ClickSoftware | 04.04.17
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For those of you who watched Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl halftime performance this year, the star-studded sky of drones likely left an impression. For those who missed it, this performance featured 300 drones which flew in perfect formation, lighting the night sky with American flags and Pepsi logos.

Powered by Intel technology, this impressive drone show was part of their ongoing effort to improve drone performance capabilities. Aside from showcasing the Intel logo a tad too much, it’s amazing stuff.

Halfway around  the world, the Dubai transportation agency recently unveiled an autonomous drone capable of carrying a single passenger nearly 31 miles, at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. They allegedly plan to begin rolling out these drone taxis in the coming months:

The bottom line is drone technology is evolving rapidly.

But as drones begin to take hold in entertainment and transportation, many are wondering whether they will likewise transform field service management. For an answer, look no further than industrial powerhouse General Electric (GE).

In 2015, GE invested in, and partnered with Airware, a robotics startup they hope will help them revolutionize their wind turbine and oil pipeline inspections, in addition to their broader field services division.

Here’s what the executives had to say about the partnership:

As lawmakers struggle to catch up with increasing pressure from industrial players, it’s worth examining exactly how drone technology could improve field service management.

Here are 4 drone strategies that will populate the field service skies in just a few short years.

1: Using Drones to Assess Hard-to-reach Equipment

GE reports that robots are good for, “Dull, dirty, and dangerous work.” In field service, there’s plenty of that to go around. Drones stand to take the human component out of dangerous service scenarios, specifically when hard to reach equipment needs routine examination.

It’s costly sending field techs to remote locations to assess industrial equipment like wind turbines, or oil rigs. It’s downright foolish sending a tech to the top of a building to fix a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) unit, or to check out a power line, during inclement weather.  But every year service professionals do just that. And unfortunately, injuries and fatalities do happen.

By using drones to supplant humans, both cost and danger could be significantly minimized. Here are just a handful of examples:

  • Infrastructure mapping across cities, industrial plants, or construction sites
  • Aerial monitoring of pipelines, oil rigs, or disaster areas
  • Land surveying with infrared cameras to determine thermal activity
  • Monitoring downed power lines during and after storms

2: Streamlining Parts Delivery With Drones

UPS is currently collaborating with Workhorse, a drone maker, to equip delivery trucks with drones, in the hopes of streamlining rural delivery. How? UPS is planning to launch delivery drones directly from trucks, while the driver simultaneously performs delivery functions in the same general area. Their drones are allegedly capable of carrying 10 pound packages, and can fly for 30 minutes before returning to the truck to recharge.

In the military, drones are used at scale to get medicine to frontline troops. In aid work, drones are used to send vaccines into remote areas, where patients are desperate for medical attention. Taking a cue from these examples, field service could likewise automate aspects of parts delivery.

This would be especially applicable in remote service areas, or within challenging job sites. Here are a few examples:

  • Ferrying parts to and from service workers within industrial plants
  • Delivering parts to specific areas on large scale job sites in oil & gas, rail, or other utilities
  • Sending replacement parts directly to customer residence while the tech is onsite

3: Providing Techs with Internet Access in Remote Areas

In 2016, Aberdeen reported that 75% of best-in-class service organizations provide field workers with remote access to knowledge while in the field. But many remote, or hard-to-reach job sites have zero connectivity, which makes accessing necessary information impossible. This makes real-time troubleshooting harder, which slows resolution times, kills first-time fix rates, and leaves customers frustrated.

Communications firm BT Group, and are both currently testing drones capable of providing temporary internet coverage in hard-to-reach areas. By stringing dozens of drones that submit signals via transceivers across hundreds of miles in the sky, populations are given access to broadband internet, without the need for ground-based infrastructure.

In the future, service organizations may consider using this technology to ensure workers have coverage, and access to necessary information while in the field. Especially in remote areas, or temporary job sites where long-term internet connectivity doesn’t make sense.

This could provide obvious benefits in the energy, rail, and construction sectors—all of which have remote service operations.

4: The Distant Future: Autonomous Drones Carrying Service Techs to Job Sites

While Dubai’s autonomous drones may hit the skies in a few short months, field service workers in Europe or America won’t be traveling to job sites via drones anytime soon. Unless of course, regulators and infrastructure investors move aggressively to bring this technology to market faster.

In the future, we might all travel via autonomous cars and drones. But will this truly impact field service? If used appropriately, we believe autonomous drones could speed delivery time, improve service tech safety, and allow techs to use travel time to prepare for on-site activities.

Perhaps the skies won’t be dotted with drones in this decade, but it’s a sure bet that they will, at some point down the line.