Analysis about Industrial Use of DJI's Drones: Exaggerating Propaganda or Pragmatism?
Drones are reshaping the society from lives to industries. As a great manufacturer of drones, DJI gained great success in consumer-level drones. We'd like to analyze the industrial use of DJI's drones.
With a new level of the quality and accessibility of data, industries such as mining or agriculture would find potential improvement. Infrastructure maintenance and media-related industries could be promoted a lot via the pictures with higher quality. Not only drones but also all the drones-related software and solutions helped to reshape the industry.
Founded in 2006 till today, DJI products are redefining industries. Professionals in filmmaking, agriculture, conservation, search and rescue, energy infrastructure, DJI brings new perspectives to people’s work and helps them accomplish feats safer, faster, and with greater efficiency than ever before. Now as a professional drones developer and maker, DJI’s offices can now be found in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. However, though drones could be industrially used, several shortcomings are obviously. The battery capacity limits the drones' operating time especially they are used in agriculture. The complicated environment makes it harder to operate the drones while rescuing. Instead of repairing the broken parts of the facilities, drones can only inspecting or checking them, which may be more expensive than installing a camera. EqualOcean wants to give analysis of the industrial application situations of DJI’s products.
Agriculture - Crop Consulting, Irrigation Management, Crop Inspection and Spraying.
According to PwC's consulting data, the aggregate agricultural consumption will increase by 69% from 2010 to 2050, stimulated by population growth, which from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050. The agriculture must be more productive and make innovation in the way it produces in order to catch up such a great increase demand. On the other hand, the agriculture would face increasing challenges from the change of climate, environmental pollution, and unexcepted disasters. With the help of drones, agriculture would be more efficient because of the precise gathering of data and drones-powered spraying. But drones would never be a perfect sollution currently.
Crop Consulting and Irrigation Management
It has been a long history for farmers walked into fields to investigate crops. Until recently, people use satellite imagery to do that which is extremely expensive and has a low quality of the images. Due to a large area of farmed land and low efficiency in crop monitoring, and the increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, people have to find a new way of investigating crops. Drones make it easier for people to understand their farmland and crops. Farms constantly search for the optimization of their use of water. Large growers today often have many fields spread out across an entire region. These rely on the use of multiple irrigation pivots to water crops.
In terms of crop consulting and irrigation management, DJI gives its solutions. DJI Phantom series allow famer to evaluate their crops at scale and create a crop maps that helps them to manage the crops simultaneously, which is a time-saving and efficient method. Drones used in crop consulting field replaces the traditional and labor-intensive method which farmers must investigating crops manually. The Phantom series of drones are highly portable and equipped with 12 megapixel cameras which capture up to 4K video and clear, detailed images. These kinds of pictures are essential for analysis. In addition to this, the Matrice series drones pilots can simultaneously capture detailed visual and thermal data. Aerial thermal imaging has also become an important tool for crop management. It is a non-invasive way to monitor nurseries and greenhouses and even detect plant diseases. Inpire series drones have integrated thermal imaging solution built on Flir technology for use with the Matrice series of drones to visualize crop health. Powered by FLIR's industr Tau 2 thermal camera, the Inspire XT gives growers a detailed understanding of the state of their lands in order to help them better managing the irrigation.
Crop Inspection, Spraying
In terms of crop inspection, the fast reaction is always crucial. On the other hand, a precise image would be more helpful because a more precise remedy can be applicated. With the use of drones, farmers do crop inspections and a better crop management. Agronomists and modern farmers rely a lot on the data of crops and environment. DJI use its M600 series with airborne cameras that can carry a powerful combination of infrared and visual cameras to create a view of crops that cannot be seen with the naked eye. In addition to this, the drones can survey a crop every day or even every hour, and you can highlight the changes in the crop by combining the info into a timelapes animation. M600 series support the DJI’s SDK, the APP on mobile terminals, which allows it to be customized to simplify inspection, from standardized flight patterns to fully autonomous flight, and a base station can also be used to allow the control of up to 5 aircraft simultaneously to make inspecting a large farmland more efficient than previously possible.
Crop spraying is another area which drones can be applicated. Drones could maintain a specific distance from the crops, spray the suitable volume of liquid. In this way, the crop spraying would be more efficient, and a great amount of labor would be saved. The latest type of plant spraying drone, DJI T-16, carries a 16L tank, could spray 150mu within an hour, which is almost 150 times faster than manual spraying. Another famous Chinese drones maker, XAG, also published its latest type by the end of 2018.
Are Drones A Perfect Way to Solve Agriculatural Problems?
Using drones to help with the agriculture sounds amazing and fascinating. However, we still have a long way to go to use drones in large-scale in agriculture. First of all, it is hard for a farmer to learn how to control the drones, especially combining with the platform and software. Taking XAG as an example. The main productions of XAG are plant protecting drones and it still needs to start a training project in order to guarantee the user could know how to use the drones for crop spraying. As for DJI, it’s undeniable that the 4K videos and the aerial thermal images are useful data for farmers, but its too hard for them to understand it and even control the software in the terminal, especially for famers in rural area.
Secondly, according to the official data from the State Council, by 2018, the per capita cultivated area of China is just 1.43 mu, which equals to 0.16 acre. However, there are 564 million farmers in China. Although the data shows that we do need to pay attention to the smart agriculture in order to make use of the limited cultivated area, but in this stage, using drones in agriculture seems meaningless for those household with a little cultivated area.
Thirdly, the prices of drones are still expensive. The M600 drones for crop consulting and irrigation management cost USD 4,918 while the T16 for spraying cost USD 4,751. According to the data from the National Bureau of Statistics, by the end of 2018, the average income for a Chinese farmer is USD 2,177. It’s still expensive for an ordinary farmer household in China to buy a drone to help with the agriculture which would cost more than double of his annual income.
Energy - Solar, Oil & Gas, Nuclear Energy, Power Lines, and Wind
While checking the situation of solar rooftop panel, inspectors would have to climb to the roof and checking them carefully. The situation would be more time-wasting while operating massive solar farms. DJI solves this problem by providing Zenmuse XT camera which can be used to scan installed solar panels during normal operation across large areas. Zenmuse XT is attached to a DJI M100 type drone which flight more than 30 minutes and could be able to clearly view temperature anomalies on a crisp thermal image. Instead of sending inspectors out into the plant to check individual panels on foot, a drone overhead recorded using 4K video provides the image clarity needed to carry out initial inspections.
Same cases can also be applicated to other energy related industries. Wind turbines, oil or gas facilities which cover a large area, power lines spanning vast distances and nuclear related equipment that presents serious safety risks to inspection staff, all these kind of facilities could be inspected by drones that carry the DJI’s Zenmuse XT thermal camera, which saves a lot of time of the stuff, reduces the possibility of injury, and saves a lot of operating fee.
Drones Application in Energy Industry Still Meets A Lot of Challenges
It’s undeniable that with the help of drones a lot of inspectors do not have to go to dangerous facilities for checking, which saves the inspector's time and the company's operating cost. However, drones can only inspect or check the facilities, but they can not fix the broken parts so far. Even with the help of drones, the machinery would have to go to the dangerous facilities to fix the devices. Another issue is that since the drones can only fly about 30 minutes, that may not suitable for emergency cases which requires a rapid reaction.
For energy facilities which requires to be managed with stringent operational standards to ensure safety, using drones to inspect them may not a perfect solution. We could install a sensor or camera on the facilities to achieve a real-time monitoring. For one thing, a sensor or camera could inspect the facilities on time and once there are something broken, the machinery could locate the problem at the first time. For another, since drones are expensive and have to be daily charged, installing sensor or camera may be a better choice. With the development of AI technology, smart sensor or cameras could be a useful tool for inspectors to check the facilities.
Drones are changing the situation of public safety thanks to their speed, size, and applied technologies. The rescue people such as guards or medical people always walking through different terrain that is challenging and dangerous to save lives. DJI drones glide over elevated landscapes to quickly locate individuals and could quickly scan the sea to find the people lost. While the disaster happens, the drones could provide a visual feedback to the commanders to help make decisions. Drones can quickly cover large and difficult-to-reach areas, reducing staff numbers and costs, and do not require much space for their operators.
Quality and Battery Capacity of Drones Still Need Being Improved
It is true that we could save a lot of time and money with the help of drones to guarantee the public safety while taking care of the safety of rescuing people. However, in security applications, the drones have to be operated in a relative complicated environment and it would be harder to control. On the other hand, the operational time of drones must to be long enough to find the people need help. In this situation, drones powered by electricity may not be a good choice comparing with the drones powered by fuel.
Media - Cinematography, Journalism and Weeding Photography
Media may be one of the most popular fields for drones to be used industrially. The cinematography and filming are the primary functions of drones in media field. Movies that are made with the help of drones include Skyfall, Harry Potter and The Wolf of Wall Street. Plus, BBC even has its own in-house drones team. DJI has 3 types of drones to solve the cinematography industry. The Ronin is designed for elite level film making where heavy, cinema grade camera and lens combinations are required including the RED EPIC or the ARRI ALEXA. Ronin-M is designed for lighter camera and the Ronin-MX is carries a similar range of cameras as the Ronin-M but is optimized to withstand G forces.
Journalists used to use choppers to take photos for the new which is expensive. DJI Phantom would be a helper while a journalist can have their aerial camera in their backpack wherever they go ready for the moment they need an aerial shot. And DJI Inspire Pro is suitable for a journalist who needs a higher quality imaging, which type could journalists 16 megapixel images and dynamic, clear 4K video.
As one of the most important moments of a human’s life, weeding is of vital importance. The images for weeding require a high quality and the photographer must capture the best moment. Drones are a key part of weeding, where aerial shots can capture the beauty of a scenic locale or a unique perspective. In addition, while the photographer is close to the new couple, he may make the couple feel stressed and the pictures he got may not as good as expected. With drones all these kinds of problems would be solved.
Powerful Tool for Media Related Industries
With a 4K camera applicated to it, drone could provide pictures with a higher quality while cost much less than helicopters or planes. For industries like cinematography, journalism and weeding photography, drones could take photos or videos in special angles, or very close to the target.
Infrastructure - Transportation Networks, Mining, Surveying
With drones that support a range of UAV photogrammetry apps, the extensive transportation infrastructure could be inspected much more convenient than before. All DJI aircraft support a range of UAV photogrammetry apps, allowing for the recovery of exact positions of surface points from aerial images captured by DJI platforms. With this information, transportation experts could change the environment where the working efficiency could be improved. As a replacement of aircrafts, drones could also be used to monitor traffic flows and help to minimize congestion and eliminate accidents.
Operational efficiency and safety are of vital importance to mining firms. Besides the drones like M200, DJI’s software development kit allows firms to build powerful applications, such as autonomous LiDAR tunnel inspection with an M100. Such applications greatly increase not only increase safety, but also represent significant cost savings on exiting methods.
Currently, drones have helped a lot with the geography. With drones, GIS professionals could quickly collect geo-referenced aerial images instead of using planes or helicopters. With the help of drones, mapping technology is drastically more accessible, allowing individuals and organizations to capture the related geography info. DJI offers Inspire 1, a powerful ready-to-fly mapping tool, and Zenmuse series of cameras which offer several options in terms of resolution and weight.
Drones Can do More in The Future with Other Technologies
In terms of infrastructures, drones have already changed the way of maintaining and monitoring them. However, in current stage, drone can only diagnose problems with crumbling infrastructure, but cannot repairing them. However, with the development of 3D printing technology, we could imagine a better future. Monitoring and repair are not the only drone applications being developed within the infrastructure industry. If a 3D printer can be applicated to drones, the damaged elements of infrastructure could be replaced on time with drones.
For quick surveys of sites and precise gathering of data for progress reports, drones are perfect choices. By imposing overlays of plans onto photos of the construction, investors could have a clear understanding of the progress and simultaneously making decisions. Drones could also inspect whether the materials are being stored and handled correctly, as well as the construction quality because of the precious taking photos. The rapid, accurate, and cost-effective drone data could improve the planning and bid process, while the full site awareness from a sharable map could help with eliminating project waste. DJI’s Explore 1drones with a RTK-Enabled platform could offer a high precision solution for construction and the M210 drone applicated with the Zenmuse XT2 camera would help with thermal inspection.
Drones Have Already Changed the Way People Construct
With the lower price of drones and the developing technology, taking photos or making aerial surveys of inaccessible locations become much easier than before with the help of drones. In the future, we’d like to see drones undertake the construction of components on site with the help of 3D printer or replace human operators while doing some dangerous tasks.
Still A Long Way to Go
Drones changed our lives to a large degree, a lot of human resources and extra fees could be saved with drones, and we can take pictures or videos for things we could never reach before. As concluded above, with the help of drones, many industrial problems could be solved ranging from agriculture to energy, media, public safety, infrastructure, and construction. Although drones may not be the perfect solution for industries, but they offers a way of widening our vision while cutting the cost to a large degree.
DJI, as the Chinese leading manufacturing company of drones, offers different solutions for industrial scenes. With its abundant drone types and powerful cameras, as well as the related software, DJI is trying to build an ecosystem of drones to expand the human’s business and transform the ways of operating. However, there are some factors that may block the rapid expansion of the drone market. First of all, safety is the most important. The recreational and commercial drone operations must be under supervision in order to guarantee the operator of drones who break the law could be find.
Second, privacy should always be paid attention to. With the help of drones, the operators could take pictures or videos from unique angles and heights and collect a large amount of data. However, these kinds of data may be sensitive or personal and should not be recorded by individual or company. The rapid development of drones market urges the related institutions focus on the regulations of this area, but it still takes time to complete. However, this should never be the barrier for further adoption of drone technologies and the case is kind of like Internet and mobile phones.
Even DJI is one of the largest manufacturers in the world, it still faces face fierce competition from othermanufacturers of high-end UAVs: Ehang, Walkera, Squadrone System, Xiro and Yuneec, as well as producers of low-end drones such as Cheerson, Syma, Hubsan, Blade, Hobbico and JJRC. Personally, in the future, what DJI should focus on should be 4 aspects in order to keep a leading rank in the drones industry. First, the AI technology. It’s clear and precise enough for the pictures that DJI’s drones could take, but it would be way more useful if the cameras and drones themselves have the ability to analyze the data and give the processed data as the feedback. Second, the images related issues. The images related issues are mainly referring to the processing time of the videos or pictures, and the quality of them. Although with the Zenmus cameras, DJI’s drones have strong abilities in processing and capturing the pictures, but it still requires innovation and promotion in technologies. Third, the battery capacity. The battery capacity would directly affect the operating time of drones, and the longer of the time that a drone could be operated, the more useful of the drone especially in industrial scenes. Taking the DJI’s T-16 type as an example. As a plant protection drone, T-16 can only last 10 minutes in sky, which might be kind of useless for spraying in a large scale.