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In the second episode of the Arabian Business Enterprise Innovators Series, in association with UPS, we look at some of the mainstream and commercial applications of drones and how this new innovative form of transport is changing many sectors from healthcare to e-commerce

The sky's the limit: The impact of drones on mainstream, commercial sectors

Are drones everywhere spying on you? Are drones a public safety risk? Are drones regulated?

A lot of people have many misconceptions about what drones are, what they can do and how they are used. If you Google the word drone, the majority of recent headlines will refer to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities or disruptions to flights at airports in Dubai and the UK.

But the truth of the matter is, as with most new and emerging forms of technology, it takes time for businesses to adopt new methods, processes and approaches, and when you look beyond the sensationalist headlines, the commercial mainstream benefits of drones outweigh the high-profile risks.

In the United States, drones are classed as aircraft and are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in much the same way as other aviation vehicles. In April this year, the FAA began giving the green light for commercial entities to operate drones across the US, under Section 135 of its regulations.

One of the first major companies to apply for permission was global logistics firm UPS. “We are very excited at UPS that we were granted the US government approval for Section 135, which gives us a lot more flexibility to operate drones,” says Rami Suleiman, CEO of UPS for the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa.

Drones for good

Suleiman says there are three main areas where drones are applicable commercially and UPS is active in all of them today.

“The first is in the humanitarian space. We have two projects now in Africa, one in Rwanda which we launched in 2016 and it has done over 13,000 flights today and two-thirds of the country’s blood supply into remote areas is actually done by drones.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame launched the world’s first national drone delivery service during a ceremony in October 2016. During the Rwandan rainy season, many of the country’s roads are washed out, making them inaccessible. By using drones, UPS can carry out up to 150 emergency flights a day to transfusion clinics across the Western half of Rwanda within 30 minutes.

“Drones are very useful, both commercially and for improving services in the health sector,” President Kagame said at the time. “We are happy to be launching this innovative technology and to continue working with partners to develop it further.”

In 2017, UPS also began testing how drones can be used in the e-commerce sector, where a drone is located inside UPS’ delivery trucks. “As the vehicle does a delivery, the drone actually takes off to another residential address and it really is a good solution for rural areas and helps us with the economics of e-commerce,” Suleiman says.

“That’s the second area, the third area where we see it being an absolute necessity is in healthcare and life sciences. We see this as a very exciting opportunity to complete our portfolio of logistics and really help our customers solve some of their key problems,” he adds.

Delivery times

Earlier this year, UPS partnered with drone technology start-up firm Matternet to deliver tissue and blood samples across the US. The first tests showed that the drones could complete the deliveries in about three minutes, compared to 30 minutes for a human driver negotiating normal traffic, according to a report by Wired magazine.

As drones expand into other areas, Suleiman believes they will become more adaptable and be applied to many more sectors.

“At UPS we plan to expand the coverage… expand the coverage within these three areas, but at the same time we are looking to expand into other verticals as well, to solve some of our customers’ problems and create opportunities for logistics,” he says.

The research certainly paves the way for that. Morgan Stanley estimates that autonomous urban aircraft could become a $1.5 trillion industry by 2040.

A 2016 report by Goldman Sachs also estimated that drone technologies would reach a total market size of $100bn by 2020. The commercial business represents the fastest growth opportunity, projected to reach $13bn by next year.

UPS’ headquarters in Dubai is located close to the Expo 2020 Dubai site and is a clear example of the innovative ideas, inventions, insights and advancements the emirate is aiming to embrace during the six-month event when it opens on October 20, 2020.

As we pass the one-year mark of the launch of the Expo 2020, Arabian Business is launching the Enterprise Innovators Series, a new portal which will showcase a great range of innovations that are already taking place across the UAE.

“The Enterprise Innovators Series will run across print, digital and video and we are looking for companies, large and small, who have seen the rewards from taking risks, who are rethinking and disrupting traditional models and who are developing new ways of operating,” says Shane McGinley, Editorial Director of Arabian Business.

Logistics partner

The Arabian Business Enterprise Innovators Series is being developed in association with global logistics company UPS, the official logistics partner of Expo 2020 Dubai. While UPS is a company that is more than a century old, has a global remit and has more than 481,000 employees, it has always been a catalyst for change and innovation.

“It’s hard to say what the single greatest innovation has been. Being in the midst of the technology revolution, there are so many. UPS is a vast organisation so areas like alternative fuel vehicles to healthcare drones come to mind but then there’s technology improvements in how our drivers capture package / shipment details have a massive impact on customer information and satisfaction. They improve the system significantly,” says Hussein Wehbe, managing director for UPS in the Middle East.

Check out the latest episodes in the Enterprise Innovators Series at

Get involved: What are you and your company doing to innovate?

The Arabian Business Enterprise Innovators Series, in association with UPS, is looking for local companies to get involved in the initiative. Our coverage will run across print, online, social media and video and we are looking for organisations to tell us about the programmes, ideas and practices they are working on and the impact and improvements they have witnessed across some of the sectors below:

Healthcare: This sector was previously all about treatment and less about prevention. Healthcare professionals are now increasingly developing new devices to predict illnesses and ailments and to bring the sector out of the hospital and into the home.

Facial recognition: Speed and security are two key considerations for many companies. Technological advances such as facial recognition are providing answers to these challenges.

3D Printing: Dubai is already at the forefront of this technological journey, but beyond construction, what practical applications does this new trend offer?

Artificial Intelligence: More than just robots replacing jobs, many companies are using AI to reduce mundane work practices.

Electric vehicles: While the region has a high percentage of car usage, it has been slow to embrace electric models. What are companies doing to be more sustainable in their transport strategies?

Fintech: Dubai has ambitions to increasingly move to become a cashless society, especially as e-commerce grows and digital payment systems become more mainstream. What are the innovations in this highly regulated sector?

For all the latest Enterprise Innovators news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.