A world in which drones swoop out of the sky to deliver goods to your doorstep within minutes of you ordering them sounds exciting. But here's the bad news: For CIOs at companies that are planning to implement them, drones could be the source of some serious headaches.
To understand why, it's important to be clear how business are likely to use drone technology in the near future.
Drones have already been used to deliver pizzas in Russia and India. Amazon has proposed its Amazon Air service to get online purchases into the hands of customers in 30 minutes and is developing the technology required in the USA, UK and Israel. Google hopes to start delivering packages by 2017. And within the last few weeks Wal-Mart has applied to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curbside pickup and conducting warehouse inventory checks.
But it's unlikely that enterprises will be using drones for customer deliveries any time soon, according to Jeff Vining, a research vice president at Gartner.
"Individual deliveries by drones are just not viable yet," he believes. "It may be fun, but the logistics for individual deliveries are just not there."
That's not to say that enterprises won't adopt drone technology at all in the near future. It's just that drones will be (and already are being) used first in applications where there are fewer barriers to adoption, he believes.
Attack of the data collection drones
That means it's likely that early adopters of drones will use them as remote data collection devices, Vining says. In fact Walmart hinted at this in its recent application to regulators when it mentioned conducting warehouse inventory checks – you can imagine a drone whirring down the aisles of some huge store room collecting RFID or barcode readings from cases of stock.
Other applications include monitoring field assets such as cell phone masts, checking on crops or livestock in farming businesses, or taking video footage or photographs for all kinds of purposes such as traffic monitoring and mapping, movie making and logistics planning.
And that's where CIO headaches are likely to stem from. That's because such drones will often be collecting data in the form of large video or photographic files, which will either have to be stored on the drone itself for later downloading, or streamed from the drone to a storage server (probably via some form of base station) in real time.
In either case it's likely that the files will have to be encrypted on board the drone, in case the data is intercepted while streaming or stolen from a crashed or incapacitated drone, warns Vining. This means that there will be issues with key management.
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