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What is an AI-equipped drone? |Detailed explanation of what you can do, examples of use, and the future!

Several years have passed since drones began to attract attention, and now they have become commonplace, and more and more people are enjoying aerial photography with cameras mounted on them.

Generally, drones are often used for photography, but applications are progressing in various fields. Along with this, there are also cases where AI technology is used so that drones can fly autonomously.

Readers may want to know how AI-powered drones are being used today and what the future holds.

Therefore, this time, we will explain in detail what “AI-equipped drones” can do, how to use them, future trends, and the military use of attention.

After reading this article, you should be able to deepen your knowledge of “AI-equipped drones”. Please take a look to the end.

Table of Contents 

  • What is an “AI-equipped drone”?
    • Differences between general drones and “AI-equipped drones”
  • What “AI-equipped drones” can do
    • autonomous flight
    • image analysis
  • Utilization of AI-equipped drones in Japan by field
    • security business
    • medical care
    • surveying
    • Disaster response
    • Agriculture
  • “AI-equipped drones” as war and military weapons?
    • Weapons “ AI-equipped drones ” are often the subject of movies
    • An example of “AI-equipped drone” actually used on the battlefield
    • The US military is also researching and developing military “AI-equipped drones”
  • The Future of AI-equipped Drones
  • summary

What is an “AI-equipped drone”?

“AI-equipped drone” is, as the name suggests, “ a new drone equipped with autonomous flight and image recognition functions using the power of AI ( artificial intelligence )”.

AI and drones are a perfect match. Combining the machine learning power of AI with the exploration power of drones will allow us to do things that drones have never been able to do before.

Differences between general drones and “AI-equipped drones”

Drones in general play a key role in solving problems in various fields such as defense, agriculture, natural disaster relief, security, and construction.

Able to improve efficiency and safety, drones have become an important tool for everyone from firefighters to farmers. In fact, autonomous AI-powered unmanned aerial vehicles, smart UAVs, have become so popular that they are now in use in over 400,000 sites worldwide.

However, until now, drones have only been able to display images captured by cameras.

But now, thanks to AI, we can perceive our surroundings, map areas, track objects, and provide feedback on analysis results in real time.

What “AI-equipped drones” can do

Drones equipped with AI are capable of “ autonomous flight ” and “ image analysis ”. I will introduce each of them.

autonomous flight

Drones equipped with AI can fly autonomously based on image information from cameras. Being able to fly autonomously makes it possible to fly over long distances where humans cannot visually confirm.

image analysis

Drones have been useful for aerial photography in dangerous places such as high places and disaster sites, and in places that are difficult to enter. Now possible.

Utilization of AI-equipped drones in Japan by field

AI-equipped drones are already widely used in Japan.

Every year, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) launched the Public-Private Council for Improving the Environment for Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, etc., and every year, the Roadmap for the Industrial Revolution in the Air, which summarizes the government’s efforts related to unmanned aerial vehicles, is drawn up. Discussed and published.

On June 28, 2021, the “Roadmap 2021 for the Industrial Revolution in the Air” was released by the “Public-Private Council for Improving the Environment for Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.” Drone operations are divided into four flight levels, from within visual line of sight to unmanned area and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight in inhabited areas.

AI must be installed for unassisted BVLOS flight (Level 4) in manned areas, which we aim to achieve by 2022.

This roadmap divides drone operations into five categories: security, medical, surveying, disaster response, and agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. increase.

security business

In July 2020, ALSOK carried out security patrols using fully autonomous flying drones at the observation deck of Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Solamachi.

We succeeded in real-time video distribution during flight and human detection by AI during flight.


In August 2019, SECOM successfully conducted a field trial of a stadium security service using 5G jointly with KDDI and KDDI Research Institute at Hanazono Rugby Stadium. A security service that transmits 4K video from the sky over a 5G line and analyzes the image with AI for early detection of abnormalities.

“AI-equipped drones” may significantly change the way security and operations are conducted at events with tens of thousands of people. It will help to solve the labor shortage in the security industry and ensure the safety of facilities by further improving security quality.


medical care

Trajectory, which develops an AI control platform for drones, and Skypeak , which promotes the further development of the industry by supporting the social implementation of drones, will implement the Haruno Medical MaaS Project in Haruno-cho, Tenryu-ku, Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. was successfully tested.

In Hamamatsu City, Tenryu Ward, which is located in a hilly and mountainous area where the population is aging, is facing problems such as a shortage of doctors and the difficulty of going to hospitals for elderly people. Therefore, Hamamatsu City, local medical associations, and private companies collaborated to conduct a demonstration experiment of a “drone-based drug delivery service” in collaboration with an online medical service.

In this demonstration experiment, after generating a 3D map, we succeeded in autonomous flight based on the automatic flight route generation technology by the AI ​​control system.


ALI Technologies Co. , Ltd. conducted a demonstration experiment for commercial use of 3D city modeling data by drone surveying.

In cooperation with Kaga City, which is one of the approximately 50 cities targeted for the construction of 3D city models, we conducted flight simulations of logistics drones using 3D city models. We also verified the possibility of updating the 3D city model using aerial photographs.

Disaster response

In Japan and many other countries and regions, natural disasters such as floods and landslides caused by climate change have become a social problem.

In the event of a disaster, it is necessary to take measures to reduce damage, such as quickly assessing the situation and guiding evacuation routes. “AI-equipped drones” are playing a role in the countermeasures. Here, we will look at understanding the damage situation and supporting disaster response activities.

Grasping the damage situation

Hitachi, Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “Hitachi”) has developed AI technology that can analyze disaster situations with high accuracy from aerial footage. In combination with drones, we have made it possible to quickly and easily ascertain the details of the situation at sites where people cannot reach immediately in the event of a disaster.

When analyzing disaster situations from aerial footage, there is a problem that depending on the disaster, the amount of learning data is small and the recognition accuracy is affected.

Also, in wide-area images, the object you want to identify may appear very small, or various objects and disaster situations may appear at the same time. was difficult.

The strengths of the disaster video analysis technology developed by Hitachi are the following four points.

(1) Accurate recognition at the same time even if multiple objects are shown in the image

(2) Able to find small objects that are difficult for humans to find from images taken over a wide area.

(3) The number of learning samples is small, and it is possible to accurately recognize even disaster situations that are difficult for AI to learn.

(4) Misrecognition and oversight of disaster situations, which are difficult even for humans to judge, can be reduced by AI learning methods that support learning samples that contain a lot of erroneous information such as oversights and misclassifications.

Support for disaster response activities

NTT DATA is deploying automated drones for area monitoring during disasters.

With the automatic navigation system for disaster prevention drones, we have realized the sophistication of disaster response operations for government agencies and infrastructure companies by quickly and comprehensively grasping the damage status of evacuation roads and structures when a disaster occurs.

At the same time, many drones fly autonomously, necessary and sufficient images are collected in a short time, and distributed to related parties under centralized management. Video analysis by AI and delivery of goods by drone are also possible.



A three-year plan for “drone direct seeding rice cultivation” jointly developed by the Ishikawa Prefectural Agriculture and Forestry Research Center and OPTiM Co., Ltd. (hereafter, OPTiM) is underway in Ishikawa Prefecture from 2018 to 2021.

It is now possible to load seeds onto a drone and drive them directly into the field. Rows and rows can be formed by planting crops, and an increase in yield can be expected.

It also utilizes OPTiM’s AI algorithms to control weeds and pests only where necessary. It also has the advantage of reducing the budget for agricultural machinery, and compared to tractors and bulldozers, it is easy to store and easy to carry.


“AI-equipped drones” as war and military weapons?

There are several fictional movies in the world where AI-equipped drones are used as weapons.

And some of our readers may be thinking that the military use of drones is only in movies. However, in recent years, there have been cases where AI-equipped drones were actually used as military weapons.

Therefore, from here, we will introduce AI-equipped drones that are used militaryly as weapons in war.

Weapons “ AI-equipped drones ” are often the subject of movies

It is not uncommon for SF movies to treat “ drones equipped with AI ” as weapons. In particular, “Slaughterbots,” produced by the Future of Life Institute, an AI monitoring organization famous for its anti-killer robot movement, received a great response.

This work is a “near-future science fiction” that begins with the setting that “a small AI-equipped drone that can fly autonomously can now kill a preset target using facial recognition technology.”

And the horror that occurs when this “murder drone” falls into the hands of terrorists is drawn, and in the end it is a story of massacres in the US Congress and universities.

An example of “AI-equipped drone” actually used on the battlefield

The Future of Life Institute’s call for an early ban on autonomous weapons to avoid the bleak future of Slaughterbots has surpassed 20,000 signatories.

Leading scientists and big business representatives, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have also endorsed the group, signing a letter to the United Nations calling for a ban on killer robots.

As of 2017 when the movie was released, high-performance drones that appeared in the play had not been developed. But now, “AI-equipped drones” are already being used on the battlefield.

Libya | Karg 2

UN Security Council experts say “AI-equipped drones” “Kalg 2” may have attacked without human control during the civil war in Libya, North Africa, in March 2020. pointed out in the panel’s report.

Hypothetically, if a weapon that uses AI to automatically attack an opponent without human orders is used on the battlefield, it will be the first case in the world. “Karug 2” can identify and attack targets with optical and infrared sensors, etc. by AI, and can also form a formation of up to 20 aircraft and perform a wave attack.

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Harpy

In July 2021, it was the ‘AI-equipped drone’ ‘Harpie’ that led to the victory in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh Province, which has been a disputed area for 30 years. “AI-equipped drones” detected and attacked the presence of soldiers and tanks on the side of the enemy country, Armenia.

Until now, soldiers hiding in caves could not be identified from above. However, ‘AI-equipped drones’ can detect the presence of soldiers from the presence of electronic devices held by soldiers and attack them.

This is the first time that an “AI-equipped drone” launched an attack without a human command, except for the possibility of Libya mentioned above.

Will the day come when artificial intelligence destroys humans?

The US military is also researching and developing military “AI-equipped drones”

Military “AI-equipped drones” are not limited to the Middle East and Africa.

In fact, the US government does not oppose the development and use of lethal autonomous weapons. Rather, we are promoting research and development of “AI-equipped drones” for military use.

In April 2021, the U.S. Air Force conducted a flight test of the AI-equipped autonomous drone “Skyborg” at the U.S. Air Force base in Florida.

We announced that we succeeded in automatic flight for 2 hours and 10 minutes. It doesn’t have lethal power at this stage, but technically it could already be implemented.

The Future of AI-equipped Drones

In this article, we have seen the use of “AI-equipped drones” in the security industry, medical care, surveying, disaster response, and agriculture.

Currently, many of them are at the stage of demonstration experiments, but many of them have already been cleared technically. Expectations are high for practical application in the field after 2023.

Also, in the military, the use of “AI-equipped drones” is attracting attention.

In addition to the United States introduced in this article, Russia, Israel, China, India, and other countries are actively promoting the use of AI technology for military drones.


This time, we have introduced in detail about “Drone equipped with AI”. How was that.

I think that you have deepened your knowledge of AI-equipped drones through the use cases in various fields. In particular, some of you may be surprised at the fact that “AI-equipped drones”, which already have lethal capabilities, are being used on the battlefield.


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