At this year’s IndustryWeek conference, we sponsored the center stage. When we were prepping to go on, the guys before us were an industrial drone company. The drone was meant to fly through the warehouse and do inventory checks. It was super cool and ultimately attracted a curious crowd, but boy was it bleeding edge.
First of all, the drone was the size of a flying lawnmower with not one exposed blade you need to worry about, but six! Needless to say, the wind conditions inside the conference center were pretty ideal, but the thing was crazy loud and whipping around wildly, despite a pretty steady handed operator. I was a little worried for the gawkers. In theory, it was meant to scan a shelf of unrealistically oversized QR code tags on stacks of boxes.
Man, you have to love early tech, but I really don’t have to tax my brain to come up with some major obstacles to still overcome. First, the dangerous blades flying through the air comes to mind. Second, I am simply worried about the weight of the thing falling on someone. I then go to the accuracy of navigation to weave through a warehouse. This seems to be doubly hard if it is a future lights out warehouse with thinner aisles because it doesn’t have to accommodate humans and traditional forklifts. I then think about those giant stickers. Helpful for a demo, but totally unrealistic. My personal bet is that wide-area RFID gets through the hype cycle faster than warehouse drones.
Boys and their toys. Don’t get me wrong, show me a guy who loves gadgets and how things are made that doesn’t love a drone. I’d add my wife to that group, an industrial engineer by training who loves taking things apart and figuring out how things fit together. On my walk to work, I go past a flagship store for DJI, the consumer and prosumer drone company. I am like a kid in a candy store in there. I currently have my eye on the Mavic Pro Platinum. Sixty percent quieter. Thirty-minute fly time. I have very tame ambitions for some nice videos around the San Francisco Bay, unlike the crazies who are currently shutting down Gatwick Airport. I am not a drone luddite; I just think we have a way to go for a truly game-changing warehouse drone. They will have to get smarter and more capable for that application.
Drones have indeed come a crazy long way. There are drones monitoring livestock. There are drones that are monitoring the moisture and nutrient needs of crops. There are underwater drones that are finding sunken treasure, mapping the ocean floor, and hopefully one day finding MH370. There is an amazing company called Zipline delivering lifesaving blood and medical supplies to remote African villages with drones. There are construction drones that are inspecting the Golden Gate Bridge. These drones are whip-smart and at the top of their class.
They do share one thing in common though: They fly in open skies.
Do I believe that drones will add incredible value one day to factory and warehouse operations? You bet I do. Is this application through the hype cycle? Absolutely not. Not to be a broken record here in this blog series, but you actually have something far more intelligent and powerful moving through your factories and warehouses: your people. At Parsable, you’ll find it impossible to convince us that your people aren’t your greatest asset. We say capture the telemetry off of their smart actions before buying a flying warehouse lawnmower. Oh the places you can go if you just know how to perfect every new configuration of your operations based on the insight of what humans need to be optimally successful in your operations.
Boss, you almost got me here because I love drones. I just don’t think they are really ready for a factory when humans are present. And they are going to need to get a little less clunky and wobbly indoors to nail use cases here.
Keep it rolling. Show me what you’ve got for day eight.