Companies that Use Drones Are Getting into Other Types of Robotics Too, New Report Finds

BY Zacc Dukowitz
5 July 2022

Here in the drone industry it’s easy to think that drones are the only type of robot people need. But new data from DroneAnalyst finds that some companies with drone programs have already bought at least one other kind of robot, and several more plan to do so.

This makes sense.

Drones are just one type of tool, after all, and large industrial companies want to be equipped with the tools they need to meet all of their needs.

How Do Companies Use Robots?

One of the most common uses for drones and other robots at large companies is for inspections.

By inspections we mean using the drone to collect some kind of data remotely—visual or thermal, for example—that an inspector would otherwise have to collect in person, by walking up to the thing they’re inspecting and looking at it (visual) or holding up a thermal scanner (thermal).

Flyability’s Elios 3 is made for inspections in confined spaces

There are three basic types of robots being used on job sites these days:

  • Drones / Aerial Robotic Solutions
  • Ground-Based Robotic Solutions
  • Submersible / Underwater Robotic Solutions

Drones are important tools for inspections. They can help companies do external inspections of power lines and chimneys, and also help with internal inspections of large boilers or pressure vessels.

But to inspect the interior of a narrow pipe you’ll want to use a ground-based crawler, which allows you to easily enter the pipe and collect visual data.

Credit: SuperDroid Robotics

Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot is also seeing large scale adoption for inspections, since it can autonomously enter an area and collect data.

Inspection solution providers like MFE Inspection Solutions are equipping the Spot with more and more types of sensors—MFE has created a gas-detecting sensor that it attaches to the Spot, and it can also carry highly specialized acoustic sensors that detect sound waves for inspection purposes.

A Spot robot equipped with special sensors at the MFE/Flyability booth at EDRC 2022

And as drones develop, they’ll also be able to carry more and more types of sensors.

But companies will always want to choose the tool that best suits the work they plan to do, and it’s unlikely that the need for other types of robots will ever completely go away. In fact, it will probably increase—as will the demand for inspection drones.

Credit: QYSEA

Findings from DroneAnalyst’s Report

So what’s the data on companies using other types of robots?

Here are a few key findings from DroneAnalyst’s new report.

Companies that Use Drones Are Also Using—Or Considering Using—Other Types of Robots

Here’s the data on how many companies that already use drones are also considering using other types of robots.

  • 17% of companies with drone programs have already bought some other kind of robot
  • 22% say they plan to buy some other type of robot

Drill down by industry and we find that a whopping 63% of companies in the Energy and Utility sector that already use drones plan to adopt other types of robots.

What Types of Robots Are We Talking About?

For those companies that say they have bought other types of robots for their work, here’s the breakdown by type of robot.

Credit: DroneAnalyst

It’s interesting to see that DroneAnalyst decided to break ground-based robots into two distinct groups (quadruped systems and “other”).

Most likely this has to do with the popularity of the Spot. It is certainly one of the most commonly known robots out there. And its success has been followed by several other companies creating their own quadruped robotics platforms, all of which are commonly used for inspections.

Another takeaway is that companies just aren’t using marine drones that much, at least not those who took this survey. Another way to look at this data is that companies who use airborne drones aren’t also using marine drones—for all we know, there could be companies out there that primarily use marine drones but don’t have a need for airborne ones.

Should You Be Worried?

Not at all.

If you work at a commercial drone company, this data could actually be encouraging. Companies are starting to understand the value of all types of robotics—including drones.

As companies become more and more aware of what drones (and other robots) can do, adoption will grow. And that adoption will only be helped by companies being able to find exactly the right tool they need.

Right now, we can’t think of any scenario where a crawler might take the job meant for a drone, or vice versa.

But drone companies, as well as drone service providers, could see this data as an opportunity.

Since companies need full solutions for their remote data collection needs, people in the drone industry could look for ways to partner with other robotics companies, consider acquiring them, or even launch their own separate robotics divisions.

Drone industry stakeholders will be smart to consider how they may be able to enter the broader industrial robotics market while business and agency users consider their need for uncrewed systems holistically instead of focusing on just a single domain.”

– DroneAnalyst

We’ll leave you here with this video of the Spot dancing to “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones.

“Spot Me Up” | The Rolling Stones & Boston Dynamics

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