SMALL multicopter drones—souped-up versions of those sold by the million as Christmas toys—have tremendous potential for use in industry and agriculture. Rather than erecting scaffolding or bringing in a mechanical platform to inspect things like roofs and chimneys and overhead electrical cables, the job can be done instantly, and probably for less money, by sending up a drone-mounted camera. Drones can check pipelines and power cables for damage faster than a ground-based survey could manage. Similarly, they can survey fields for signs of pest or drought at a fraction of the cost of a manned flight.
Most existing drones do, however, need to be flown by an experienced operator. Indeed, the law often requires this. Drones also need technical support and maintenance. And the people running them would be well advised to have an understanding of the legal and safety implications of what they are up to. Hence the appeal of the “drone-in-a-box”. This is a term being applied to the offerings of several firms that aspire to sell the advantages of drones without the associated worries. The box in question is a base station that houses the drone, recharges it and transfers the data it has collected to the customer. The drone may fly autonomously, according to a preprogrammed schedule, or be piloted remotely by an operative of the company that supplies the system, from a control centre anywhere on the planet.