Home / Blog / Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XXX – Drones

Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XXX – Drones

A rendering of a drones network that can be used on demand for a variety of needs, from inspection to delivery. Image credit: Drone Watch EU

The drone sector has evolved in a complex ecosystem including thousands of companies catering from manufacturing to operation, software development for control and for deployment in different fields. According to Forrester, drones are enabling the Digital Automation in the air.

The FTI’s report highlights the disruptive impact that drones are having and will have in several sectors. One of the interesting points arising in the report is the expected growth of drones’ fleets and drones network that will support a DaaS, Drone as a Service, model. Companies like

  • ZipLine -Delivery at speed of light, that’s their tag line, and their focus is on delivering emergency wares, like vaccines in remote areas-,
  • Anduril -security through UAS -, Terra Drone -drone service provider for aerial survey-,
  • Hemav -data harvesting through drones and AI analytics- and
  • Matternet -drones delivery network-

are the harbinger of what can be expected in the second part of this decade.

As shown in the picture, drones are expected to fly in a reserved airspace between 50 and 150m, placing them above (most) residential buildings and well below airplanes traffic (of course keeping them away from landing and take off corridors in the vicinity of airports).

However, the sheer number of drones that are expected to buzz over our heads in the coming years, including big ones like taxi-drones, requires a completely new approach to traffic control: enter the new area of drone-swarms. The military sector, as pointed out in the report, is leading the way, although there are now several examples of drones swarms used in entertainment (well known is the one created by Intel at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Olympic Games). The most recent drone swarm show took place in Shenzhen with over 3,000 drones (new world record, watch the clip….).

A massive use of artificial intelligence is required, but this is a sort-of new AI, since it is based on a multitude of local very-low level of intelligence that results in an emerging intelligence at the swarm level, similarly to natural swarms (of bees and other animals). Intelligence is a costly business and you need to achieve a significant level of computational ability. This is costly. An alternative is to use many points of low level intelligence and cluster them to create an emerging intelligence.

Drones in a swarm have, relatively speaking, a higher IQ than a single bee (or ant or a grasshopper…), but there are so many more bees in a a bee swarm so in the end the emerging IQ may still (today) favour the bees. But in the coming few years, within this decade, the expectation is that drone swarms will significantly increase their IQ to the point of reaching “swarm autonomy”, as an example becoming able to self-route their movements in a complex environment, like goods delivery in a city, without having to resort to a centralised intelligence (control).

An interested approach is the one of “leveraging diversity in the control policy“: basically each drone starts with a slightly different program resulting in a different behaviour. These different behaviours are evaluated in terms of result by the swarm leading to fine tuning of the individual behaviour and in self-learning of the overall swarm (if this sounds similar to the GAN approach it is because it is similar!). It is a fascinating area of research that promises to impact the evolution of artificial intelligence and the way it is applied.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.