Future of Drones

The Future of Drones: 7 Bold Trends for 2018

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. E

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.

Additional Resources:

  1. Drone Analyst – http://droneanalyst.com/2017/12/19/five-biggest-commercial-drone-trends-of-2017-and-the-challenges-ahead
  2. DroneDeploy – https://blog.dronedeploy.com/2018-commercial-drone-industry-predictions-fe229aa3551c
  3. Dronelife – https://dronelife.com/2018/01/02/drones-2018-thought-leaders-predict-new-trends/
  4. Cisco Blog – https://blogs.cisco.com/innovation/the-drones-have-taken-off-our-investment-in-kespry-a-leading-industrial-aerial-intelligence-platform
  5. Cnet – https://www.cnet.com/news/intel-soars-above-las-vegas-with-bellagio-drone-light-show-ces-2018/
  6. CNBC – https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/01/in-race-to-dominate-drone-space-west-is-no-match-for-chinas-dji.html
  7. Commerical UAV News – https://www.expouav.com/news/latest/standards-will-critical-uav-adoption/
  8. 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
  9. 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

The Future of Drones: 5 Bold Predictions for 2017

Note: This is a repost of the same article on LinkedIn.

The 2017 Consumer Electronics Showcase has just concluded in Las Vegas, Nevada and drones are front and center in the national discussion. Drones, UAVs and other unmanned systems have taken off as a unique tool for everyday life, regardless of whether flight is controlled by onboard computers or remotely from the ground. Unmanned systems have revolutionized the way we capture, monitor and assist our world. They provide aerial coverage for sports, travel and real estate; enhance search and rescue, law enforcement and disaster relief; and so much more.

DJI, Yuneec, and Qualcomm are just a few of the companies that showcased drone and UAV technologies at the Showcase. After hearing from over 42 companies during the CES, here are my 5 bold predictions for the future of drones.


1. Drones Will Be Automated

Today, drones are controlled by human operators. The new FAA regulations lay out a set of guidelines that every operator must abide by when flying their UAVs in US Airspace. The drones of tomorrow, however, may not require human operators at all. Startups and government agencies alike are researching technologies in areas of predictive and prescriptive analytics, allowing drones to analyze flight plans, detect and avoid obstacles, and communicate with one another, all in real time.

Silicon Valley Startup, DroneDeploy, and EU Startup, UAVIA, are just a few companies leading the developments in automated data collection and remote operation in the next generation of drones. DroneDeploy has developed a SAAS platform that allows users to automate data collection by allowing users to capture and analyze maps and 3D Models. UAVIA is developing connected drones and charging stations that remove the need for human operators.


2. Drones Will Take VR/AR to New Heights

With live-streaming videos and 10-second moments taking center stage,  we are entering an era where people can see the world in real-time, immerse themselves in another reality, and connect with one another like never before.

Drones connect us even further by providing a perspective that’s been unimaginable for centuries. Combining virtual and augmented reality systems with drone technologies present itself with a world of new possibilities. 360 cameras can be attached to drones and allow viewers to transport themselves to almost any location on the planet. More advanced systems can allow operators to control these drones in real time from across the world.

Startups like Drone Volt and Aerobo are pioneering this fusion of technology. Drone Volt specializes in the manufacturing, assembly, distribution and sales of advanced drones for professional usage, from audiovisual applications to security. They currently have a drone with ten, 4k cameras geared towards producing VR content. Aerobo is a drones-as-a-service company operating in entertainment, news, sports, real estate, industrial inspection, energy, and agriculture. The Aerobo Mini, their latest product, is a lightweight drone constructed with 3D printed plastic, reinforced with carbon fiber.


3. Drones Will Be The New Development Platform

The Smartphone fundamentally changed the way we communicate, navigate, shop, and more within the past decade. Drones are simply smartphones in the sky. They’re a set of processors and sensors with wings, set to disrupt numerous industries, including logistics, agriculture, and insurance. Google and Apple have developed ingeniously simple ways for developers to build on top of their platforms. Similarly, DJI is moving towards providing developers with the tools and resources needed to build on top of their platforms.

Numerous startups have taken advantage of drones as the new development platform, including FreeSkies and Airware. FreeSkies has developed an autonomous path planning interface that allows users to select 3D waypoints and automate their flightplans without any piloting experience. Airware has developed a platform for developers and enterprises to build applications from the sky.

star wars drone

4. Drones Will Fly in Swarms

Swarming technology is a form of artificial intelligence that will enable drones to imitate the flight patterns of certain insects. It could enable thousands of drones, working together, to achieve impossible tasks with current technology. They can assist in search and rescue missions, construct bridges in a matter of days, or even deliver goods to your doorstep. Advancements in artificial intelligence and cloud robotics will help lead the evolution of drones, where drones not only communicate with operators, but with one another.

The US Navy has initiated a Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program to allow a single operator to control a swarm of up to 30 drones. The GRASP Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania is researching drones that can sense and avoid one another and carry out tasks as a single unit. The CSAIL Laboratory at MIT is developing algorithms that can assist in drone navigation, surveillance, and mapping.

ehang drone

5. Drones Will Connect Our World

From advancing cellular technology to providing internet to remote areas, drone technology is connecting our world more than ever. Cellular companies are researching ways to extend cellular networks to the last gray areas on our map, while Facebook is developing a drone that can provide internet access to the furthest reaches of our planet. Facebook’s Internet.org is developing the Aquila drone using laser communications and millimeter wave systems to provide Internet coverage to areas of the world under-served by traditional connectivity infrastructure.

Google’s Project Skybender and Project Loon are exploring next-generation 5G wireless Internet access via drones and balloons respectively. The drones will use phased array technology to transmit data at high speeds.

I envision a future where drones are a major component of the IoT, a world where everything is connected, from your car to your home to the drones in the sky. Realizing this future will require deep collaboration between government institutions, corporations, and startups worldwide.