The global unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market is expected to show double-digit growth over the next five years, with government agencies and private sector companies in agriculture, energy, retail, utilities, mining, construction, real estate, news media, and other fields seeking ways to use drones in their operations and in their data collection and analytics. The upside of drone-based data collection and analytics is just beginning to be tapped.
Drones help yield new discoveries
As of 2013, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Agency was collecting approximately 1,600 hours of video per day. Its Gorgon Stare video capture technology uses a spherical array of nine cameras that are attached to an aerial drone, and is employed as a wide-area surveillance sensor system. Gorgon Stare generates 70 terabytes of data every 14 hours.
The catch is that there isn’t yet a widely available and efficient way to mow through all of this pictorial data so it can be analyzed. Internal and network connections also must be managed for an ongoing and incessant video stream.
Fortunately, other cases where drones are or will be deployed feature data payloads that are substantially more constricted and infinitely more manageable. For instance, drones can fly and aerially capture data about difficult topographies and access routes into rugged terrain for the benefit of scientific expeditions or oil, gas, and mining ventures. In the agricultural sector, drones are capable of using sensors to collect data about soil composition and moisture content. This data can be aggregated with data from other traditional and Internet of Things (IoT) sources and yield new discoveries that weren’t made because it wasn’t possible in the past to bring all of this data together.
Security concerns about drones and big data
One security issue is that drones and the data they carry can be hacked. A good example are the drones the US Border Control is using to patrol remote stretches of the US-Mexico border. These drones have already been hacked by drug traffickers so the traffickers can cross the border illegally. To combat such issues, tech companies are working on security systems that protect against and deter rogue drone intrusions. Much more remains to be done in the area of security protection for each individual drone, including how to manually override automated systems in the drone from the ground when a security compromise occurs.
A second issue that the law has not yet resolved is the issue of individual privacy. We can understand that drones can’t fly any closer to the ground than 400 feet, but at what point does a drone become invasive to individuals and their reasonable expectations of privacy? And if drones are collecting information on individuals, who owns this information — the individual or the data collector and/or aggregator?
What this means for IT pros
As drones enter the big data and analytics space, corporate and IT policies will need to address these issues, as well as the rapidly changing regulations regarding drones. IT will also need to determine network and internet bandwidth requirements for data transport, as well as devise strategies to prepare and onboard drone-captured data into corporate data repositories.