How Do AI-Based Drones Work?

The Main Benefits and Potential of Using AI with Drone Systems

how do ai drones work

Drones are unmanned, aerial devices used for a variety of purposes. When first developed, these devices were manually, remotely controlled. Now, however, drones often incorporate artificial intelligence, automating some or all operations.

The incorporation of AI enables drone vendors to use data from sensors attached to the drone to collect and implement visual and environmental data. This data enables autonomous or assisted flight, making operation easier, and increasing accessibility. As a result, drones have become part of the smart mobility offerings that are now commercially available to businesses and consumers.

How Do AI-Based Drones Work?

AI-based drones rely largely on computer vision. This technology enables drones to detect objects while flying and allows the analysis and recording of information on the ground.

Computer Vision

Computer vision works through high-performance, onboard image processing performed with a neural network. A neural network is a layered architecture that is used to implement algorithms in machine learning. Neural networks enable drones to perform object detection, classification, and tracking. This information is combined in real-time to enable drones to avoid collisions and locate and track targets.

To implement neural networks in drones, researchers must first train the machine learning algorithms to recognize and correctly classify objects in a wide variety of contexts. This is done by feeding specially marked images into the algorithm.

These images teach the neural network which traits classes of objects have and how to differentiate one type of object from another. More advanced neural networks continue learning without supervision during operation, improving detection and analysis with use.


The other important components for AI-based drones are sensors. Sensors are used to collect all the data that is processed by drone systems, including visual, positioning, and environmental data.

This data is then fed to machine learning models to determine how a drone should respond to environmental conditions, what objects it should prioritize or avoid, and where it can fly to. Often sensor data is also used after a drone has landed in non-flight related analyses. For example, to find potential mining locations or to evaluate the water quality of reservoirs.

Benefits of Using AI with Drone Systems

There are many benefits that come with integrating AI into drone systems.

Real-Time Data

AI enables real-time data streams to be processed in-flight. This provides continuous feedback to operators and internal systems, enabling automatic corrections of flight operations or wholesale automation.

This ability to apply data in real-time is especially useful when drones are used to assess areas that are unsafe for humans. AI enables drones to adapt to conditions that humans cannot. For example, making high-speed calculations to adjust for air currents when inspecting buildings. It can also enable operators to capture information that might be missed by human operators such as small movements in dark areas.

Improving Human Operation

When AI is built into drone systems it can be used to measure the efficiency of operators and collect data on operating conditions. This data can then be leveraged to develop training programs for operators.

By identifying the traits that make for skillful operation, drones can be operated more safely and efficiently. Additionally, by simulating difficult conditions, AI programs can teach operators how to minimize damage to drones or loss to equipment, improving purchaser ROI.

Uses of Artificial Intelligence in Drones

There are many use cases for drones incorporating artificial intelligence. Below are a few growing applications:


Giants of eCommerce and delivery are working on creating drones that can deliver orders to customers. Companies like Amazon are already testing their drones, providing some of their customers with drone deliveries. Issues were reported, such as people trying to forcefully take packages from the drone. There have also been favorable reports of increased customer LTV.

Construction Sites

Construction companies can use drones to scan and monitor construction sites continuously and automatically. These devices can enable companies to evaluate areas that are dangerous for humans to evaluate. Drones also enable much faster evaluation, eliminating the need to separately document conditions, walk through sites, or climb structures.

Agricultural Possibilities

As with construction, agricultural companies can use drones to monitor operations. For example, by collecting data on the current conditions of crops or growing areas and returning data on when crops should be ready for harvest or if environmental modifications are needed.

Drones can also be used for planting and maintaining crops. For example, by scattering seeds, pollen, fertilizers, or pesticides. These devices can use built-in AI to determine the exact treatment that crops need, optimizing yields.

Search and Rescue

Drones have the potential to be a huge help when it comes to search and rescue, particularly in conditions that are unsafe for humans to venture. For example, drones could be used to scan avalanche areas with infrared in an effort to identify trapped skiers or hikers. This would enable rescuers to search a much larger area much faster, speeding response times, and potentially saving lives.

Another option is the use of drones to process action in real-time at a scale that humans can’t match. For example, identifying a vehicle used in a kidnapping by flying over traffic routes or parking areas in a city. Where a human might overlook a vehicle due to haste, AI-based drones can scan vehicle makes, models, and license plates without slowing down.

Military and Defense

Military drones are perhaps the most well known for incorporating AI and have been used for more than a decade. Often, these drones are used for surveillance or offensive operations. By incorporating AI, teams are able to reliably replace live pilots with drones and extensively map areas.

AI can potentially reduce the human costs of military action by reducing the likelihood of an attack or the need to retaliate. It also indirectly increases stealth since drones are significantly smaller than other aircraft and less likely to be noticed.


Artificial intelligence might be just what drones need to mature into a cross-industries solution. Equipped with computer vision and advanced sensors, AI-based drones can continually identify and assess their surroundings and react accordingly. These capabilities are crucial for search and rescue, as well as military and defense applications.

Another advantage is the use of AI-based big data for drones. AI provides real-time data capabilities that enable drones to adjust flight to topography and adapt when changes occur. This data can also be collected and analyzed, providing organizations with the insights needed to improve products and services.

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Our team has been at the forefront of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning research for more than 15 years and we're using our collective intelligence to help others learn, understand and grow using these new technologies in ethical and sustainable ways.

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