Drone Year in Review: The Top 9 Drone News Stories of 2021
BY Zacc Dukowitz29 December 2021
2021 has been a big year for the drone industry.
From a series of huge product launches, to big strides made with drone taxis, to the return of in-person drone events, we’ve seen some major developments and major progress on the drone front this year.
Here is our list of the top 9 drone news stories of 2021.
1. DJI Releases the Mavic 3
After years—literally years—of rumors and anticipation, DJI finally released the Mavic 3 in 2021.
The Mavic 3 is a lightweight, highly portable prosumer drone that comes with two high-quality cameras. Big picture, almost every aspect of it has been upgraded from the Mavic 2 Pro.
One of the biggest upgrades in the new drone is that its flight time has increased by almost 50%—it can fly for 46 minutes, 15 minutes longer than the Mavic 2 Pro’s 31 minutes.
Battery life is a constant source of pain for drone pilots, and this longer life, coupled with the Mavic 3’s two cameras, could make it a go-to option for the higher end of the prosumer drone market.
2. Drone Taxis Make Big Moves
This year we’ve seen several drone taxi vocabulary words become common place in the drone industry, including:
- UAM. Urban Air Mobility—refers generally to large unmanned vehicles used primarily as taxi drones or for cargo drone delivery in urban and suburban areas. Learn more on the FAA’s website.
- AAM. Advanced Air Mobility—refers to large unmanned vehicles used in areas that are not urban (basically taking UAM and expanding it to apply to any type of flying environment). Learn more on the FAA’s website.
- eVTOL. Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing—refers to the technology being developed and used for taxi drones, which allows for vertical takeoff in congested urban environments, similar to how helicopters take off and land. Watch a presentation from the FAA and NASA on eVTOL.
Another word that we started hearing all the time this year was vertiport—an airport made just for drone taxis. Another term commonly used is an Urban Air Port (which is also the name of a company that makes them).
Here are some of the biggest developments we saw this year on the drone taxi front:
- In January, Lilium announced a plan to spend $25 million to build a massive 56,000 square-foot vertiport in Orlando.
- In February, Hyundai announced plans to build a site for testing drone taxi operations in partnership with U.K.-based Urban Air Port.
- In February, the European Union started doing intensive UAM testing for its ambitious Air Mobility Urban—Large Experimental Demonstration (“AMU-LED”), a project that includes 17 companies that aims to complete over 100 hours of test flights to demonstrate the reliability of AAM technology.
- In November, Hyundai launched its own drone taxi company, called Supernal.
- In December, Skyports announced plans to build the first vertiport in Europe in anticipation of attempting to launch drone taxis services in time for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.
- In December, Archer eVTOL received the first special airworthiness from the FAA, authorizing it to begin testing its eVTOL taxi drone.
3. FAA Launches the TRUST Test for Recreational Flyers
In June of this year, the FAA released the TRUST (The Recreational UAS Safety Test) for recreational drone flyers. The TRUST is free and is required for all recreational drone flyers.
Here’s an overview of what it entails:
- The test is required for U.S. recreational drone flyers.
- It takes about 30 minutes to complete.
- No prior drone knowledge is needed to take the test.
- The test allows unlimited attempts to pass.
Instead of offering the TRUST itself or through paid third parties—as the Part 107 test is offered—the FAA has made it available for free through trusted partners. UAV Coach is one of those partners, and since the test launched we have had over 35,000 people take the test with us.
Learn more about the TRUST test.
4. DJI Loses a Big Share of the Commercial Drone Market
Image source: DroneAnalyst
For years, DJI has dominated both the consumer and the commercial drone market.
But this year, a report from DroneAnalyst found that DJI’s share of the commercial drone market dropped 15%, from 69% in 2020 to 54% in 2021. DroneAnalyst attributed the decline to several factors, including stiffer competition, diminished staff size at DJI, and DJI’s addition to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Entity List.
Even though 15% is a big drop, DJI continues to dominate the commercial drone market, and hasn’t lost any ground on the consumer side.
5. The Return of In-Person Drone Events
In 2020, the pandemic led to cancellations or last-minute transitions to strictly virtual formats for all the major drone events.
In 2021, we saw several of these events come back, including Commercial UAV Expo, AUVSI XPONENTIAL, and the Energy Drone and Robotics Coalition.
We should note that not all events returned to normal this year—InterDrone was canceled altogether, and CES 2021 was held in a digital-only format.
6. Blue UAS 2.0 and the “Made in the USA” Rule
With the looming threat of a ban on Chinese drones, the term Made in the USA has come to be even more important in the drone industry.
To expand the number of drones that were acceptable for government use, the Department of Defense (DOD) released a second, longer list of Blue UAS called Blue UAS 2.0.
Responding to calls from various federal entities to include drones with great capabilities and lower prices, the DOD took steps to make it easier for companies to apply for the Blue UAS designation.
But the emphasis on buying drones made in the U.S. has led some companies to make false or inflated claims about where their drones are made. In response to these issues in the drone industry and elsewhere, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created a new rule that would fine companies that claim their products are made in the U.S. when they aren’t.
7. Mind Blowing Drone Art
Every year we see artists continue to push the boundaries of how drones can be used to make art—here are just a few of our favorite stories about how drones were used to make art this year:
Reuben Wu’s “Motion Pieces”
— Reuben Wu (@Reuben_Wu) May 1, 2021
Reuben is one of our favorite artists, and he continues to come up with brilliant, beautiful ways to use drones for making art. Learn more about his “motion pieces” here.
Porsche’s Drone Light Paintings
Created by photographer and artist Baber Afzal and shot in deserts found in both the Middle East and Africa, the images in this video show us yet another way that drones can be used to create art. See the incredible images from this project here.
Winners of SkyPixel’s 6th Annual Contest
The video featured above won overall as SkyPixel’s Video of the Year.
The winners this year from SkyPixel’s annual drone photo and video contest were really stunning. See our roundup of the first place-winning images and videos here, and visit the SkyPixel site to see all of the other winners.
8. Drone Deliveries Make Big Advances
In some ways, the pandemic may have helped to speed up public perception surrounding the benefit that drones can provide for deliveries.
2020 saw some significant advances for drone deliveries, and this year we saw even more progress.
Here were some of the biggest developments on the drone delivery front this year:
- In February, Zipline announced that it had developed a cold-chain capability that would allow it to deliver all of the major COVID-19 vaccines by drone and that it already had plans to begin delivering doses in Nigeria.
- In June, Walmart announced a significant investment in DroneUp for commercial drone deliveries and Flytrex announced that it had gotten approval to begin making drone deliveries in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
- In July, Zipline raised $250 million in additional funds while also expanding operations in the U.S. and Africa, bringing its total valuation up to a whopping $2.75 billion.
- In September, Wing shared the news that it had made 100,000 drone deliveries.
- In October, Wing announced that it would begin making commercial drone deliveries in Dallas and also that it would begin making mall-to-home drone deliveries in Queensland, Australia.
- In November, Zipline announced it would begin making medical drone deliveries in Salt Lake City, UT.
9. So Many Product Launches!
Every year we expect to see new drones come out—but 2021 has been especially full of new drones and drone accessories.
Here are the biggest launches we saw this year:
- Cleo Robotics—Dronut X1
- DJI—Air 2S
- DJI—Action 2 camera
- DJI—DJI FPV
- DJI—Mavic 3 (covered in the first section above)
- DJI—Mini SE
- DJI—Ronin 4D cinematography solution
- Flyability—Elios 2 RAD
- Hubsan—Zino Mini Pro
- Hubsan—Zino Mini SE
- Parrot—ANAFI Ai
- Sony—AirPeak S1
- Wingtra—WingtraOne Gen II