In Japan, the Yamaha Motor Company’s RMAX helicopter drones have been spraying crops for 20 years. The radio-controlled drones weighing 140 pounds are cheaper than hiring a plane and are able to more precisely apply fertilizers and pesticides. They fly closer to the ground and their backwash enables the spray to reach the underside of leaves.
The helicopters went into use five years ago in South Korea, and last year in Australia.
Television networks use drones to cover cricket matches in Australia. Zookal, a Sydney company that rents textbooks to college students, plans to begin delivering books via drones later this year. The United Arab Emirates has a project underway to see if government documents like driver’s licenses, identity cards and permits can be delivered using small drones.
In the United Kingdom, energy companies use drones to check the undersides of oil platforms for corrosion and repairs, and real estate agents use them to shoot videos of pricey properties. In a publicity stunt last June, a Domino’s Pizza franchise posted a YouTube video of a “DomiCopter” drone flying over fields, trees, and homes to deliver two pizzas.
But when Lakemaid Beer tried to use a drone to deliver six-packs to ice fishermen on a frozen lake in Minnesota, the FAA grounded the “brewskis.”
Andreas Raptopoulous, CEO of Matternet in Menlo Park, Calif., predicts that in the near term, there will be more extensive use of drones in impoverished countries than in wealthier nations such as the U.S.
He sees a market for drones to deliver medicines and other critical, small packaged goods to the 1 billion people around the globe who don’t have year-round access to roads.