The Industry Takes Flight: Commercial Drones in 2018 and Bey…

At today’s DroneDeploy conference in San Francisco, a group of industry experts offered three different perspectives on progress in the drone industry.

Colin Snow of Skylogic Research, is an influential industry analyst.  His yearly industry benchmark report is based upon actual survey data, and provides a realistic view of year over year progress.  Snow says that a few statistics stand out from this year’s study:

  • DJI is still by far the dominant player in the industry – not only in hardware but in payloads and software also.
  • Mapping is the most profitable service for providers – the majority of drone service providers making more than $100,000 per year offer mapping/survey solutions.
  • More than half of enterprise companies using drones are still in the planning and development stages of a drone program -or just transitioning from that stage.

While Snow sees the industry as still in a development stage, he says that there are very encouraging data points – for example, the average spend on an enterprise drone program is increasing.

Andrew Dennison of Uplift Data Partners gets a customer-based view of the industry.  Uplift  is a leading drone service provider flying for large enterprise clients.  Dennison says that their job is to make the process of data collection to delivery of analyzed data as easy as possible for their clients.  From that perspective, based on customer need, he can see which data products are growing the fastest right now.

Dennison says that the most popular data product overall currently is roof inspections – and the biggest growth product is thermal imaging for roof inspection.  Dennison also sees good news for the industry in his experience with customers since the start of his company two years ago.  “We’re heading up the adoption curve,” says Dennison.  “The conversation [about drone programs] is changing – it’s gone from ‘is this valuable?’ to ‘how do I scale this?’”

Brandon Montellato of DJI has the perspective as Enterprise Program Manager at the world’s larges drone manufacturer.  With DJI’s vast customer base, Montellato has a broad view of drone flight in the US and overseas.  Montellato says that regulatory advances like the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) are game changers.  The FAA expects 1,000-1,500 LAANC requests per week, says Montellato, and they expect that number to quickly grow by an additional 1,000 per week to 2,000 – 2,500 per week.  One leading drone service provider has found that in the short time since LAANC was enabled, about 30% of their operations require LAANC approval.  BVLOS flight and other regulation advances are moving forward.

What’s next?  Montellato says that sensor fusion is an enabling technology, increasing the value of drone data.  Sensor fusion allows operators to capture both thermal imagery and visual images.  “Having two sensors coupled together helps you understand the environment better,” says Montellato.   “If you identify an area that is too cool, for example, are there mitigating factors like a bush or shade tree nearby?  It helps you make better decisions.”

Moderator Mike Winn, DroneDeploy’s CEO, asked the final question: “What do we need to progress to a drone on every worksite?”  While the panelists named data products, regulatory compliance issues, and progress on autonomous systems as key factors in industry development, one overall theme came to light.

Ultimately, demonstrating value is the key to growth.  “We believe that if the friction is out of the way on regulations, and the friction is out of the way on automation – clients need to understand the economics of a drone program,” says Snow.


Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Email Miriam

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