G Joslin Vethakumar
Remote-controlled toy aircraft that have long caught the fancy of kids have a new avatar. Those nifty contraptions have evolved into sophisticated new-generation gizmos called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones, to keep it simple) with commercial application.
They retain their fun element with drones having become a hobby for young adults in Singapore – as it may be with their peers in developed economies. DJI Phantom 3 Professional is a popular one costing around US$1,200.
The U.S. dominates this market but inexpensive consumer models from China, which is going big on drones, are available as well. This is typical of every innovation from the U.S. that is replicated in China.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation has also been manufacturing heavy-duty drones that could potentially be used for surveillance.
Part of Smart Nation Vision: That aside, what could accelerate their adoption is the increasingly significant role drones are expected to play in the collection and analysis of urban data. They are set to become one of the key components of a Smart Nation with Singapore already moving towards it.
With the Internet of Things (IoT) and innovations such as the wearables set to go mainstream a digital transformation in the corporate world is already well under way.
Singapore, always quick to lap up emerging technologies, saw a drone packet delivery being piloted in October this year. The drone was jointly developed by Singapore Post and the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
Customer-Centricity and Contact Centre Infrastructure: Regulatory issues prevent widespread use of drones though they have figured in sporadic deliveries worldwide – from pizzas to Amazon purchases.
They are certain to get there riding the crest of a wave of popularity even as they gain eclectic value and capture the imagination of both businesses and consumers. It is a matter of time before they are embraced by industry in a big way to deal with challenges around logistics and realize enhanced efficiencies in particularly areas where human interventions face hurdles.
Insurers Find Them of Value: Interestingly, drones are lending another dimension to Omnichannel communications, a critical aspect of contact centre infrastructure in an increasingly customer-centric world.
They may not be pervasive now but will be over time having already become another channel, with insurance companies, for instance, finding them effective. Drones are handy tools for them for gathering data from disaster zones where physical inspections are onerous.
Shopping to Shipping: Drones are relevant to the retail sector, a space where multiple touchpoints are common! Amazon was among the first to pilot drone deliveries, followed by logistics firms such as DHL and even tech giants such as Google.
Drone deliveries could take online shopping to a new level of customer experience, facilitating speedier and cost-effective completion of their orders.
No-Drone Zones: But there remain no-drone zones as these UAVs will never be allowed to fly over sensitive areas such as Army installations and other such protected space. Plus, there are aviation requirements to be complied with everywhere.
In June this year, a man who tried to take videos of the closing ceremony of the South-East Asia Games in Singapore with an unmanned aerial machine was let off with a stern warning. A similar warning was issued to another enthusiast who was caught operating an unauthorised drone near the War Memorial Park.
Areas categorised as special event zones (such as the National Stadium) have a ban on such activities.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore site provides details on the restrictions in force and on what you need to do to get a permit for flying unmanned devices
Aerial Wedding Videography and the Privacy Factor: A fascinating development, though, is the foray made by drone videography/photography into elite weddings worldwide, including in India.
Aerial photography is bound to raise concerns over individual privacy even as the threat of spy cameras taking footage on the sly is lurking on the horizon.
Free outdoor use is largely prohibited. Indoor use can be dangerous.
Regulatory Drill: The civil aviation directorate is yet to give drones a free run in India. In fact, nowhere in the world can drones be used at will without going through the regulatory drill.
Aerial videography is finding appeal in Singapore, too, and there are institutions offering courses on how you can fly a drone without breaching the country’s safety, security and privacy laws.
Use Within SPH Group: During my five-month stint (October1994-March 1995) with the Singapore Press Holdings Group, publishers of The Straits Times, I had seen some aerial equipment moving around for internal delivery (of mails, presumably).
It may even have had a surveillance application. It was a time when mobile phones were rare – I only had a pager then!
Though I used to be amused seeing it fly around, I did not then care to get more detail then – how un-journalistic of me!
When I think of it now, I see that the media group was so ahead of the times then, using a device that is the equivalent of today’s drone two decades ago!
Unified CX: As for IOT-era communications, drones and devices that come into play will drive digital change while adding complexities to the way businesses react to them. Firms have to contend with many digital touchpoints / channels while practicality issues get resolved! A unified, seamless customer experience is, therefore, critical for their success.
Who must they trust? Vendors who are reluctant players not ready to pay attention to CX solution R&D? Or those 100% focused on augmenting the customer experience?
G Joslin Vethakumar