As we welcome the new year, it’s exciting to hear more about some of the new trends facing the commercial drone industry in 2018. Not only has the industry gained traction, but it’s been brought into the national spotlight during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. For the first time, the public has an aerial view of the widespread impact of these natural disasters while allowing insurance companies to asses and close claims at record breaking speeds.
Last year, I wrote “The Future of Drones: 5 Bold Predictions for 2017” to summarize some of the key predictions for 2017. We saw many companies rise and fall. Most recently, GoPro announced a series of layoffs and dropping out of the commercial UAV business. DJI released the DJI Spark and a new version of the Mavic Pro. News of John Deere and Kespry teaming up to help construction and mining companies use drones, the partnership between Caterpillar and Airware, and DroneDeploy releasing an enterprise level solution are all great illustrations of how and where professionals are going to have the best opportunity to get their hands on drones.
Going into 2018, I believe we’ll see continued growth in the commercial UAV space, and a bigger push from UAV manufacturers, service providers, and startups into the enterprise space as local regulations begin to relax and drones can fly farther, fly longer, and fly autonomously.
1. DJI will continue to grow quicker and faster as they enter into new verticals
DJI has been the unprecedented, market leader in the consumer drone space. It’s estimated they own about 72% of the global market for consumer drones, and even higher when considering their primary product line of prosumer drones (ex Phantom series, Inspire series, Matrice series). DJI has also slowly and quietly been exploring additional verticals and enterprise use cases to propel the company beyond consumer hardware, as can be seen with their entrance into the Agriculture space with the AGRAS MG-1 drone.
2. Drones will become more workflow driven as industries realize their true potential
Today, anybody and their grandmother can buy a consumer drone off the shelf. New services even allow them to monetize their drones by filming residential properties or events. As we begin to see larger enterprise applications open up in agriculture, aggregates, construction, and insurance, the industries will demand a much more robust, efficient system that can easily integrate into their existing workflows. This means better integration of aerial data with current project management software, inventory management systems, and claims estimation solutions.
3. Interconnected systems will allow for larger fleet deployments
As drones move from small innovation groups to larger enterprise deployments, we will begin to see larger and larger fleets being deployed. Interconnected drones, hardware, and systems will make it easier than even for larger enterprise customers to view and and manage a fleet of operators and drones across the organization. These building blocks will help build and shape a more unified air traffic management solution moving into the future.
4. We will begin to new entrants into the space, while others begin to consolidate
As we progress into 2018, we will begin to see the dominant players in the hardware and software space begin to materialize. Today, there are hundreds of scattered drone startups, hardware manufacturers, and software cluttering the environment. The acquisitions and consolidations have already begun, with GoPro leaving the drone industry, and Redbird’s acquisition. On the other end of the spectrum, we will see new entrants putting their hat in the ring. Existing drone programs will enter the mainstream with companies like Intel, Google, and Facebook will begin to take their drone programs from the R&D stage towards productization.
5. New sensors and equipment will allow for new use cases
In 2017, we’ve seen a few organizations begin to use thermal imagery to assist with search and rescue operations and firefighting. As we progress into 2018, we will begin to see additional sensors such as LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) become a norm on enterprise UAV’s, allowing them to pierce through heavy vegetation and cover, and detect narrow objects like power lines, pipelines, and roof edges far better than orthomosaic imagery.
6. Regulations will continue to ease up and enable new use cases
We will begin to see progress with Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) solutions and drone integration, a technology that will be as crucial for the commercial drone industry as the Part 107 certification and drone registrations. The FAA has already begun issuing limited waivers for certain companies to test UAV’s beyond line of sight, and we will continue to see that trend through 2018. Waivers in the future will help increase drone adoption as we can have people in the field managing swarms of drones to perform functions ranging from package deliveries to pipeline inspections.
7. Piloting will become more automated with intelligent mission planning
Today, there are a variety of different tools at the pilots disposal for mission planning, from full manual control, to completely automated systems. In 2018, we will begin to see more advancements in obstacle detection and avoidance, artificial intelligence, the unmanned traffic management system, and ease of controlling fleets of aircraft. Intel has already shown us a sneak peak by flying 250 drones over the Bellagio during CES. These advancements will require mission planning and piloting to become far more automated, providing pilots with limited manual control, but addressing concerns around safety, privacy, and security.
The commercial drone industry shows no sign of stopping, and we can expect to see a dramatic increase in enterprise aerial applications in our communities and around the world.
- Drone Analyst – http://droneanalyst.com/2017/12/19/five-biggest-commercial-drone-trends-of-2017-and-the-challenges-ahead
- DroneDeploy – https://blog.dronedeploy.com/2018-commercial-drone-industry-predictions-fe229aa3551c
- Dronelife – https://dronelife.com/2018/01/02/drones-2018-thought-leaders-predict-new-trends/
- Cisco Blog – https://blogs.cisco.com/innovation/the-drones-have-taken-off-our-investment-in-kespry-a-leading-industrial-aerial-intelligence-platform
- Cnet – https://www.cnet.com/news/intel-soars-above-las-vegas-with-bellagio-drone-light-show-ces-2018/
- CNBC – https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/01/in-race-to-dominate-drone-space-west-is-no-match-for-chinas-dji.html
- Commerical UAV News – https://www.expouav.com/news/latest/standards-will-critical-uav-adoption/
- Seeking Alpha – https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjT9PD7hN3YAhWmjlQKHc_ICQMQFghKMAY&url=https%3A%2F%2Fseekingalpha.com%2Farticle%2F4031037-commercial-drone-adoption-taking-flight&usg=AOvVaw04_nio7zD6UUhtCwKJQ2p4
- Venture Beats – https://venturebeat.com/2018/01/13/drone-trends-to-watch-in-2018-big-data-flying-taxis-and-home-security/
- Header image from The Conversation