DJI AirWorks 2018 featured the announcement of new products as well as a showcase for innovative uses of drone technology, but it also provided a look at the ways in which drones are set to reshape how professionals approach a variety of tasks in the present and the future. Much of that will be the result of innovations like the ones that Microsoft is working on with DJI to open up the technology across multiple industries.

Microsoft has a made a real commitment to building an ecosystem for responsible drone use and development, and their work with DJI truly illustrates that. The company has recognized that drones can have a profound impact in transforming businesses and improving society, which is part of the reason that AirMap’s selection of Microsoft Azure as AirMap’s exclusive cloud-computing platform for its drone traffic management platform and developer ecosystem is such a big deal. It underscores Microsoft’s commitment to the use of drones in the enterprise as well as their place as an ecosystem innovator.

Being that kind of ecosystem innovator was something that Dinesh Narayanan, Director of Device Incubation at Microsoft, spoke about directly and indirectly when he addressed the AirWorks crowd during the opening day keynote. He specifically mentioned how Microsoft has recognized that drones can be used to improve the efficiency and performance of existing business processes and that doing so has implications for the present and future for the Internet of Things (IoT).

“Drones are one of the best expressions of an IoT device that I can think of,” Narayanan told Commercial UAV News. “We’re already seeing the beginnings of this impact when it comes to how drones are being used for inspections, in surveying & mapping, and for disaster response. What’s really exciting is what it’s going to mean when drones are just part of an ecosystem that provides users with data they can turn into actionable insights, and that’s already something you can see in the Farm Beats Solution Features.”

Narayanan’s slide shows off how drones are just a single element of their Farm Beats IoT ecosystem. By complimenting satellite data with UAV data as well as info captured from cameras and sensors on tractors, an entirely new IoT ecosystem will be created. Data will be streamed to the cloud using the latest IoT technologies, and the speed and efficiency of this process will ensure that decisions can be made faster and more efficiently.

There are challenges when it comes to enabling this IoT-enabled vision of data-driven ecosystems, but the public preview of Windows SDK that was also announced at AirWorks directly speaks to these limitations. The SDK will also allow the Windows developer community to integrate and control third-party payloads like multispectral sensors, robotic components like custom actuators, and more, increasing the ways drones can be used in the enterprise.

“One of the limitations that users struggle with today is that they’re often relying on the limited processing power of their phone,” Narayanan continued. “This development allows users to rely on and expect so much more computing power. They can use it to extend the processing power of their desktop computer or extend the cloud, and that’s going to open up real opportunities in what’s going to become an AI + drone world.”

SlantRange, Clobotics and eSmart systems have all already been able to take advantage of this opportunity, and more innovations will undoubtedly be coming. They’re the kinds of innovations that are possible because such organizations can focus on their specialization without having to worry about the baseline details that the Microsoft ecosystem already provides them.

As these new ecosystems come together, security concerns will become paramount, and securing the first mile is going to become increasingly important. It’s something that Microsoft is prepared to address with solutions like Azure Sphere, which is designed to create highly secured, connected MCU-powered devices.

Microsoft has said how important it is for them to invest in companies and partnerships that will enable the responsible use of drones and associated data, and their partnership with DJI and a variety of other organizations is proof of that commitment. Narayanan’s comments about operators being focused on data over drones as well as their vision for the IoT ecosystem of the future is further proof that the evolution of drone solutions is going to be about so much more than the drones themselves.