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Predictions for the Future of the Drone Industry: Commercial UAV News’ 2020 Report

BY Zacc Dukowitz
6 February 2020

A recent report from Commercial UAV News provides a sweeping view of current trends in the drone industry and makes predictions for the future.

The report covers several of the big topics that are top of mind right now in the industry—regulations, AI and machine learning, battery life/flight times, and big data management, among others.


Most of the content in the report comes from interviews with eleven different drone industry experts. Each expert chimes in about their areas of expertise, making for a comprehensive snapshot of the current moment in the industry as well as providing insightful commentary on what we might expect to see a little down the road.

Below we cover a few sections from the report that we found especially interesting. If you want to read the interviews we reference, as well as the others included in the report, we recommend downloading the full 35-page report on the Commercial UAV News website.

A “Billion Dollar” Industry

The first interview in Commercial UAV News’ 2020 report is with Michael Blades of consulting and research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Blades has a sober perspective on the drone industry and its potential for growth.

An article featuring a conversation with him on the Commercial UAV News site at the end of last year mentions the potential “billions” forecasted in the drone industry by a Goldman Sachs report created in 2016—and how he recognized back then that the reality, while promising, was far from that exaggerated claim.

Between now and 2020, we forecast a $100 billion market opportunity for drones—helped by growing demand from the commercial and civil government sectors.

– Goldman Sachs Report “Drones: Reporting for Work

It’s 2020 now, so we can say that it looks like Blades was right—we certainly haven’t seen the development of a one hundred billion dollar market over the last four years.

But, as Blades points out, that doesn’t mean there aren’t real financial opportunities in the drone industry.

In 2018 Blades shared a list of six areas of the drone industry that he thought were primed for growth:

  • Drone repair and maintenance
  • Data security
  • AI and machine learning
  • Inspections (indoor and outdoor)
  • Safety and redundant systems (UTM, Remote ID, and related technologies)
  • Drone services

In the new 2020 report Blades provides updates on his thoughts about these six areas. Here are some highlights:

AI and Machine Learning

“. . . more and more people are beginning to understand that these capabilities are about automation with both navigation and processing to take the human out of the loop. Doing so can reduce the costs of a given operation in a big way.”

Indoor and Exterior Inspections

“Exterior inspections like the ones that are happening in Oil & Gas are making a big difference, and they’re being adopted much quicker in that space. That’s only expected to grow.”

Drone Services

“The opportunity is all about getting companies that are already providing services or already have an aviation department to understand how the subject matter experts (SMEs) they’re already working with can bring drones into an established pipeline or workflow . . . there’s still a disconnect between being able to operate a drone for a certain application and creating a case study to show there’s a specific ROI and then telling that story to the decision-makers at the other end.”

Read Blades’ updates on the three other areas he identified for growth back in 2018, as well as his comments on the future of the drone industry, in the full report from Commercial UAV News.

Image source

Agricultural Drone Adoption—Focus on Specifics Crops, Regions, and Use Cases

Another interview we enjoyed from the report was with Dr. Greg Crutsinger, founder of Scholar Farms.

One of his big observations runs parallel to Blades’ point about drone services providers—which is that, regardless of the application, drone pilots succeed in getting business when they highlight specific use cases and specific returns for customers.

Even when we can define the relationships between the imagery and an agronomic decision, those relationships are very different for corn in Iowa versus a vineyard in Napa Valley. We need to establish the relationships between drone imagery and decisions for each crop in each location over the course of the growing season. That’s a process that will take time and partnerships with universities and agricultural extension centers.

– Dr. Greg Crutsinger

Image source

A Future of Practical Tools for Specific Jobs

As many other interviewees do in Commercial UAV News’ report, both Blades and Crutsinger describe a real, practical future for the drone industry.

This is a future in which drones transition from their status as a cool new piece of technology into useful, highly specialized tools that help us do jobs across a multitude of industries with greater and greater precision.

You don’t have to look far to see that the industry has already been moving toward specialization and tools created for specific use cases.

Consider Flyabilty’s Elios 2, made just for inspections in confined spaces, the various thermal drones made just for thermal applications, and big rig drones made for high-end cinematography. Drone-focused software made by Pix4D, 3DR, and others also reflects the move toward specialization, which is a move toward using drones for practical, everyday purposes to help get specific jobs done.

Want to read the full report from Commercial UAV News? Download it now on their website.

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