Artificial intelligence and drones are a match made in tech heaven. Pairing the real-time machine learning technology of AI with the exploratory abilities of unmanned drones gives ground-level operators a human-like eye-in-the-sky.
More than ever before, drones play key problem-solving roles in a variety of sectors — including defense, agriculture, natural disaster relief, security and construction. With their ability to increase efficiency and improve safety, drones have become important tools for everyone from firefighters to farmers. Smart UAVs are so popular, in fact, that they're now used on more than 400,000 jobs sites worldwide.
Until recently, though, drones were only able to display what their cameras captured. Now, thanks to artificial intelligence software, they can perceive their surroundings, which enables them to map areas, track objects and provide analytical feedback in real-time.
Check out these 12 companies that are using AI to improve a new generation of intelligent drones.
Thanks to artificial intelligence software, drones can now process what they see and report back in real-time. This new wave of drones, for instance, can map up to 2.7 million square miles (an area roughly as large as the contiguous 48 U.S. states). Additionally, the military deploys them in war zones and emergency response teams — such as firefighters battling forest fires — use them in containment and recovery efforts.
Below are five companies that install AI technology in drones.
Location: Austin, Texas
How it's using AI: DroneSense is a drone software platform for public safety officials that takes raw data captured by drones and turns it into actionable insights for police, fire and other emergency teams. The DroneSense OpsCenter enables multiple drone users to collaborate, view what each drone sees and even traces a drone’s flight pattern in real-time.
Industry impact: The DroneSense public safety platform has been used by dozens of teams to combat a variety of public safety threats. The AI-powered software assists SWAT teams in gathering scene intelligence, assessing damage after hurricanes and tornadoes and even employs thermal imaging to locate missing persons.
How it's using AI: Neurala is a deep learning neural network that helps drones sift through crowds to find and identify persons of interest. It can even inspect large industrial equipment, like telephone towers, and generate a real-time damage report.
The company claims that in order to scan crowds for an individual, its AI-powered software only needs 20 minutes to understand the image of an individual, rather than industry-standard hours or days.
Industry impact: The Lindbergh Foundation uses Neurala-powered drones to combat elephant poaching in Africa. The artificially intelligent drones use the company’s image recognition technology to monitor elephant herds and spot possible poachers miles before they reach the elephants.
Location: San Francisco
How it's using AI: Scale uses AI and machine learning to help train drones on aerial imagery. The machine learning software helps drones identify, label and map everything from homes in a neighborhood to individual objects like cars.
Industry impact: The Scale machine learning platform is used for drone training purposes by insurance companies like Liberty Mutual, which employs the UAVs to identify and quantify insurance claims.
Location: San Francisco
How it's using AI: Skycatch builds software that autonomously captures, processes and analyzes drone data from aerial images. The company’s software turns these aerial images into orthomosaics, 3D meshes or thermal images to get a holistic view of the land being surveyed.
Industry impact: Japanese construction giant Komatsu uses Skycatch-integrated drones on more than 5,500 job sites. According to the company, they can generate 3D imagery that's accurate up to 5 centimeters. It then takes the integrated software only about 30 minutes to process aerial images as opposed to days for humans to accomplish the same task.
Location: Doral, Fla.
How it's using AI: The Alive Platform uses AI to help drones inspect equipment and infrastructure. The company’s drone software comes with 2D/3D modelings, terrain mapping, image recognition technology and even soil analysis sensors, which enables the drones to inspect everything from crop yields to wind turbines.
Industry impact: The Alive software platform is used in hundreds of drones in a variety of sectors ranging from green energy to railroads. On construction sites, workers use the software to process aerial images and as an inspection device on the end-to-end building process.
AI-enabled drones are helping humans do things previously thought impossible. Drones are surveying land and equipment at greater and more accurate rates than humanly possible, assisting military personnel in war and even flying themselves without a human operator.
Below are seven companies making AI-powered drones to accomplish some seriously impressive feats.
Location: Austin, Texas
How it's using AI: Applied Aeronautics uses AI in their fully-autonomous “Albatross” UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). The company markets their drone for professional use in aerial surveying, pipeline inspections, disaster response and search and rescue. So far, the UAV has been used on every single continent, and it has assisted with everything from marine life conservation to humanitarian aid.
Industry impact: The company’s drone can travel over 100 miles and reach speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. NASA is just one of the globally-recognized organizations that uses Applied Aeronatics’ drone for research missions.
Location: Redwood City, Calif.
How it's using AI: Skydio’s autonomous drones combine AI supercomputers and 13 cameras to capture video footage. The self-flying drone has several different styles of video capture (including tripod mode and follow mode), all of which require no human interaction.
Industry impact: The Skydio drone is used in many fields, including sports. Runners, bikers and hikers can choose a video capture mode and Skydio captures their every move. The drone also autonomously identifies and follows a film's subject. Check out how Skydio captured a freerunning and parkour session.
Location: San Jose, Calif.
How it's using AI: Airlitix makes AI- and machine learning-enabled drones for greenhouse management that can fly around greenhouses and collect data on temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels to ensure that plants are growing in an optimal ecosystem.
Industry impact: In addition to ecosystem measurements, the Airlitix AI drones can analyze soil and crop health to ensure that plants are disease-free and unhindered in their growth.
Location: Mountain View, Calif.
How it's using AI: Orby makes flying drones and robots for businesses. The artificially intelligent drones assist with mapping and the designing of large-scale warehouses and factories. They can also track inventory by using AI that performs a depth analysis on current stock via flight video.
Industry Impact: Currently in its pilot program, Orby uses drones and AI analytics to scan shelves and automatically track and order new inventory. Drone flights can even be programmed to perform tasks during off-hours and dock themselves thereafter.
Location: San Francisco
How it's using AI: Above's autonomous UAV is used by businesses and policymakers to collect environmental analytics. The zeppelin-like drone can fly over forests, mountains, quarries or farms to assess damage from natural disasters or climate change and then report back using the analytics platform.
Industry impact: Besides environmental data-gathering, Above's UAV can be used to inspect railroads, power lines or oil pipelines for quality-control and upkeep purposes. Operators can also plan exact routes for Above's UAVs. The drone will then travel the route, film what it sees and create an actionable report based on its findings.
Location: San Diego
How it's using AI: Shield AI's drone assists ground forces and first responders in exploration and data gathering. Equipped with proprietary “Hivemind” software, the company's UAVs can communicate with each other to quickly discover surroundings and identify individuals in an emergency situation.
Industry Impact: The Shield AI “Hivemind Nova” drone assist law enforcement and military personnel in reconnaissance missions. The robots can access GPS-denied areas such as building interiors and underground facilities to gather ground-level intelligence.
Location: Monrovia, Calif.
How it's using AI: Aerovironment uses AI to power its autonomous military drones. The company’s drones range from an undetectable three-foot-long recon plane to the Switchblade®, which is equipped with a precision strike warhead for military operations.
Industry impact: Aerovironment makes a host of AI-powered drones for different military purposes. The company’s UAVs are also being used in agriculture to map field acreage, spot crop health issues and determine irrigation issues.
Images via social media, Shutterstock and screenshots of company websites.