Posts tagged "Drone Market"

In my last post, Five Biggest Commercial Drone Trends of 2017 and the Challenges Ahead, I used data from our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report to illustrate the major trends of the past year and describe the major challenges ahead for the drone industry. That post looked back, but this one looks forward, offering our specific predictions for 2018, including investments, technology improvements, ecosystem partnerships, and software innovations.

(Listen to this companion Drone Radio Show podcast here for our complete assessment.)

1. Investment and testing will continue in earnest on Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.

With regulations moving at the speed of government and dissenting views on Drone ID, it seems like UTM (air traffic management for low-altitude drones) is an elusive dream. However, there is hope that testing being done on beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations in drone corridors will provide the necessary inputs to integrate drones into the national airspace. Expect news this summer from the vendors and service providers conducting tests at NUAIR in New York as they release results and performance-based navigation standards begin to coalesce.

2. You’ll see more news on improved sensors, hardware integration, networking, and processing.

Already, we’ve seen announcements like this one for new thermal imaging drone payloads. Expect to see further Ethernet / IP sensor integration efforts as more and more remote managers demand immediate access to data from local operations. Expect more news on LiDAR / drone integration like this one from Delair-Tech as more land surveyors and construction professionals demand further time and money savings over traditional methods.

3. Look for more partnerships, software, and innovations coming from the DJI Enterprise ecosystem.

We noted in our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report just how much DJI dominates the industry with its 72% market share. All the major mission-planning and mapping applications—like DroneDeploy, PrecisionHawk’s PrecisionMapper, Skycatch, and dozens more—now run on the DJI SDK. What our report didn’t mention was DJI’s focused efforts to further expand its commercial ecosystem. DJI Enterprise’s AirWorks Conference is but one example, an event whose purpose is showcasing applied drone solutions for the commercial industry’s most challenging obstacles. Expect many innovations from DJI’s partners in the hardware, software, and service sectors.

4. Software will dominate advancements.

Along with the new imaging sensor announcements in 2018, we expect to see imaging software advancements as companies seek to combine RGB, thermal imaging, orthomosaic, and radiometric data.

We also expect to see more aerial imaging and mapping software firms announce artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Right now, most of this is cloud-based machine learning (aka deep learning and predictive analytics) where data sets are trained by specialized teams. You may see some edge-based AI announcements for image recognition/machine vision, but be cautious when you do. We think it’s still early in the technology development cycle and AI is at peak hype.

We think the big news for 2018 will be the integration of drone data and workflow into asset management systems. Capabilities include documentation, tracking, and GIS data integration. It may bring a yawn to some but we believe when you can connect the dots and show the effect of drone data capture on the balance sheet, CFOs and CEOs will take notice and drive further enterprise adoption.

Parting thoughts

As I speak to clients, I always like to remind them of two things about the commercial drone market. First, it’s not a drone market, it’s a data and information market. The drone is just a data capture device. Second, drones are aircraf, not consumer products and as such their operations are regulated by aviation authorities.  All technology advancements aside, this is a regulated market, so always expect lumpy, bumpy growth.

We hope you keep those in mind as well and wish you best success in the coming year.

Listen to the companion podcast here http://bit.ly/2CXe6uK.

If you have questions about what’s in the report I mention or would like to comment, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

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The changes and developments we saw throughout the drone industry in 2017 were incredible and deserve a proper examination. For the most part, the hype that drove so much misunderstanding and frustration in this space is gone,and that’s a good thing. While the kind of hype we’ve seen associated with UAVs can create needed attention, it can also lead to irrational behavior and impossible expectations. Now that we can get a better sense of when drones will be able to reach the “plateau of productivity” from the Gartner Hype Cycle, we can finally talk about the organizations and uses of this technology that will truly drive and define the drone industry.

How does our Drone Ecosystem Map help define what these developments look like in 2018 and beyond though? First, it provides a great overview of the most active and relevant players in the drone industry in their category and sub-category. We limited the Map to 1,000 players so you can focus on the companies and people that are set to have the biggest impact on the drone market. The Map is not totally comprehensive, and it’s not supposed to be. The focus is on the diversity and reach of this drone ecosystem.

The second way it can help is directly related to the first, since the Map can help you uncover niches and players you might not otherwise come across in this vivid market. Since we’re not trying to provide you with an all-encompassing look at the drone industry as a whole, you can use the Map to find technology and organizations that can make for ideal partners. We’ve heard from countless people who got in touch to say they used the previous version of this Map to locate strategic partners. This is a resource that has led to a great deal of investment for people on every side of the drone industry. Transparency can and does drive decisions in this space, and that’s why we want to share our knowledge with anyone who is or will be making a decision about drone technology.

If we look at the drone industry as a whole in 2017, we can see a clear movement towards investment in software. Many companies realized that it’s not the drones themselves that provide value for users, but instead it’s the data they’re gathering. This is part of the reason we’ve seen such a dramatic increase in strategic partnerships. Stand-alone drone hardware is not what commercial customers are looking for when considering drone technology. Many of the players in the drone industry realized that creating a complete solution was the best approach, and that desire drove many of these strategic partnerships.

If you compare the 2016 and 2018 Maps, you can see some interesting trends that have and continue to permeate the drone industry. 10% of the companies listed (711 total entries) in the 2016 map are gone. 360 new entries were added, which is indicative of the strong movement that we’re seeing in almost every sector. It’s impossible to stay on top of all these movements though, as major changes like GoPro moving away from the drone business took place in the first couple weeks of 2018. We’ll see more headlines like these throughout the year, as this market continues to be defined before our eyes. Now let’s take a closer look at the most important developments in the drone industry:

Platform Manufacturers:

  • A great deal of consolidation is happening, and that’s something you can see with the mergers, acquisitions, drop-outs and focus changes. 3DR, PrecisionHawk, and Agribotix have moved away from hardware and are now mostly or wholly focused on software. Much of this has been triggered by the market superiority of DJI. 3DR officially noted that competitive pricing was a key reason for their $100m failure in hardware.
  • There’s a trend toward strong specialization in specific industries and with custom configurations. Agriculture, delivery systems, safety & security are some of the bigger industries that are seeing this development of specialization. That’s being augmented by specialized configurations, which have also created new niches and provided unique selling points. These configurations include fixed-wing, VTOL fixed-wing and lighter-than-air.
  • The AAT’s (Autonomous Air Taxis – also called flying-cars or e-VTOLs) sector has come on in a big way, and there’s a lot of funding in this space. Big companies seem to grab the best pieces before it’s too late, which is something you can see with developments like Terrafugia being acquired by Volvo-owner Geely, and Aurora Flight Sciences being acquired by Boeing. We’re also seeing some pivoting happening in this sector, as companies like Ehang have changed their strategy to move away from recreational drones to AAT’s.
  • In the consumer/recreational market, drone racing events and selfie drones continue to define the space. Many have had to fight to stay relevant here, as Parrot’s struggles in the space directly led to the transition of Bebop for commercial purposes, Lily’s failure allowed the Mota Group to acquire the product and DreamQii had to issue refunds on account of their PlexiDrone.

Software:

  • Powerful pieces of inspection software have been developed which utilize pattern recognition for asset management. The industrial needs to integrate AI & Deep Learning algorithms will allow these programs to automate inspection processes even more, and in turn, provide more value.
  • Many strategic software partnerships have been formed to provide end-to-end solutions because many organizations have recognized that providing one piece of the puzzle is not enough.
  • API’s and approaches that allow drone data to be integrated into existing processes quickly become a requirement. Opening channels (API) and tools that integrate drones into established processes came on in a big way in 2017, and that development will become even more distinct in 2018.
  • Aerial Data Providers such as Airbus Aerial and Intel Insights have taken the concept of aerial acquired data to a new level. Providing a virtual data platform for satellite, plane and drone data unshackles them from drone operation and the corresponding risk.
  • The UTM has unlocked many national and international partnerships, and we’ve started to see the results of these developments. Skyward and Airmap have become the first organization to be able to provide LAANC accreditation.

Service:

  • There’s a lot of talk about drone logistics services, but we’ve finally seen an impact that has gone beyond marketing. Matternet and Zipline are just two of the companies that are frequently flying medical deliveries in Europe and Africa. Drone-based warehousing solutions are also on the rise.
  • Drone show providers have showcased an entirely new application for the technology. Intel’s’ halftime-show and many other drone swarms have ushered in a new era of outdoor and indoor entertainment.
  • System integrations that are being provided and created have taken on critical importance. More tailor-made solutions are required by various industries, and that means more providers are working to alter standard configurations to meet industry-specific needs
  • Drone accelerators programs have uncovered the potential of the extremely quick-moving drone companies. They’ve jumped started new companies, and more of that will happen in 2018.
  • Organizations that provide Drones as a Service (DaaS) have matured to the point that providers have proven they can contract big business. This service has also been augmented by certain jobs whose complexity has been reduced, meaning that the DaaS model can allow savings to stay in-house.

Counter-UAS:

  • This is a new market in the civil world that’s rapidly growing with big funding and large international partnerships
  • Pure CUAS conferences and expos have been created to explain threats and opportunities
  • There are limitations for physical and non-physical systems that include jammer restrictions (federal network agency) and problems for health in public spaces (e.g. pacemakers).

Components and Systems:

  • High priced equipment and flights in populated areas call for rigorous safety measures, which is why there’s been a proliferation of launch & recovery They provide more awareness and available solutions for operational security.
  • Brand new drone propulsion methods have been developed, and they’re as essential as they are powerful. Hybrid systems(battery/fuel cell, gas/battery) allow long endurance/range by optimizing mission requirements for hardware.
  • Cameras are now being used for indoor navigation while FLIR cameras almost sold out due to high demand from industry.
  • Encrypted data links are getting very popular since the standard drone-to-ground communication is quite vulnerable. Data & communication logistics and details will continue to be a top priority.
  • Drone ground stations, aka “drone box” solutions, have been labeled by some as complete solutions since they offer a roof over your drone and the ability to wirelessly charge/exchange batteries before the drone takes off on a new pre-programmed flight.

Drop-outs/Struggle:

  • Crowdfunding does not seem to work, as we saw a lot of failures and bankruptcies. Those include Bionic Bird, Micro Drone, FlyPro, Lily, Onagofly and Globe Drone, among others.
  • Many supplier/retailer vanished due to hard competition and not yet high demand, especially in Europe.
  • Yuneec laid off 70% of its U.S. staff in March of 2017 and introduced a new CEO. Parrot announced in January 2017 that it was going to reduce its drone team from 840 employees to 290 people, which represents a reduction by about 66%. Autel also laid off employees in February 2017, while GoPro just announced they were entirely shutting down their drone division and laying off more than 200 employees. All of these developments are an indication of how untenable the aerial market is, and that’s mostly due to the dominance of DJI.
  • While niches like drone racing and selfie-drones seem to work well for many startups, there’s a simple fact that’s impossible to get around: building hobby drones is hard. It’s going to get even more competitive now that DJI has announced ‘Tello’ – a $99 selfie drone designed by Ryze Tech.

Takeaways

  • Machine learning for drone navigation and data analytics is driving numerous developments.
  • The degree of automation and adoption of drone technology will further increase.
  • Conglomerates will directly address the drone market. In the past startups, came up with niche solutions and sometimes were happy to partner with a big industry player, which is something that happened with Airware and Caterpillar. Now though, big companies like Komatsu & NVIDIA are partnering to bring solutions with a bigger scope to the market. Those are partnerships designed to sort out logistics related to topics like AI. It begs to question of whether we’ll see companies like IBM and Hitachi or Qualcomm and Mitsui form the next major partnership that will have a direct and indirect impact on the drone industry.
  • There is a lot happening under the radar in China, especially in agriculture and delivery.

All of these developments are indicative of how and why 2018 is going to be so exciting. The drone industry as a whole will undoubtedly go through some exhilarating highs and discouraging lows. We’ll see solutions that are going to become mature and easier to integrate into existing workflows as well as new capabilities that will enable uses few have even considered. The Drone Ecosystem Map will be a critical resource you’ll be able to refer to and utilize throughout this process. To learn more about the players, their capabilities and their role in the market feel free to contact us. To learn more about the companies listed on the map, check out our services.

No matter if overhyped or not, a well-educated market is a stable market. That’s the kind of market we can all contribute to and want to be part of.

Have a great and successful year 2018!

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Previous articleExpert Roundup: How to get started with drone videography and photography

Last year at this time, I reflected back on the news and trends of the commercial drone markets of 2016 and wrote about the mixed state of affairs ahead for 2017. Throughout the year, I offered my perspective on how the drone industry was still motivated by hype and how assessing forward momentum required hard data on the performance of the various sectors of the industry. To that end, we did research over the summer that surveyed 2,600 respondents on drone purchases, service providers, business users, and software services. In September, we published the data in 2017 Drone Market Sector Report 2017.

In this post, I’ll use that data to illustrate the major trends of the past year and describe what I think are the major challenges ahead for the drone industry.

Listen to this companion Drone Radio Show podcast here for the complete assessment.

Trend 1—Growth

By all measures, the drone industry in 2017 was marked by significant growth – growth in aircraft sales, software licenses, the number of service businesses entering the market, and the number of industrial businesses setting up commercial operations.

Here are a few statistics:

  • We project U.S. sales in 2017 to be about 3.3M units, which is 36% above 2016 figures. That’s all drones, all sizes. It’s about 1.3M units for the >250gram category.
  • As of October 31st, there were about 837,000 hobbyist users and 107,000 non-hobbyist drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • As of December 1st, there were about 66,000 Part 107 FAA Pilots.

This represents a big change in the commercial market since Part 107 regulations supplanted Section 333 as the means for commercial operations in the U.S. What this and our survey data tells us is the number of service providers currently outpaces demand, and as a result, service prices are coming down significantly.

Trend 2—Consumerization

We said in our report that more consumer drones are being used for commercial work than ever before. For example, our data shows that more than two-thirds (68%) of all drones weighing over 250 grams are purchased for professional purposes—either governmental or business.

Why is this significant? Because the impact of consumer-originated technology on the enterprise is something that can’t be ignored. Enterprises want to take advantage of powerful, yet easy-to-use products (like DJI’s popular consumer models), and put them to work on the job. What this means for operators or businesses is that a shared core technology benefits all users and enables companies to scale the best experiences to everyone. Enterprise customers get the added simplicity and usability of the consumer product that has been built to meet the demands of thousands of customers around the world.  The average individual pilot gets to benefit from the reliability and scalability inherent in the product and demanded by enterprise users.

Trend 3—The DJI effect

Our data shows DJI is the clear market leader in drone aircraft sales and almost every software category. For example, DJI is the dominant brand for drone aircraft purchases, with a 72% global market share across all price points and an even higher share (87%) of the core $1,000–$1,999 price segment. Additionally, in the three categories of software we evaluated, DJI is the market-share leader in two: flight logging and operations, and automated mission planning.

This is significant because by building on top of its existing technology platform, DJI has fast-tracked development and has benefited from economies of scale. By migrating a successful technology stack and feature set upmarket, DJI never has to reinvent the wheel—it just needs to improve upon the original design and save engineering cycles for real innovation.

The upshot is that to stay relevant, all the other major vendors have had to partner with DJI (see Trend 5 Partnerships, below). DJI’s sales success has taken market share from others and has led to layoffs at 3DR, Autel, GoPro, Parrot, and Yuneec. However, fears about data security remain. And this has some speculating about whether DJI can sustain its leadership role in the future.

Trend 4—Investments

According to CB Insights, investments shifted in 2017 from aircraft hardware to software. In 2016, there were 106 deals totaling $542M. Most of these were for hardware. In 2017, VCs focused on software, end-to-end solutions, and counter-drone technology. CB Insights projects the year will end with 110 deals totaling $494M. The most significant investment this past year was 3D Robotics’ $53M Series D round. It saw them pivot from hardware to software services.

Why is this significant?  Because it shows the industry is still maturing. Seed and Series A rounds represented 60% of all deals in 2017; whereas early-stage share peaked in 2015 at 73% of deals. Additionally, some of the most well-funded drone companies are targeting enterprise and industrial inspection.

What this means for operators or businesses is greater affordability. Software advances, computer chip manufacturing techniques, and economies of scale will continue to drive down the cost of drone platforms and sensors and solutions.

Trend 5—Partnerships

This year we saw a change from synergistic merger and acquisitions to the creation of end-to-end solutions via partnerships. For example, look at how DJI’s enterprise partnerships have grown. Consider their AirWorks conference. What drone major vendor wasn’t there? The list included DroneDeploy, Measure, PrecisionHawk, Skycatch, and Sentera, to name a few.

This past year we also saw an uptick in regulators and industry stakeholder partnerships. For example, the Drone Advisory Committee was created to provide the FAA with advice on unmanned aircraft integration from a diverse group of stakeholders. Major commercial participants include Intel, DJI, Amazon, Google X, and Facebook, as well the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Consider also the FAA’s new UAS Integration Pilot Program. Here, government entities are partnering with private-sector companies, such as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operators and manufacturers, to submit proposals to the FAA to fly more advanced operations in their communities, including flying beyond line of sight and over people. This is significant because it’s clear that regulators want to include industry when creating policies.

However, there is some good news / bad news with this.

The good news is greater flexibility. With vendor partnerships, drones will be able to perform more types of data gathering in a shorter timeframe and with more precision than many other options. So, more aircraft, sensor, and software integration.

The bad news is operators and businesses have regulatory uncertainty. We advise our clients to plan for some uncertainty as technology, the public, and bureaucracy find common ground on operations for beyond visual line of sight and over people.

Challenges ahead

Here’s my list of the major challenges facing the drone industry in 2018:

  1. Regulations: We may see more regulatory red tape—e.g., a patchwork quilt of rules as the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program begins to make policy.
  2. Public sentiment: Basic public concerns still exist about drone safety, security, privacy, and their public nuisance. My question is: How can we overcome this?
  3. Business value: We’ve yet to see credible ROI that hits the executive scorecard. The key question is: What monetary benefit do drones and information gleaned from drones provide shareholder value?
  4. Information accuracy: Up to now, drone vendors have been focused on the accuracy of image capture and the rigor of the drone system. For better business value, they need to focus on the accuracy of the data processing and the rigor of data analysis.
  5. IT data governance: This is especially the case for drone inspections where a single drone could collect 50 to 100 gigabytes of data. Managing these large data sets starts to become one of the things that have to be worked out.
  6. Automation: A lot of software automation will come, including artificial intelligence (AI) or algorithms that minimize the amount of human effort to distill all that information and get to some actionable inference. But large scale industrial use of AI is young and it requires manual intervention to distinguish the difference between near-similar objects.
  7. Endurance: We’re still on the quest for efficiencies like better power sources or mixes.
  8. Widespread business adoption: Business and industry adoption is growing, but it’s mixed because of factors such as business risk aversion, concerns over invasion of privacy, and a reluctance by many companies to share too much information about successes.

That’s it for now.

Listen to the companion podcast here http://bit.ly/2CXe6uK.

Look for a follow-up piece on our specific predictions for 2018, which will include investments, technology improvements, ecosystem partnerships, and software innovations.

If you have questions about what’s in the report I mention or would like to comment, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

I believe three of the biggest misconceptions in the drone industry is how fast it will grow, which sectors will grow, and which ones will lag.

No one disagrees that drones—both consumer and professional—represent a new and emerging market. Drone market forecasts abound. We currently track 73 independent companies that provide market forecasts, and each of them projects growth for the drone or unmanned aerial system (UAS) sector that is nothing short of phenomenal. Some of these, however, are questionable, because, at the time they were written, there were no historical sales or reliable market survey data on which to create a proper forecast. We wrote about this problem back in 2015 here. Still, today we still see a big gap between current forecasts and actual purchases, services, and business adoption.

In this article, I’m going to take a look at some of the data collected in our latest report on the drone industry—data we think is important to you and answers the question: “Why don’t we see widespread adoption of drones in my industry just yet?”

Business use defined

As part of our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report, we conducted a survey to identify the business users for drone-based projects and which industries have traction. We define “business users” as those individuals or companies that use or purchase drone-based imaging or sensing services. A total of 623 respondents answered our qualifying survey question that they either do such work themselves or contract out for it.

When we asked respondents about the primary commercial drone-based service they perform or purchase, the results show that:

  • the #1 business use is aerial photography and/or video at 31%,
  • the #2 use is surveying / mapping / GIS with 20%,
  • and the #3 use is construction (design, building inspection, or monitoring) at 6%.

Company size

To gauge the extent of drone use, we asked our business users about their company’s revenue, the number of projects they perform per month, and the number of remote pilots they employ. As with service providers, the numbers are low. For example, 75% of business users perform one to five projects per month.

The revenue figures of business users reveal an interesting trend as well. More than half (53%) are small and medium-size businesses (SMBs)—organizations with less than $10 million in annual revenue. Only 6% could be classified as a large enterprise, i.e., an organization that makes over $1 billion.

As we did with drone-based service providers, we asked these business users how many aviation-authority, licensed small UAS / UAV remote pilots they currently employ. The numbers were smaller than we expected. Almost three-quarters (74%) have five or fewer pilots; 50% have only one.

Certainly these numbers debunk the media hype about drones. There are not hundreds of thousands of drones flying now (certainly not at the same time), nor is it true that Millions More Drones Will Be Flying Above Your Head by 2020 and in this piece we make the case Why the Drone Network of Tomorrow is Farther Away Than You Think.

Limited success stories on integration

Our research finds widespread business adoption is being hampered by a reluctance to share too much information about successes.

Companies are depending on information communicated about drones by others that have been successful. Certainly the interest is there. You can see that from the diversity of industries attending the major U.S. commercial drone expos, such as InterDrone, Commercial UAV Expo, and Drone World Expo (which was just purchased by Commercial UAV Expo). Unfortunately, only a handful of companies (we estimate 75–100) are willing to come forward and present their use cases at these shows. Most of these presentations are not about companywide adoption, but rather about a particular, localized proof of concept.

There are positive messages in which the benefits of drones are explained, but communication about what a successful integration looks like is still very limited. Additionally, we find that companies that are already using drones are reluctant to share too much information, so they can continue to reap the benefits of their early investments. As a result of this reluctance to share information, further integration lags as companies wait on successful user stories that may never appear.

Bottom line

Unfortunately, the media all too often equates the business use of drones with drone delivery, and only reports on the headline-seeking efforts of Amazon, Google, and Facebook. There is so much more that’s actually happening, and it’s getting difficult to generate a comprehensive story on business use. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that many of the major industrial users are starting to focus only on the use cases that matter to them. The most concrete examples of this are the NAB Show, which brings together photography, video, and cinema professionals; the Energy Drone Coalition Summit, which is bringing together the major drone / UAV ecosystem players with the energy industry asset owners and end users; the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), which hosted a pre-conference UAS Technical Symposium this year at the Commercial UAV Expo, and will co-locate with the International LiDAR Mapping Forum in 2018.

That said, we will continue to do research on individual verticals and report growth and adoption issues.

If you have questions about what’s in the report or would like to comment on it after reading it, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

I believe three of the biggest misconceptions in the drone industry is how fast it will grow, which sectors will grow, and which ones will lag.

No one disagrees that drones—both consumer and professional—represent a new and emerging market. Drone market forecasts abound. We currently track 73 independent companies that provide market forecasts, and each of them projects growth for the drone or unmanned aerial system (UAS) sector that is nothing short of phenomenal. Some of these, however, are questionable, because, at the time they were written, there were no historical sales or reliable market survey data on which to create a proper forecast. We wrote about this problem back in 2015 here. Still, today we still see a big gap between current forecasts and actual purchases, services, and business adoption.

In this article, I’m going to take a look at some of the data collected in our latest report on the drone industry—data we think is important to you and answers the question: “Why don’t we see widespread adoption of drones in my industry just yet?”

Business use defined

As part of our 2017 Drone Market Sector Report, we conducted a survey to identify the business users for drone-based projects and which industries have traction. We define “business users” as those individuals or companies that use or purchase drone-based imaging or sensing services. A total of 623 respondents answered our qualifying survey question that they either do such work themselves or contract out for it.

When we asked respondents about the primary commercial drone-based service they perform or purchase, the results show that:

  • the #1 business use is aerial photography and/or video at 31%,
  • the #2 use is surveying / mapping / GIS with 20%,
  • and the #3 use is construction (design, building inspection, or monitoring) at 6%.

Company size

To gauge the extent of drone use, we asked our business users about their company’s revenue, the number of projects they perform per month, and the number of remote pilots they employ. As with service providers, the numbers are low. For example, 75% of business users perform one to five projects per month.

The revenue figures of business users reveal an interesting trend as well. More than half (53%) are small and medium-size businesses (SMBs)—organizations with less than $10 million in annual revenue. Only 6% could be classified as a large enterprise, i.e., an organization that makes over $1 billion.

As we did with drone-based service providers, we asked these business users how many aviation-authority, licensed small UAS / UAV remote pilots they currently employ. The numbers were smaller than we expected. Almost three-quarters (74%) have five or fewer pilots; 50% have only one.

Certainly these numbers debunk the media hype about drones. There are not hundreds of thousands of drones flying now (certainly not at the same time), nor is it true that Millions More Drones Will Be Flying Above Your Head by 2020 and in this piece we make the case Why the Drone Network of Tomorrow is Farther Away Than You Think.

Limited success stories on integration

Our research finds widespread business adoption is being hampered by a reluctance to share too much information about successes.

Companies are depending on information communicated about drones by others that have been successful. Certainly the interest is there. You can see that from the diversity of industries attending the major U.S. commercial drone expos, such as InterDrone, Commercial UAV Expo, and Drone World Expo (which was just purchased by Commercial UAV Expo). Unfortunately, only a handful of companies (we estimate 75–100) are willing to come forward and present their use cases at these shows. Most of these presentations are not about companywide adoption, but rather about a particular, localized proof of concept.

There are positive messages in which the benefits of drones are explained, but communication about what a successful integration looks like is still very limited. Additionally, we find that companies that are already using drones are reluctant to share too much information, so they can continue to reap the benefits of their early investments. As a result of this reluctance to share information, further integration lags as companies wait on successful user stories that may never appear.

Bottom line

Unfortunately, the media all too often equates the business use of drones with drone delivery, and only reports on the headline-seeking efforts of Amazon, Google, and Facebook. There is so much more that’s actually happening, and it’s getting difficult to generate a comprehensive story on business use. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that many of the major industrial users are starting to focus only on the use cases that matter to them. The most concrete examples of this are the NAB Show, which brings together photography, video, and cinema professionals; the Energy Drone Coalition Summit, which is bringing together the major drone / UAV ecosystem players with the energy industry asset owners and end users; the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), which hosted a pre-conference UAS Technical Symposium this year at the Commercial UAV Expo, and will co-locate with the International LiDAR Mapping Forum in 2018.

That said, we will continue to do research on individual verticals and report growth and adoption issues.

If you have questions about what’s in the report or would like to comment on it after reading it, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

We just announced the start of our 2017 Drone Market Sector Research, which promises to be the most comprehensive study of drone market trends and usage to date. The online portion of this research seeks to get your opinions about buying and using small unmanned aircraft systems—otherwise known as drones This independent research is being underwritten by Airware and DroneDeploy and is designed to uncover fresh insights on which drone industry sectors are thriving (and which aren’t) and how businesses are using drone-acquired data in their day-to-day operations.

Why are we doing this?

Because we believe the consumer and commercial drone market needs it. Our observations:

  • We see a lack of objective information on the drone industry.
  • We find there’s an absence of credible market-based research.
  • We see little understanding of the difference between large industry forecasts and actual buyer adoption rates.

The survey will explore:

  • Who’s buying what types of drones from which makers at which prices and for what use?
  • How large are drone-based service providers and how and where are they positioning themselves to whom and which target industries?
  • What concerns business buyers of drone-based projects most and why?
  • How much are service providers and business buyers using flight management and data analytic software for image-based projects?

Who should take the survey?

  • Individuals or businesses who have purchased a drone in the past 12 months for any reason
  • Commercial drone service providers
  • Businesses that use drones or drone services as part of their company’s internal work or projects

Take the brief 10-minute survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2017_drone_market

As an incentive for your participation in the survey, there will be an opportunity to:

  • Receive a free summary report of the research results, a $95 value
  • Enter to win a free DJI Spark Mini Drone (a $400 value) or one of two $100 VISA gift cards.

When complete, the research study will provide a complete view of topics like:

  • Critical industry drivers
  • Vendor and service provider market share
  • Business adoption trends and issues
  • Market size for all drones and growth projections by segment

The survey will be in market for four weeks, and results will be available in September.

As always, I’m interested in hearing from you.  If have questions or comments, feel free comment below or email me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

We just released a new research report titled “Five Valuable Business Lessons About Drones in Asset and Infrastructure Inspection” This is the fourth in a series of white papers intended to share lessons learned in specific industries and how to maximize the value drones can deliver in those industries. This year, we are building on the analysis we did for the 2016 “Truth About” papers by incorporating real-world experience gained from businesses and drone pilots operating under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (aka FAA Part 107).

In the report, which co-authored by Chris Korody, we demonstrate what drone operators servicing a wide variety of industries have learned about what works and what doesn’t. We explore both the benefits and limitations of drone inspection projects and offer practical advice to would-be adopters. We answer questions like: What have companies learned about creating their own internal drone operation groups? And where do we go or what can we expect from here?

Here is an excerpt:

“While both media and investors have primarily focused on opportunities for using drones in the construction and agriculture industries, inspection applications have fostered innovation together with significant returns on investment. The reasons begin with the “four Ds”—a term coined by GE Ventures to describe the unique ability of drones to meet the needs of their field services customers. The four D’s describe any activity that’s tailor-made to be performed by a drone, and are:

  • Dull
  • Dirty
  • Dangerous
  • Distant

In a 2014 interview, Sue Siegel, the CEO of GE Ventures, added a fifth “D”—for data—saying simply, “Imagine that if you’re doing it faster, you might be able to do it more often. And more data typically will give you better data.”

The four Ds+1 combination is one of the most compelling arguments for drone adoption in companies where uptime is money, crews are expensive, and structures and facilities are often expected to last 50 to 100 years.

The other compelling argument is cost reduction. McKinsey Consulting’s recent white paper “Preserving the downturn’s upside highlights how the oil and gas industry reduced costs by 29% in response to falling oil prices. They show that 40% to 50% of the savings came from eliminating the demand for a variety of services, including manned aviation support. The innovators figured out how to put drones to work.”

The report goes on to discuss how drones and the data from drones offer huge advantages in the oil & gas, telecommunications, and utility industries. It also provides insights from Dexter Lewis, PE, senior engineer in the research and development group at Southern Company (NYSE: SO) which brings electricity and gas to 9 million customers.

You can get the free report here.

If you have questions about what’s in the report or would like to comment on it after reading it, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Airspace integration and management solutions for drones continue to garner new investment, but most options are based on fairytale scenarios and raise more questions than answers.

I’ve been doing research on the commercial drone industry since early 2012, and it never ceases to amaze me how much hype there is.  A week doesn’t go by where I find a new fantasy forecast or see an announcement on how this or that drone networking solution is “game changing.”

How real are those claims that drones will one day be filling our skies and delivering packages? Where and when will we see massive industry growth and is that growth dependent on the existence of a drone network?  In this post, I’ll go over a few misconceptions, discuss the harsh reality, and offer two lessons learned that I hope will help make the conversation a bit more rational.

The hype

Question: How much spin is out there on drone networks?  Answer: A lot.

Take this piece, for example: In The Drone Network of Tomorrow (It’s Closer Than You Think). The author wants you to believe that the drone network of tomorrow is a few hurdles away.  In this futuristic world, users will remotely dispatch multiple drones right from their offices. They’ll specify the flight path, and the drones will fly there autonomously and collect data. In this world, there will be drones-for-hire stationed at key locations and you will just click on button to summon them at your command. It will be “the Internet of drones” and it will be accomplished via the LTE network, the same network to which every smartphone is connected today.

Investors buy it.

Read The Big Money Continues to Bet on Drones, which discusses Verizon’s recent acquisition of Skyward. Read Airmap’s own take on their announcement of $26 million in Series B funding from Microsoft, Airbus, Qualcomm, Yuneec, and Sony, with Microsoft leading the round.

The press buys it.

Read this recent article in Recode. It says:

Drones are, after all, flying computers that connect to the internet—connectivity on a drone is often used to share flight information with other drones, report to air traffic control or send aerial imaging back in real time to the operator.

I bought it, too.

In December 2014, I wrote Why Drones Are the Future of the Internet of Things.

But since that time I’ve done a lot a research to find evidence supporting industry claims, and the truth is, at every turn I’ve come up empty handed and found many misconceptions.

The misconceptions

Many in the industry have worked together to move forward the various Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) projects. UTM refers to efforts to build an air traffic management infrastructure for drones, such as the NASA-FAA UTM project and GUTMA. Those initiatives are a collaboration between government regulators and private industry partners. At the center of those initiatives is the enablement of routine beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS–sometimes just BLOS) operations for commercial drones. Good. We need that. To see some of that work, download the latest presentations from the 2016 UTM Conference here.

While the NASA-FAA UTM initiative may have started out with some simple solutions, it’s now blossomed into an expensive “one-size-fits-all” behemoth that is proposing ways to control flight scenarios that don’t need them—those flights where no data exists showing any risk those operations pose to the NAS or nonparticipants on the ground. That hasn’t stopped UTM participants, along with the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), though, from suggesting those controls.

I think it’s a good idea that’s gone bad. I am not alone in perceiving that many UTM and DAC participants think their charter is to integrate the Internet and the cellular network into the National Airspace System (NAS). The leader of GUTMA thinks his organization can do for drones what ICANN does for the Internet. Face palm.

Now, the snowball effect is these companies (and investors) believe drones are Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices that are going to magically multiply like rabbits once we have a drone network. Truth is, drones aren’t IoT devices; they’re data-gathering aircraft.  Yes, they collect data that looks a lot like the data from an IoT device in motion (see my presentation on that here), but equating them with IoT devices assumes way too much—like the need for constant connectivity to the Internet, for one. Here’s a clue: Drones from DJI, the dominant market share leader, don’t have it, nor do 99.9% of drones that operate in the NAS today.

The harsh reality

So, to put it bluntly, the vision of tens of millions of drones flying in the NAS alongside manned aircraft is overstated. Visionaries like to point to the 100,000 or so flights that happen today as the bellwether indicator of what’s to come. They point to the headlines that say package delivery drones will fill the skies as reality. But drone delivery has been seriously debunked, and the bellwether argument is a non-sequitur. The vast majority of the flights happening today happen in uncontrolled Class G airspace, happen around 200-300 feet above ground level, happen without any automated traffic control interaction, and happen without incident.

Also, our research says the growth of drone use by industries will be much more measured than the hyped growth figures that visionaries tout, and the bulk of operations will happen mostly as they do today within visual line of sight (LOS).  We don’t see huge volumes for BVLOS operations happening for many, many years—if at all. There are other factors hindering drone adoption beside regulations and air traffic control.  There are other reasons why companies will stick with incumbent technology like satellites and manned aircraft.  We have written much about hype in the drone industry, and if that’s new to you, then you can start your research with this SlideShare.

Two lessons to take to heart

Regulators and experienced military users know flying drones safely and securely in BVLOS operations is not easy. Because of its complexity, we now have a new term in aviation: Performance Based Navigation (PBN). PBN describes requirements for separating aircraft and avoiding collision. PBN is a combination of systems both on and off of the aircraft that affect its ability to navigate. And that takes us to our first lesson.

Lesson 1: Buried in the recent announcement of regular BVLOS flights of Aeryon SkyRangers at the Foremost UAS Range in Alberta was the fact that Ventus Geospatial had to meet very stringent criteria from Transport Canada (Canada’s civil aviation authority). The requirements prescribe a host PBN including:

  • Sense-and-avoid system to provide traffic separation and a means for collision avoidance. That system will have to detect the traffic in time to process the sensor information, determine if a conflict exists, and execute a maneuver according to the right-of-way rules.  That system must possess the capability to detect both cooperative aircraft (aircraft with a means of electronic conspicuity (transponder, TCAS, ADS-B, etc.)) and non-cooperative aircraft.
  • Some ground-based radar systems may be utilized to provide a means of meeting sense and avoid requirements.
  • Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) / Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) that employs a collision avoidance system with reactive logic, so that any maneuver resulting from a perceived threat from another aircraft will not reduce the effectiveness of a TCAS/ACAS resolution advisory maneuver from that other aircraft.
  • Automated Dependent Surveillance Broadcast System (ADS-B), with the caveat that ADS-B does not have the ability to detect non-cooperative aircraft, it is not an approved strategy, in and of itself, for mitigating the UAV sense and avoid requirements.
  • Use of multilateration, which is a type of secondary surveillance system that is based on the use of conventional transponders and stationary receivers that provide an aircraft’s position using triangulation principles.
  • Separation and Collision Avoidance Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) addressing:
    • Take-off/launch and landing/recovery procedures;
    • En-route and terminal procedures;
    • Loss of control data link; and
    • Abort procedures following critical system failure.

I could go on, but you get the point. There’s no uber-integrated automation system for PBN and there won’t be for a long time.

Lesson 2: Major General James Poss writes about his experiences with the early days of managing military drone systems in It’s the Data Link, Stupid. He says:

A commercial drone ground relay LOS network would have advantages and disadvantages compared to the Air Force system. Advantages are that existing cell phone tower networks are ideally positioned to provide the backbone for ground relay LOS networks for commercial drones. Cell phone companies have already leased the land, dealt with all the FCC regulatory restrictions and, most importantly, obtained the spectrum that could be used for BLOS drone link operations. They also have world class cyber defense centers.  The disadvantage is that today’s providers struggle to get enough bandwidth for existing cell phone coverage as it is, their cell tower antennas point down to cover ground users, vice up to cover drones, and their 4G link reliability won’t be high enough to satisfy FAA BLOS requirements. For something as critical as BLOS drone control, the FAA won’t tolerate ‘dropped calls’.  It’s that reliability thing, again.

He goes on to say:

Problems would remain even with this type of system. Although low bandwidth directional drone links using commercially available spectrum wouldn’t use scarce 4G service spectrum, they would take up physical space on already overcrowded cellphone towers. Directional antennas are expensive and must be positioned carefully to avoid radio frequency interference.

And I’m afraid 5G (the next-generation of mobile networks beyond the 4G LTE mobile networks of today) isn’t a silver bullet. Right now, forecasters say 5G adoption will be slow and most of that extra bandwidth will be used by consumers for mobile video viewing.

But General Poss raises great points. Why would anyone invest in these systems if they’re riskier than either military drones or manned aircraft, particularly when the regulatory environment is unclear?  Just how would the FAA regulate a drone network? If the control portion of the network would be an aviation safety critical system, would the FAA even have the authority to regulate it when it’s the Federal Communication Commission’s charter to regulate cellular communications?

All I can tell you is, Buckle up and stay tuned in. It’s going to be a long bumpy ride.

Last year at this time, I reflected back on the news and trends of the commercial drone markets of 2015 and wrote about the mixed state of affairs in the U.S.  Back then we saw only 2,500 Section 333 grants for commercial activity, and the press’s narrative that ‘drones are cool’ turned to ‘drones are a privacy invasion headache.’ This was tempered by a proliferation of the drone conferences that had both exhibitors and vendors scrambling to attend. We also saw the outcome of the UAS Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee and the FAA’s rapid implementation to put hobby drone registration in place.

In January 2016, I wrote a piece titled Six Trends Driving the Commercial Drone Market in 2016 and Beyond, which articulated that, while making predictions is not an exacting science, six trends would provide key opportunities and challenge for the industry:

  1. Competition
  2. Fidelity
  3. Sensors
  4. Mobility
  5. China Incorporated
  6. Virtual and Augmented Reality

In this post, I’ll review those trends as well as other significant news for drone manufacturers, service providers, and investors in 2016.

What rang true?

  1. Competition

The biggest news all year was that the FAA Part 107 regulations are now in place. And they’re not as onerous as they could have been. Hurray! We (at least in the U.S.) have the basis for an industry and a firm regulatory framework upon which to grow.  And that’s what I saw and heard from so many companies that want to use drones for their businesses at the major drone shows.  So many were sitting on the sidelines waiting for regulations to be clear.

Several weeks ago, Patrick Egan of sUAS News wrote a piece called “Part 107 Your Golden Ticket” that sums my feelings and it’s this: There has been some grousing about what’s not in the rule. But there is plenty of work that can be done under this rule. The 10 years of uncertainty is over, and people can begin to offer services—from the real estate agent who wants aerial photos to the cellular company that wants tower inspection, to the insurance company that wants proper damage assessments, to the first responder who wants a better view of an incident. I think that’s exciting.

And so is having competition.  Many think it’s a race to the bottom on prices for drone-based business services–and that’s true in part–but the other side of the coin is there is healthy competition, which delivers customer benefits. Because everyone is working harder to produce a better product.

  1. Fidelity

The desire for better fidelity – that is, better image and video resolution – is still one of the major drivers in the commercial drone industry.  This is not just true for professional drones but also consumer drones. Last year the major brands like Autel, DJI, and Yuneec continued to offer integrated 4K video recording cameras on consumer and prosumer drones, but they did so at lower prices than in 2015.  Additionally, this past year, DJI upped the fidelity bar with its Phantom 4 Pro and Inspire 2. The Phantom 4 offers more powerful video processing for 4K videos at 60 frames per second (fps) at a 100 Mbps bitrate. The Inspire 2 tops that and offers 5.2K at 30 fps on the X4S camera. These also offer a mechanical shutter, eliminating the rolling shutter distortion that can occur when taking images of fast-moving subjects or when flying at high speed. In effect, they are as powerful as many traditional ground cameras.

  1. Sensors

The trend for better and smaller, more lightweight sensors for drones—such as stereoscopic, ultrasonic, LiDAR, infrared, and spectral sensors – was hot. I wrote about some of that in Sense and Avoid for Drones is No Easy Feat. I could fill a small book with all the announcements, investments, and product releases from companies like DJI, Intel, Parrot, SenseFly, Slantrage, and Velodyne this past year. All of these will help drones perform tasks like collision avoidance, 3D imaging infrared thermography, or improved crop vigor analysis.

But the rising star in the sensor market is Aerotenna.  In July, we saw this startup take home first prize at the NASA UTM Drone Sense and Avoid Tech Competition. It turns out Aerotenna has some incredible new technology–microwave sensors (that’s basically miniature radar) that are coupled with active sensing autopilot capability that scans the surroundings during flight and avoids potential collisions autonomously. So by combining microwave-based sensing with aerospace and control engineering, they are solving many challenges of being able to fly autonomously beyond visual line-of-sight. This will uncover new applications for UAV platforms.

  1. Mobility

A third major driver this past year was mobility. In the consumer world, the scales have tipped from PCs and TV to mobile devices.  What this means for drone manufacturers and service providers is that their application development has shifted from desktop to mobile apps.

In 2016, we saw DroneDeploy double down on this trend with the introduction of an App Market, a store for drone applications from a range of companies—including Autodesk, Box, John Deere, and 13 others—as well as a variety of industry verticals. I wrote about that here.  The App Market includes mobile device applications from Airmap, Dronelogbook, Flyte, Kittyhawk, NV Drone, Skyward, and Verifly that help pilots and businesses manage drone operations and compliance.  In a nutshell, these apps enable enterprises and drone-based business service providers to automate their workflow and data integration with specialized tools built right within the DroneDeploy user interface.

  1. China Incorporated

Throughout 2016, Chinese companies both large and small entered the world market with consumer drones to establish market share or increase it. Do I really need to explain this? Tractica (not known for accurate commercial drone forecasts) says consumer drone sales will continue to surge over the next several years, with global annual unit shipments increasing more than tenfold from 6.4 million in 2015 to 67.9 million by 2021.  While average selling prices (ASPs) for drones will continue to decline sharply during that period, they anticipate that total revenue will increase from $1.9 billion in 2015 to $5.0 billion in 2021. I won’t argue with those numbers.

What didn’t ring true?

  1. Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual and augmented reality for drones was a bust this year. Seriously. I expected to see a significant announcement from someone about the use of augmented reality using the data from commercial drones, but all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

What else happened?

Investment, mergers, and partnerships. That’s what happened. The major players were Airware, DJI, Intel, and Parrot. In September, Airware acquired Redbird with the intent of building a full-stack drone services empire. All throughout 2016, DJI announced partnerships with at least 14 companies including Epson, Ford, Leica, Luftansa, Measure, and PrecisionHawk.

The surprise too many of us was just how aggressive Intel got in the drone space this past year. They acquired drone manufacturer Ascending Technologies, made a further investment in data services provider PrecisionHawk, and bought Movidius and Mavinci.

Parrot took a different approach. They continued with their past strategy which was to make investments.  Previous investments included Pix4D, Airnov, and MicaSense.  This year Parrot made three minority investments in BioCarbon Engineering Ltd., a UK company that is developing a drone-based reforestation solution, Planck Aerosystems Inc., a US company that is developing drone-based surveillance solutions for the Navy, and Nano Racing S.A.S., a French company that is developing a small-scale immersion-piloted racing drone.

What about next year?

There were some hard lessons learned this past year and they point to trends I believe we’ll see next year.  For example, take Jonathan Downey’s 8 Lessons Learned Turning Aerial Data into Enterprise Outcomes. If you read between the lines, you’ll see a brutally honest confession of their hard times. Wisdom comes from experience and kudo’s to Jonathan for giving the commercial drone industry some good advice–especially #3: To drive business outcomes, provide an end-to-end solution.

But there is a scary insight from last year and it’s buried in this post by Measure: How is the drone industry moving forward? It says:

“..on October 26, the FAA and the Transportation Research Board convened a workshop to aggregate stakeholder perspectives on the expected growth of the drone market in the coming years. Key issues addressed included the drivers of and obstacles to growth in the drone industry, and how best to predict market trends. The insights provided by the representatives from the commercial drone industry, defense-oriented UAV industry, government, and aviation advocacy groups will aid the FAA as it creates its next UAV market forecast.”

So, what did the stakeholders say to FAA? At the Commercial UAV Expo I heard one say they told the FAA that their forecast was too low.  Most said we’re going to see tens of millions–maybe hundreds of millions–of drones flying in national airspace in the near future.” What else would they say?  That’s what they told their investors. Insane.

Image credit: Shutterstock

This post first appeared in sUAS News ‘The Market’

DroneDeploy’s new App Market fills a need for commercial drone use, but can the data quality measure up for widespread industrial use?

THE FACTS:

This past week, DroneDeploy introduced its new App Market, a store for drone applications from a range of companies—including Autodesk, Box, John Deere, and 13 others—as well as a variety of industry verticals. Additionally, it includes applications from Airmap, Dronelogbook, Flyte, Kittyhawk, NV Drone, Skyward, and Verifly that help pilots and businesses manage drone operations and compliance.  In a nutshell, these apps enable enterprises and drone-based business service providers to automate their workflow and data integration with specialized tools built right within the DroneDeploy user interface.

In one way or another, the apps enable businesses to extend the capability of DroneDeploy’s automated mapping and online drone data services with apps that augment flight planning, logging, data analysis, export, and more. Apps appear in different areas of the DroneDeploy interface, depending on what they do, and you install them in your DroneDeploy account. For example, a flight planning app will appear in the flight planning interface, whereas an export or integration app may appear in the export menu. You can read about the details of this announcement here.

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT

The three apps that stand out in this announcement and make progress toward workflow goals are Autodesk, Box, and John Deere. In a generic sense, “workflow” is the definition, execution, and automation of business processes where tasks, information, or documents are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules. Workflows automate the flow of employee tasks and activities and make processes more efficient, compliant, agile, and visible.

With the Autodesk app, users can send their maps and 3D models directly from DroneDeploy into their Autodesk Forge storage. The Box app on DroneDeploy lets users easily export maps to their Box account for easy sharing with clients or other enterprise software solutions. With the John Deere app, users can import field boundaries from MyJohnDeere, which can help align flight planning with ongoing management of farm machines, fields, and jobs.

 THE COMPETITION:

In the past, many have discounted the output of DroneDeploy’s processed data as not good enough for enterprise work. This stems largely from the fact that almost all of their users fly and capture data with prosumer-level drones from DJI. For example, one of the main criticisms I’ve heard is that the resulting point clouds are not resolute enough for construction or engineering work. However, one look at this webcast with Brasfield & Gorrie, one of the largest privately held construction firms in the United States, and you can see first-hand the specific projects that have among other things integrated DroneDeploy automated mapping in their Building Information Modeling (BIM) process. Their plan is to scale this program across their sites.

Let’s be clear. This trend toward the use of prosumer drones for enterprise work is not going away anytime soon.  All the major mission planning and mapping applications like DroneDeploy, PrecisionHawk’s DataMapper, and Skycatch Commander (and dozens more) now run with the DJI SDK. Most of these started off with applications dedicated to their own drone but soon found that most professionals want to use the simpler and more reliable DJI prosumer-level and above drones.  Additionally, the prosumer drone category is the only place where sales volumes and margins are strong enough for manufacturers to recoup R&D investment with new technology like automated obstacle avoidance.

BOTTOM LINE:

We have written about the value, ROI, and potential of drones as aerial image and data capture devices in The Truth about Drones in Construction and Infrastructure Inspection. In that report, we discuss the benefits and challenges posed by the current state of drone data integration:

Drones and the data from drone data services do not provide a complete solution, and more likely than not, you’ll need to traverse a learning curve. For example, the firms mentioned in this paper had to set up new data integration workflows for their existing ecosystem of software solutions.  Those who used aerial images from drones to do BIM design work had to incorporate those images into CAD software like Autodesk REVIT.  Those who did work plans with images had to incorporate the images into project software like Navisworks.  Both camps had to learn how to manage daily workflows from constantly changing sets of new images.  Workflows needed to focus on how to both communicate and manage change – either in the feedback to design or in the feedback to production or to both at the same time.

To be fair, the apps in the new DroneDeploy App Market don’t solve all those problems, but they’re certainly a step in the right direction.

What’s next? I suspect we will see more workflow integration from DroneDeploy (and others) this year. They’ve hinted there’s more to come from their work with John Deere.  Personally, I’d like to see a complete automated workflow from DroneDeploy to SAP. Why? Because SAP software is used by 87% of the Forbes Global 2000 companies, and SAP customers produce 78% of the world’s food. SAP has an integrated suite of applications for just about everything that encapsulates aerial data and maps – from asset management to field service management.

DroneDeploy already has a beta release of an integration with Esri, which will allow users to analyze their DroneDeploy maps in ArcGIS Online.  SAP HANA users can integrate ArcGIS maps and SAP business data throughout SAP products, but I haven’t seen an end-to-end customer-specific use-case. If you are working on that, let me know—I’d love to hear about it.  You can write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: DroneDeploy

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com