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Crashing Expectations: The Reasons Drones Haven’t Lived Up to the Hype
March 8, 2023 News


Attributed to: Syed Ahmad Hafez Syed Nadzari, Editor, AOPG.

The use of drones in enterprise has been a topic of much excitement and hype in recent years. With the potential to revolutionise industries ranging from agriculture to delivery services, it is easy to understand why drones have garnered so much attention. However, despite the initial excitement and potential, the reality is that drones have not lived up to the hype in many enterprise applications.

Just look outside, and the lack of drones we see in the sky on any given day speaks volumes.

So, why exactly hasn’t this technology “taken off” among enterprises?

Before we get to that, let’s first take a look at some potential use cases of enterprise drones.

  • Agriculture: Agriculture is one of the industries that has embraced drones the most, using them for crop mapping, monitoring crop health, and performing soil analysis. Farmers can use drones to cover large areas of land quickly and easily, without the need for manual labour, allowing them to gather data on crop growth and health, as well as identify areas that need attention. By using drones, farmers can make more informed decisions about which crops to plant, when to plant them, and how to best care for their crops.
  • Construction: In the construction industry, drones can be used to provide aerial views of job sites, which can help with project planning, risk management, and quality control. For example, drones can be used to inspect large structures like bridges, buildings and construction sites, making it easier for contractors to safely see hard-to-reach areas, assess the progress of the project, identify potential problems, and make decisions based on accurate data.
  • Delivery: Delivery is one of the most exciting and much-talked-about applications of drones, with companies like Amazon, UPS, and Google exploring the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to transport packages. Delivery drones have the potential to revolutionise the way goods are delivered, reducing delivery times, cutting costs, and reducing traffic congestion.
  • Inspection and Maintenance: Drones can be used to inspect wind turbines, power lines, and oil rigs, which can be difficult and dangerous to access. This can save companies time and money, while also reducing the risk to workers. Drones can also be used for routine maintenance, such as checking for leaks, repairing equipment, and performing safety checks. By using drones for inspection and maintenance, companies can reduce downtime, increase efficiency, and ensure that their assets are working at their best.
  • Security and Surveillance: Drones are great for security and surveillance purposes, providing a bird’s-eye view of large areas and hard-to-reach locations. Equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors, they can be used to gather real-time information and transmit it back to a control centre, enabling rapid response to potential threats. Drones can also be used for crowd control and perimeter security, making them useful for public safety and event management.

These are but a handful of the possibilities that organisations could uncover, and with advancements in technology, the potential uses of drones are continually expanding, offering exciting opportunities for innovation and growth.

How Is ASEAN Keeping Up?

While the adoption of enterprise drones in ASEAN may appear relatively low compared to other regions, the potential benefits they offer should warrant more businesses to explore their use cases and invest in drone technology. In the coming years, governments play a crucial role in creating an enabling environment for drone use, such as developing regulatory frameworks, establishing safety guidelines, and promoting best practices for responsible drone operations.

Singapore, for example, has established the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Community, which is a government-led initiative to promote the development and adoption of drones in various industries. Drones are already being used for a variety of purposes in the nation, including infrastructure inspections, public safety and security, and environmental monitoring. For example, PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, uses drones to inspect the roof and facade of its water treatment plants to ensure that they are functioning properly. Similarly, the Land Transport Authority uses drones to inspect MRT and road tunnels to detect defects and maintenance issues.

Both Indonesia and Thailand have also recognised the potential of drones and have taken steps to promote their use through government initiatives and support.

In Indonesia, the government has launched several initiatives to promote the use of drones, including the development of a national drone roadmap and the establishment of the Indonesian Drone Pilot Association. One of the notable programmes is the use of drones for disaster management, where they are used for mapping and assessing disaster areas, delivering aid, and searching for survivors.

Meanwhile, the Thai government has implemented several projects to promote drone usage, such as the establishment of the Defence Technology Institute Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training Centre (DTI-UTC), which provides training and certification for drone pilots. Other drone-related programmes include a “smart farm” project that utilises drones for precision agriculture, where drones are used to capture images of crops and analyse the data to improve farming techniques and crop yields. Furthermore, the Thai government has identified logistics and food delivery industries as potential areas for drone adoption.

Last but not least, Malaysia is also one of the most active markets in the ASEAN region, with the adoption of drones being used aggressively in sectors like agriculture, infrastructure and security/surveillance. Most notably, during a landslide at Batang Kali, Selangor, which killed 31 people in December 2022, a special Drone Emergency Task Force (PTK2Dron) was activated to provide assistance in the Search and Rescue mission.

Most recently, the Malaysia Drone Technology Action Plan 2022-2030 (MDTAP30) was developed to raise community awareness and support relevant government authorities in monitoring and enforcing policies and regulations. The Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (MRANTI), the coordinating agency and secretariat of MDTAP30, had also launched Area57, a centre of excellence to boost the drone industry in Malaysia.

While all of these examples point to the healthy growth of the commercial drone industry in the region, it is but a drop in the ocean compared to, say, the significant 40.07% of revenue share held by North America in 2021 compared to the rest of the world.

Unlocking the Potential of Drones: The Enablers and Blockers

So, what’s keeping organisations back from truly unleashing drones in ASEAN skies? According to Dzuleira Abu Bakar, CEO of MRANTI, one of the areas that require addressing is the regulatory framework that currently governs drone operations. She listed down a few common hurdles to drone adoption in Malaysia, which could also apply to the rest of the region:

  • Limited public awareness and understanding of drone technology and its potential applications, leading to safety and privacy concerns.
  • A lack of clear regulatory framework and standards for drone operations (for various industry applications), leading to uncertainties and restrictions in drone operations.
  • The limited availability of skilled and experienced drone pilots, technicians, and engineers, leading to high labour costs and potential safety risks.
  • There are still limited choices of locally developed drone products and solutions, and dependency on foreign drone technology can be a limitation for end users in terms of services, maintenance, and cost of technology acquisition and adoption.

Additionally, Dzuleira said technological limitations such as battery life, payload capacity and telecommunications infrastructure readiness need to be addressed before drones can make widespread last-mile deliveries a reality.

“To get there, the government can work with stakeholders to develop policies that enable and regulate drone delivery operations, which includes designing an appropriate regulatory framework, creating safety standards, and establishing critical infrastructure,” she commented, adding that private companies can also invest in developing new drone technologies that are suited for Malaysian weather and terrain conditions. In the long term, drone delivery can significantly improve last-mile delivery efficiency and potentially reduce delivery costs for both businesses and consumers.

As Malaysia’s central research and innovation commercialisation agency, MRANTI’s effort under the MDTAP30 and National Technology & Innovation Sandbox (NTIS) is developed to facilitate the pilot testing, Proof of Concepts and even controlled commercial drone delivery operations with strict monitoring by relevant authorities. “With more case studies done, we would be able to get more information and data that will be used by the authorities and agencies to develop better policies in this regard,” said Dzuleira.

In a nutshell, the CEO of MRANTI mentioned several important enablers that will accelerate the adoption of drones in the years ahead:

  • Government support for the development and regulation of drone operations (through initiatives such as the MDTAP30 under the Emerging Technology Cluster Committee under the National Digital Economy and 4IR (MED4IRN) council, and the National Technology & Innovation Sandbox).
  • The availability of drone training and certification programmes through academic institutions and industry associations.
  • The increasing availability and affordability of drone technology, as well as the development of specialised drones for different industries.
  • Collaboration among stakeholders such as government, industry players, and academic institutions to promote the innovative development of drone technology.
  • Growing demand for faster, more efficient, and cost-effective adoption of drone technology in various industries.

“As regulation and technology evolve, we can expect to see even more widespread adoption and integration of drones into our daily lives”, Dzuleira stated, sharing that SIRIM (an agency under MCMC) has reported that in 2021, there were almost 60,000 drones registered in Malaysia (imported) – from hobbyist grade to commercial drones.

Is the Sky the Limit for Drone Adoption in ASEAN?

In conclusion, while the hype around drones may have led to some disappointment in their adoption and implementation in various enterprise applications, the potential benefits they offer cannot be ignored. From improving efficiency and productivity to reducing costs and risk, drones have the potential to revolutionise various industries in ASEAN and beyond. With the right regulatory frameworks, safety guidelines, and best practices in place, more businesses and governments in the region can explore and invest in drone technology to unlock their full potential.

As we continue to see advancements in drone technology, it’s exciting to think about the possibilities they offer for innovation and growth. The rest of the world is moving fast with commercial drone technology, and ASEAN countries will need to take the necessary steps to keep up with the industry. It starts by promoting the use of drones through government initiatives and support, then we’re likely to see more widespread adoption and implementation of drones in various industries in the region.

Until then, it will be a while until we’ll be able to see these flying robots fill our skies, but seeing the endless possibilities that they offer, drones may one day become a seamless part of our daily lives.