry is permitted at Dow, it is evaluated for its potential to be performed by a robot or drone instead of a human.

As demonstrated in the article, these devices have the ability to vastly improve the safety of maintenance personnel in the chemical process industries. Today, drones are being used in many different industries for a growing number of purposes. For example, conservationists are using drones to track the movement of endangered animals like elephants and identify the approach of poachers.

Each year, the capabilities of drones and robots improve. For instance, Amazon recently announced that it will be launching drone deliveries for Prime members in Lockeford, CA, later this year. Customers in that community will be the first in the U.S. to enjoy free drone delivery within 30 minutes — provided that their yard has enough space for the drone to land. Feedback from these initial customers will shape the future scale-up of the service.

Amazon is still negotiating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials to obtain the necessary permissions to conduct the deliveries. However, something tells me it’s only a matter of time before seeing a drone around the neighborhood is as common as seeing a UPS or FedEx truck. Drone-based delivery services could be part of a more sustainable future — saving fuel, reducing CO2 emissions from delivery trucks, and alleviating traffic congestion in populated areas.

In addition to their many practical uses, drones offer excellent entertainment value. More than 400 drones lit up the sky above Buckingham Palace as part of the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II last month. The carefully choreographed drones created a larger-than-life corgi in the sky, among various other shapes and designs, wowing audiences across London.

Drones are on the rise. But despite their growing popularity, I don’t think drones will be replacing our Fourth of July fireworks anytime soon.

Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief


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