Sky Robot … you might think of drones as playthings, but they are rapidly disrupting the business world

July 10, 2017

Helen Greiner is often called the “drone queen” since founding her drone company, CyPhy Works.

She is also known as the co-founder of iRobot – the company behind the first automated and commercially successful home vacuum, the Roomba, which hit the market in 2002 and has now sold more than 16 million units worldwide.

In 2008, she made the jump from terrestrial to aerial robotics, founding her drone company to focus on applications including public safety, construction and agriculture. Helen also shared her thoughts on why the sky is a natural superhighway for drone delivery, how to get more women into technology, her love of Star Wars and what happened when she tried to fly her drone on the White House lawn.

She says, “I can’t think of an industry that shouldn’t be thinking about their drone strategy.”

You might think of drones as toys or flying cameras for the GoPro set, and that is still the lion’s share of the business. But like the smartphone and other examples of the “commercialization of enterprise” before them, drones are now being outfitted with business-grade software and becoming serious data-collection platforms — hardware as open and extensible as a smartphone, with virtually limitless app potential. As in any app economy, surprising and ingenious uses will emerge that we haven’t even thought of yet; and predictable and powerful apps will improve over time.

Or you might think of drones as delivery vehicles, since that’s the application — consumer delivery — that the media grabs on to most ferociously when seeking click-generating amazing/scary visions of the future. Frankly, delivery is one of the least compelling, most complicated applications for drones (anything that involves autonomously flying in crowded environments is the black-diamond slope of technology and regulation). Most of the industry is focused on the other side of the continuum: on data, not delivery — commercial use over privately owned land, where the usual concerns about privacy, annoyance, and scary robots overhead are minimized.

Drone economics are classically disruptive. Already drones can accomplish in hours tasks that take people days. They can provide deeply detailed visual data for a tiny fraction of the cost of acquiring the same data by other means. They’re becoming crucial in workplace safety, removing people from precarious processes such as cell-tower inspection. And they offer, literally, a new view into business: Their low-overhead perspective is bringing new insights and capabilities to fields and factories alike.

Read Helen Greiner interview

Read Chris Anderson’s article

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