Lucrative UAV Future: 5 Drone Trends for the Next DecadeLast Updated: January 1, 2020
During the first decade of the 21st century, drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have made such an impact that there are now more unmanned than manned flights in the skies. With an industry that is set to more than triple in the next 10 years, we look at some of the areas likely to experience particular growth.
Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), have made a tremendous impact globally, with the commercial and consumer spend alone—worth $4bn annually—set to more than triple to $14bn by 2025. Aerospace and defense analysts the Teal Group forecast that this predicted $93bn total would be complemented by a military UAV research spend of an additional $30bn over the same period.
The mid-2015 Teal survey included consumer UAV data for the first time due to the rapid growth of—and blurring of the boundaries between—commercial and consumer markets.
As for what is ahead, one thing is certain: Hamburg-based market research and analytics firm Drone Industry Insights confirms that already there is more unmanned than manned aerial vehicle traffic in the skies, and legislation globally is widely spread, unable to keep pace with the development of the market.
Currently, Drones are among the most in-demand products in the world, with the three best selling hobby UAVs alone including such popular models as the Holy Stone HS170 Predator; the Cheerwing Syma X5SW-V3 FPV Explorers2; the Holy Stone F181 RC Quadcopter Drone.
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So what can we expect in the foreseeable future? One of the earliest drone/UAV entrepreneurs, Jordi Muñoz, co-founder of 3D Robotics, made his breakthrough in 2008 after modifying a Nintendo Wii controller to stabilize a toy helicopter mid-air. Muñoz, now CTO of North America’s largest personal drone-maker, says the industry has moved “from revolution to evolution”.
In 2014, Muñoz forecast that the best opportunities were in areas rich in specific field opportunities, and technical opportunities arising out of the necessary customizations or enhancements.
His UAV predictions for agriculture, filmmaking, mapping/modeling, and humanitarian endeavors have been reliable, and further growth is anticipated in the medium and long-term future.
1. The UAV in Agriculture
Muñoz foresaw great progress in agriculture—despite the slow pace of regulation in the US—citing the situation in Japan, where crop dusting has been conducted with UAV since the turn of the millennium.
Indeed, Juniper Research predicts that the strongest growth in the drone industry will occur within the agricultural sector, accounting for 48 percent of all commercial drone sales this year.
The UAV helps save time and costs over other agricultural methods, such as walking fields on foot and using planes for fly-over filming, while the ease of use of UAVs allows for more regular crop surveying.
2. UAV Filmmaking
Juniper Research has also documented a “soaring” demand for UAVs in film and television, due to the low costs and flexibility inherent in the use of drones to capture high angle or aerial footage.
As Muñoz observed in 2014, UAVs provided filmmakers with “ways to trigger emotions in new ways, perhaps rediscover emotions we didn’t know we had any more”.
He foresaw numerous field opportunities, including low-cost aerial video units for film and TV production houses, and entirely new subject matter, and as myriad technical opportunities particularly in the areas of flight times and payload capacities.
3. UAV Mapping and 3D Modeling
Muñoz also anticipated UAVs making a huge impact in the area of mapping and 3D modeling, providing quick and accurate data on the largest objects and areas so vast that it would require a ground survey team several days to cover.
He foresaw a huge range of field opportunities including inspection, infrastructure (including power plants and lines, roads, rail, shipping), city planning, and anything requiring regular inspection. He identified further technical opportunities in advancement of sensors and processing for increasingly large amounts of data.
4. Vehicles For Good
As an indication of drones’ potential to benefit the planet, Muñoz flagged the work being done by UAViators.org—a humanitarian network of volunteer drone pilots who can quickly have ‘eyes in the sky’ to document and monitor crisis areas anywhere in the world—and ConservationDrongs.org (who use the 3DR platform to monitor Sumatran rain forests, Bolivian fisheries, palm oil plantations, and even orangutang nests). And indeed, this work is set to continue and broaden over the coming years.
5. UAV Regulation
With the intensive exploration of options in these areas, there will be increasing regulation.
The European Aviation Safety Agency has published its formal technical opinion on the operation of drones across the EU, towards development of comprehensive rules during 2016 and 2020.
The EASA proposes three categories of operation: Open, Specific and Certified, with different safety requirements for each, proportionate to risk. The objective is to ensure drones are operated safely, with minimized impact on the safety of the aviation system.
Development of these rules will be accompanied by promotion of safety documentation, available on the EASA website.