Use technology to boost your offering

My son, Jon Reid, is a travel and architectural photographer, and makes extensive use of technology in enhancing his business.

One of the ways that those in this field harness innovation, is to make use of drones to extend the possibilities of their videos and photographs.

I was delighted to go to a common with him as he prepared for the practical part of his licence.

This industry requires extensive licensing/certification.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) views any drone flying in the sky as an aircraft and users must abide by the same law as manned aircraft.

Just like a commercial aircraft pilot, a commercial drone pilot must also go through their own certification and exams.

Drones can be used innovatively in all sorts of applications.

From delivering of medicine, fighting forest fires, spreading broadband and tennis coaching, these delightful machines can become game changers in the hands of entrepreneurs.

Here are three ways these machines can improve our lives:

Fighting fire with fire

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have developed a drone that can set controlled fires in hard-to-reach locations.

The device, about two feet wide, with six horizontal propellers, drops ping pong balls filled with a chemical mixture that ignites on the ground.

This technique is already done with helicopters, but drones would be cheaper and a lot safer.

Helicopters dropping the balls have to fly very low at slow speeds, increasing the risk of an accident.

Tracking Zika mosquitoes

Later this year, Microsoft researchers, with officials from Harris County, Texas, hope to start using drones with special vision technology to identify areas where disease-carrying mosquitoes are congregating.

That would be phase two of a programme called Project Premonition, which began last month with the setting of traps designed by Microsoft.

These traps are so high-tech that they can identify different breeds of mosquitoes and notify health officials when disease-carrying types have flown into them. Eventually, Microsoft wants to use the drones to place the traps in remote areas.

Spotting land mines

Every day more than 70 people are killed or injured by land mines.

Researchers estimate that removing all the land mines around the world would take more than 1 000 years and cost more than $30 billion.

But now British scientists have been able to fit drones with special imaging technology that allows them to spot abnormalities in plants caused by chemicals leaking from unexploded mines.

Back to my own story, it was thrilling to see how the technology has been packaged in the drone as my son practised different moves and applications.

It would hover, soar and rotate, seemingly with its own mind. It is possible for the larger drones to fly up to 5km, complete its mission and remotely fly back and land on the very square metre from which it was dispatched.

Then I was offered a short opportunity to fly. I wondered whether my son’s confidence in me would be misplaced.

These larger drones can cost over R30 000, so I hoped I wouldn’t mess up.

My concerns were misplaced as I had a thrilling flight thanks to the technology of the drone and the presence of my son. I can highly recommend it.

Here are a few lessons from this lovely experience that may be applied to the journey of entrepreneurship:

Innovation is a key way for aspiring entrepreneurs to differentiate their product and stand out from the crowd.

How can you harness new technologies and innovation to make your offering remarkable?

The drone allows people to get a completely new perspective of the physical landscape around them.

How can you get a “helicopter view” of the opportunities and threats pertaining to the industry you seek to enter?

Professional drone pilots comply with the legal environment within which they operate. They do this in creative and cutting-edge ways.

Do you understand how the legal environment may be seen as your friend and help you to leverage your business?

Take advantage of trying out new, unfamiliar experiences. I have never flown a drone, but have learnt quite a bit about this field from that brief flight. What is stopping you from entering events, competitions and networking to “expand your horizons?”

Finally, the presence of an experienced pilot was a reassurance for me and his instruction helped me to look half- way decent.

Seek out and find a mentor within your business field.

That can make a huge difference to you.

Even now, I know that the mentoring relationship that individuals have to our beneficiaries is invaluable.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at False Bay College.