Drones are regularly used in infrastructure inspections, agricultural monitoring, and safety and rescue operations. And not just in America; this is also the case in the Chinese city of Dongguan, revealingly known as the world’s factory for the amount of manufacturing that happens there. According to the Xinhua news agency, the amount of market entities (read: factories) registered in this city surpassed 900,000 earlier this year. Naturally, this makes it extremely difficult for environmental inspectors to observe all the factories in regards to safety standards and unlawful disposing of chemicals. So, the city began using unmanned aerial vehicles last year to combat this overwhelming issue.

On Tuesday, a local townsman reported a strange smell to environmental inspectors, who immediately deployed a drone fitted with high-end gas sensors to the area in question. According to Xinhua, the sensors in question can differentiate between eight pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide or volatile organic chemicals. The UAV hovered about 33 feet from the ground for around 30 minutes, garnering data and producing a useful map displaying the various VOC levels in that area. According to Xinhua, it was clear as soon as inspectors noticed three red dots on that map, which signal a dangerous level of gas in the area. 

Now, Dongguan’s nickname really isn’t a joke. This city reportedly produces a fifth of this planet’s smart phones, as well as a fifth of all sweaters. That there are almost a million registered factories is astounding, and only makes the potential for pollution there more astounding. This is why drone use to mitigate those levels is a good way to go—having local inspectors walk around town to do their jobs simply isn’t as efficient.

In the beginning, drones were simply used for aerial photography as a means of inspection. That way, boots on the ground would know exactly which areas looked suspicious, and which factories were a waste of time to inspect. “For example, the walls of work sheds of polluting factories showed signs of corrosion,” explained the deputy director of the environment monitoring branch of Dongguan’s Environmental Protection Bureau, Chen Baihui. This seemed to be their modus operandi, until a pollution-detecting drone was presented to them by Shenzhen’s Scifly Tech and Guangdong’s IntelFlight UAV Ltd.

Baihui says that out of every three tips from the public regarding suspicious odors in the area, two of them went undetected prior to the use of drones. Reportedly, he also claims that one of these pollution-detecting drones can do as much—if not more—work than 60 environmental inspectors. If that math is actually correct, Baihui would be wise to continue implementing drones into his anti-pollution strategy. 


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They have been responsible for innumerable deaths in the Middle East during the last decade and, if Amazon has its way, will deliver millions of toasters, gift sets and novels in the future. But recently drones have begun to fulfil a less utilitarian kind of role: competition in the nascent world of futuristic motorsports. A confluence of technological advances has made drone racing possible. A minuscule camera, mounted on the drone’s nose, allows the pilot, as competitors are luxuriously titled, to control the vehicle through virtual reality-style goggles, as if perched in its tiny cockpit.

With powerful lithium batteries, the size of which dictates the speed class of the drone, these machines, which are typically the size of a box of tissues, can reach speeds in excess of 120mph. Studded with coloured LEDs, they fly like hyper-evolved, fluorescent mosquitoes and, thanks to their size and manoeuvrability, can make use of those areas of a sports stadium that are usually out of bounds: streaking over the pitch, for example, before grazing through a window, along a corridor and out again into the night sky. Impromptu courses can be set up anywhere. In September, during an event timed to coincide with the Paris Drone festival, pilots raced along the Champs-Élysées, watched by 150,000 spectators.

Zealous entrepreneurs closely follow on the tail of any emerging sport. Each invariably hopes to corner the market by establishing the definitive league. “When I first started the Drone Racing League, once a week I had someone telling me they were launching their own league,” Nicholas Horbaczewski, co-founder of the DRL, told me. Horbaczewski watched his first drone race in a car park outside a Home Depot in New York City. “I thought: how do we elevate this to a level where we can put it on TV?” Since its founding in 2015, the DRL has attracted serious investment – $12 million to date, with high-profile investors ranging from New York’s Lux Capital to media partners such as MGM, ESPN and Sky Sports.

Last week, Horbaczewski announced that the German insurer Allianz would sponsor the DRL’s 2017 championship, the final event of which will be staged at London’s Alexandra Palace in the summer. It’s a legitimising deal. Allianz is a major investor in Formula 1 racing, football (the company has bought the naming rights to six stadia around the world, some of which will be used in the forthcoming DRL championship) and a sponsor of tennis, golf and swimming tournaments. “What Red Bull has done with extreme sports is what we want to do with digital sports,” explained Allianz’s Jean-Marc Pailhol. “We want to make drone racing one of the main sports in the world.”

There are major obstacles standing in the way. Filming high-speed drones, zipping through courses as tall as they are wide, is an enormous broadcasting challenge (one tough enough to prevent the DRL championship from being broadcast live on Sky this year). Then there are significant technical concerns. The ultimate aim is to allow spectators to pull on their own headset in order to watch the action from the perspective of their favourite drone. Finally, there’s the need for sufficient money in the ecosystem to support young pilots so that they can afford the time off work to compete. “Executing successfully is extraordinarily difficult,” said Horbaczewski. “You have to be a tech firm, a media company and a sports league all rolled into one.”

Then there’s the issue of competition. Horbaczewski claims that with the emergence of the DRL, drone racing is a “professional sport now”. Rival leagues, he said, have faded away and, in the DRL, there is “finally a well-organised sports league”. These claims are vigorously disputed by Richard de Aragüés, director of the 2011 documentary film TT3D: Closer to the Edge and founder of the British drone racing team Tornado XBlades Racing. “This is far from a one-horse race and many of us close to the sport feel the DRL press claims are somewhat misleading,” he told me.


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Danny McMahon from the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre turns to drones for 3D modelling of wind turbines. He spoke with PE's Joseph Flaig.

My research is three-fold: ultrasonics, high-temperature optical measurement in forming and forging, and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) large-volume photogrammetry for asset inspection.

We’re working on a really interesting project in UAV large-scale photogrammetry, which involves using drones to inspect wind-turbine blades. It cuts out the need for working at height or taking the blades off the turbine, which can make the task safer and less costly.

The project we have just completed was the laboratory-based initial feasibility study. We carried out trials of tracking the drone position and continually updating the control system to ensure the flight path kept to a prescribed route. This allows us to cover the surface of the wind-turbine blade efficiently and to keep the drone at a constant distance from it.

We then capture images throughout this flight path and transfer them to a photogrammetry software package. The images are stitched together based on feature extraction to create a 3D model of the wind turbine. This has allowed us to achieve accuracies of the blade under 0.5mm, which would be impossible to pick up with the human eye.

This model can then be compared to an ‘as-built’ geometry, or a previous scan, to identify quickly areas that have changed and potential defects. The end goal of this work is to get to a point where the defects can be well-understood. Another type of drone could then be deployed to carry out a remote repair – a crawler drone might go up the turbine and fix a problem on one of the blades, without the need to remove the blade or for humans to work at height.

Another area we are looking to address is applying this in an automated solution to offshore wind turbines where the environmental factors will have a much greater effect – it’ll save having to send engineers out to sea to inspect and then fix the blades.

Drone with the wind

Large-scale photogrammetry is very useful for any large asset that is normally difficult to inspect – as well as wind turbines, we’re looking at using it on oil rigs, buildings and ships. There are other technologies that will inspect these assets, but they normally require people to work at height and, in some instances, only a visual inspection is carried out. The equipment required and the time taken to carry out these techniques makes them very costly, whereas large-scale photogrammetry can be done with a consumer camera and some software – the costs are comparably very low and the time needed to capture data is reduced. Cameras can also be drone-mounted, which eliminates the risk of a person working at height.

As an alternative to a visual inspection, photogrammetry will capture much more detail than the human eye can detect. A lot of these assets are quite monotonous so humans are likely to suffer from fatigue and become less effective at the inspection. The data can be transferred anywhere in the world, which cuts out the need for engineers to work on site.


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Drone photography has really taken flight of late, and rightly so.

This form of technology uses remote or software-controlled aircraft, which can be utilised for a number of purposes. Originally developed for warfare, drones are increasingly used for domestic and hobby purposes.

One of those uses is to capture aerial photographs and videos, making them ideal for real estate photographers. Rural properties in particular can benefit from drone technology, which can fly over acreage and homesteads at a relatively low cost.

The use of drones in real estate marketing has been a game-changer for those who are embracing these flying photography robots.

It isn’t just professional real estate photographers who are driving them. Though professional photographers often offer inclusions of drone shots in their packages, some agents have taken it upon themselves to invest in drones. This adds value to their vendor’s campaigns.

Just ask Matthew Horne, Real Estate Manager and Water Broker, of Elders Deniliquin. Horne has his own drone that he utilises for marketing.

“At the moment, it’s a point of difference. Drones gives a different perspective of a property from the air. You get to provide purchasers with a better understanding.”

In fact, drone photography a win-win, with advantages over older technologies that delight both vendors and buyers. 

Vendors get a wider selection of photographs and footage that showcase desirable aspects of their asset. Buyers are better able to gauge features and the scope of a property from angles they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see.

“It is a great part of our service”, says Horne. “It demonstrates our underlying professionalism as agents, and it gives a vendor confidence that they are dealing with a company that is embracing technology.”

And then there’s the novelty of a flying camera:

“When I get the drone out to take photos and videos of a vendor’s property, it certainly gives them a lot of excitement. For example, it’s great to see a farmer’s son, who is up-to-date with technology, running out to have a look.”

So just how easy are they to operate?

“Once you’ve driven one once or twice, they aren’t that hard to use… You may only need to hover the drone three or four metres in the air to get a better selection of angles… You don’t need to be a hundred metres in the air to get a great shot”, assures Horne.

Drones have also allowed for photography during wetter weather conditions. A year or so ago, some shots wouldn’t have been possible.

“If we have a wet season, we can’t drive around some properties without getting bogged. But now we can still fly a drone over the back paddock, for example, from the hard surface of the driveway and still get shots.”

In addition to drones providing a better perspective, by way of the aerial views that they provide, they can also save time: “If it’s calm, you can send a drone up to two kilometres away, meaning you don’t have to drive all over to take stills.”


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Over the past few years we have witnessed how technological developments have changed our habits and improved a range of processes, making them more agile, accurate and fast.

Among these cutting edge technologies, there is a strong consensus on the transformative power of drones – small, unmanned flying vehicles that can be controlled remotely for many different purposes.

Their applications appear to be infinite and are growing all the time, particularly in carrying out many processes involved in the complex day-to-day operations of airports around the world.

However, it is important to embrace drone-assisted processes not because they’re innovative, but because they lead to more efficient operations and add tangible value to airports where they are implemented.

Based upon such an approach, a multidisciplinary innovation team consisting of Ferrovial, Ferrovial Airports, Southampton Airport and AmeyVTOL (a joint venture between VTOL Technologies and Amey), has  collaborated, carrying out a proof of concept to use drones for the airport’s asset management tasks.

The trial was carried out at Southampton Airport. The objective of the trial was to prove that drones could be used “Within Visual Line Of Sight” (WVLOS) to replace or complement manual inspection activities, as a first step towards a more commercially viable autonomous use of  unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the near future.

The drone deployed for this project was a Skyjib 8 HL Quadcopter, which addressed the following activities:

Pavement inspections (stands, taxiways and runway)

Perimeter fence Inspections

Building inspections

Image of the runway taken from 20 meters elevation

Image of the runway taken from 5 metres elevation

During a 5-hour test run, the drone was able to shoot both HD video and capture more than 900 high-definition images at 5, 10 and 20-metre heights above ground level. Both formats produced images in which defects such as small cracks in the runway surface could be detected to a level of accuracy greater than that capable with the naked eye.

The technical feasibility of using drones for these activities was fully proved, as it could lead to the following qualitative benefits:

- More consistent data capture in imagery applications

- More repeatable and accurate data to compare changes between inspections

- A higher resolution of data coverage

- A reduced safety risk to the workforce, especially for building inspections

Time savings

Together with the technical feasibility study, the project team calculated the costs and savings of each activity to determine the economic viability of each business case. The conclusions were that the higher financial benefits were achieved with Level 3 pavement inspections and with building inspections that otherwise would have required costly scaffolding.

Dave Lees, Managing Director of Southampton Airport, said: “Southampton Airport constantly evaluates emerging new technologies, and the trial utilising drone technology has highlighted a potential breakthrough methodology to enhance both the efficiency and effectiveness of some of the airport’s operational activities.”


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Mining is a major industry in Africa – and drone companies have established themselves there to grow with the industry. Service provider Rocketmine, a division of French company Delta Drone,  was the first licensed commercial drone operator in South Africa and Ghana and flies the largest fleet of drones on the continent.  That’s because, explains Rocketmine Africa Sales Executive Eric Delabrousse. “Drones are a game changer for the mining industry.”

Rocketmine does not call themselves drone operators, they’re data acquisition specialists: taking care of all of the elements of the drone program for their clients and delivering the data within 24 hours.  “All the customer cares about is the data,” says Delabrousse. “We take care of everything else.”

“What’s the most important thing for mine operators?” asks Delabrousse.  “It’s safety.  And what’s the next most important thing?  Profit.”

After flying thousands of flights over mining operations, Rocketmine has established a process to address the primary needs of mining operators during blasting:  Safety, efficiency, and accountability. Their four-step procedure is designed to ensure safety and provide the entire organization with valuable data:

1) Pre-blast safety inspection.  With a required safety area of 1 km, being able to have an eye in the sky to determine that nobody remains in the blasting safety radius  is critical.

2) Blast monitoring – take live video feed of the blast.  The blast video can be played back in slow motion, allowing engineers to determine that everything has gone correctly.  If something goes wrong, they have the data they need to diagnose the problem.

3) Post-blast safety inspection – flying after the blast can ensure that no explosives remain live and that the area is clear.

4) Fragmentation analysis – Drones can provide precise information on the output of the blast using mining-vertical specific data analysis to measure output.  This allows blasting engineers better planning and predictability.

Delabrousse explains that drones not only cost significantly less than manned aircraft,  they can be more precise.  For the required annual aerial survey of the mine, for example, drones are vastly more cost effective: and  provide more accurate information.  But he doesn’t claim that drones can do everything.

Drones have an “economic sweet spot,” in mining, he says.  UAV Photogrammetry fits between laser scanning and satellite imagery – not as accurate as laser scanning, but more accurate than satellite.  For stockpile measurement, surveying, and other mining requirements orthomosaics, 3D point clouds and 3D modeling is accurate enough.


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Add to the mounting list of data types: aerial data captured by drones, much of it used for map making and field surveys.

A recent report on trends in the booming drone industry finds that commercial drones equipped with mapping software have thus far captured data on an estimated 10 million acres of land in 160 countries. DroneDeploy, a cloud software vendor, claimed the data haul translates into $150 million in economic value for the commercial drone industry.

(That rosy forecast is based on the following calculations: 20 minutes for a commercial drone to cover 100 acres + three hours to complete a map = three to four hours to map 100 acres; that total is then multiplied by 10 million acres mapped so far, and multiplied once again by average hourly rate charged by drone operators offering mapping services.)

Compared to standard aerial mapping that produces photos and video, platform vendors like DroneDeploy claim they can use commercial drones to map about 100 acres from 400 feet in about 20 minutes, producing a detailed map within fours hours. One user cited by the vendor said the mapping software allowed it to process maps and combine data into a single program. That allowed the user to, for example, measure distances without have to scale maps manually.

The industry study also found that 60 percent of commercial drone users are mappers, leveraging software platforms to gather, format and share data captured by drones. One result, the study found, was many maps are now being updated on a weekly basis.

The earliest adopters of drone data after drone service providers are agriculture, surveying and construction, in that order, the vendor study found. DroneDeploy offers an agricultural app that uses drone data to automate plant counting and crop quality. The app produces 2-D orthomosaic maps—a grouping of many overlapping images of a defined area that are combined into a single, detailed mosaic—along with 3-D models of farmers’ fields.

As federal regulations slowly emerge, the growing drone industry is adding to the already soaring amounts of geospatial and other data available to industries ranging from agriculture to oil and gas exploration. DroneDeploy estimates there are now 29,000 certified drone pilots, with drone mapping specializations resulting in a 16-percent increase in average pay for operators compared to those offering general drone services.

These and other data-gathering skills are a key component of the industry estimate of the growing economic value generated by drone users.

Multi-rotor drones (like the model shown above) are by far the most popular models for mapping (97 percent), owing to their maneuverability.


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Using drones to illuminate scenes and subjects using flashes and powerful LED lights is a new trend made possible by the emergence of affordable and intelligent consumer drones. If you’d like to see what the latest experimentation is producing, check out the 2.5-minute short film above, titled “mémoires”. It was lit entirely with drone lights.

“I think its this is an absolutely revolutionary way of film lighting — both in a creative and technical sense — allowing for both very traditional (big crew) setup with a very tiny crew and also creating some surreal, nearly painterly lighting effects that I haven’t seen before” cinematographer Tim Sessler of BROOKLYN AERIALS tells PetaPixel.

Last year, Sessler and his crew shot the world’s first drone video to use the dolly zoom (AKA the “Vertigo effect”) to create a mind-bending video.

For this latest project, there was one major challenge the team had to overcome.

“Because the light was hard mounted, all drone movements would translate into the light,” Sessler writes. “While flying, this usually isn’t a huge issue (it is less noticeable), in a stationary shot every little movement of the drone (compensation for wind) would result in a shift of the light beam and become very noticeable.”

To overcome this, the crew mounted multiple 100W LED chips onto MoVI stabilization systems to keep the light beams stable while the drones moved around in the air.

They ended up building three lights: a 900W floodlight supported on a MoVI M15, a 400W spotlight with parabolic reflectors on a MoVI M15, and a Maxa Beam Xenon light (with a spot as narrow as 1 degree) on a MoVI M10.

“The big question was: how could we use a drone light in a new way?” says Sessler. “How could it replace traditional film lighting – both in a very subtle way (that wouldn’t immediately give away that it was lit by a drone) and in a creative way?”

The team came up with a number of ideas for the project, including using the drone light as a (1) stationary key light, (2) overhead stationary spotlight, (3) orbiting or moving key light, (4) stationary panning spotlight, and (5) painterly light for creative effects.


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To drone, or not to drone—apparently, that's the question! Drone photography is rising in popularity, which is no surprise if you've seen the breathtaking shots these flying machines can capture. But if you're still puzzled or skeptical about aerial photography, and the pros and cons of having one shoot your wedding photos, read on. Here's everything you should know about hiring a drone to fly at your wedding.

Safety First

We'll start with the less glamorous info, then get to the fun stuff. Safety is the most important thing to keep in mind if you plan to hire a drone. Drones are essentially mini-helicopters with cameras, so if the drone operator isn't a properly trained professional, you risk having any number of accidents on your hands (none of which you would ever want, but especially not on your wedding day).

Planning and Professionalism Required

Parker Gyokeres, owner of Propellerheads Aerial Photography and award-winning US Air Force photojournalist, says, "If the drone pilot doesn't have an established safety plan, insurance, extensive knowledge of how to operate the vehicle or close coordination with the venue managers, wedding photographers and the couple, he can be a risk to the wedding party." Make sure your ground photographer collaborates with the drone flyer, then sit down with them and go over their plans. Everyone should be on the same page.

Get Drone Insurance

Gyokeres says every drone operator needs personal property and liability insurance for commercial UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle). That way, if something or someone gets hit (which is extremely rare, but still), the operator is covered and the damaged object will be repaired. Don't take the easy way out on this. Double-check that your drone pro's taken the maximum safety precautions. Better safe than sorry.

The New Way to Capture Memories

Josh Rogers of Atmosphere Aerial says hiring a pro drone pilot to shoot your wedding is a no-brainer. “You hire a professional drone operator for the same reasons you hire a photographer: You want to make sure that the photos come out the best they can. After all, weddings only happen once; there are no reshoots." But unlike a ground-based photographer, drones provide a whole new way to document your nuptials. "It elevates your normal, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to a memory that will never ever be forgotten," Gyokeres says.

Take Advantage of Your Venue

Drone shots can capture dynamic, illustrative videos and images that display the scope and scenic context of your event. "Drones offer unique and grand perspectives of the beautiful locations where people choose to wed," Rogers says. Are you tying the knot on a mountainside, vast valley or other stunning location? Imagine looking through your wedding album on your 20th anniversary and having a sweeping aerial snapshot of your venue. So cool! It's an amazing way to take full advantage of the gorgeous space you chose.

Impossible Made Possible

Since drones are so versatile, you'll be able to get creative with your wedding shots. Gather your guests on the lawn to spell out words or organize them in other fun ways. Gyokeres says he's caught several incredible, emotional moments that wouldn't have been possible to get from the ground, like the bride and her father hiding on one side of the house while the groom waits to see her at the altar—all in one shot. (We get choked up just thinking about it!) Rogers tells us some of the best photos end up being a couple's ceremony exit, surrounded by the sprawling landscape or cityscape. The contrast between the intimacy of those moments and the epic grandeur of the vista makes these shots so spectacular.

Minding the Elements

Drones are pretty tough, but they're still electronic devices, so that means no flying in heavy rain or crazy winds (over 25 miles per hour). The good news is that cold weather won't deter them. Gyokeres says his drones have insulated batteries, and his crew keeps everything in the car with a battery warmer, right up until they're ready to fly. Plus, once the drone starts discharging, it'll generate its own heat. "The drone likes cold air because it's denser so you get more lift. You can actually get a couple more minutes of flight time in winter because the aircraft flies more efficiently," Gyokeres says. Who knew? Plus, if your nuptials are taking place in a chilly climate, you might not get many shots of your guests outdoors anyway.

Outside Is Best

Drone pilots can fly vehicles inside, but it's much more risky, so proceed with caution. "We can do aerial shots inside as long as the ceiling is high enough to ensure the drone isn't in danger of hitting anything," Rogers tells us. Having enough space isn't the only issue, though: Rogers suggests avoiding drone use at an indoor ceremony because of the noise. Overall, outside will probably be your best bet. "If you're having an outdoor wedding and you're not thinking about using a drone, you should. Especially if it's on a piece of family property where it's timeless, beautiful and special. Or if you're doing a wedding on a boat, for example, how else are you going to get a shot unless you have a drone?" says Gyokeres, who's flown everywhere from inside factories to above cathedrals and rolling farmlands.


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The fast-growing global drone industry has not sat back waiting for government policy to be hammered out before pouring investment and effort into opening up this all-new hardware and computing market. 

A growing ecosystem of drone software and hardware vendors is already catering to a long list of clients in agriculture, land management, energy, and construction. Many of the vendors are smallish private companies and startups — although large defense-focused companies and industrial conglomerates are beginning to invest in drone technology, too. 

In a report from BI Intelligence, we take a deep dive into the various levels of the growing global industry for commercial drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). This report provides forecasts for the business opportunity in commercial drone technology, looks at advances and persistent barriers, highlights the top business-to-business markets in terms of applications and end users, and provides an exclusive list of dozens of notable companies already active in the space. Finally, it digs into the current state of US regulation of commercial drones, recently upended by the issuing of the Federal Aviation Administration's draft rules for commercial drone flights. Few people know that many companies are already authorized to fly small drones commercially under a US government "exemption" program. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

We project revenues form drones sales to top $12 billion in 2021, up form just over $8 billion last year.

Shipments of consumer drones will more than quadruple over the next five years, fueled by increasing price competition and new technologies that make flying drones easier for beginners.

Growth in the enterprise sector will outpace the consumer sector in both shipments and revenues as regulations open up new use cases in the US and EU, the two biggest potential markets for enterprise drones.

Technologies like geo-fencing and collision avoidance will make flying drones safer and make regulators feel more comfortable with larger numbers of drones taking to the skies.

Right now FAA regulations have limited commercial drones to a select few industries and applications like aerial surveying in the agriculture, mining, and oil and gas sectors.

The military sector will continue to lead all other sectors in drone spending during our forecast period thanks to the high cost of military drones and the growing number of countries seeking to acquire them.


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