Posts tagged "UAS"

There’s some good information in the FAA’s new five-year Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) forecast, but there are reasons to doubt the accuracy of the agency’s projections in two areas that have captured attention: the claims that there will be roughly threefold growth in the numbers of commercial drones and UAS-certified pilots. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly in the report.

The Good

There is some good analysis in this report. For example, it seems the FAA finally gets that drones have a wide variety of price points and the bulk of commercial activity has been driven by low-cost consumer-grade aircraft:

“Currently, the consumer grade dominates the non-model sector with a market share approaching 95 percent. However, as the sector matures and the industry begins to consolidate, the share of consumer grade non-model aircraft is likely to decline but will still be dominant. By 2023, FAA projects this sub-sector will have around 85 per-cent share of the overall non-model sUAS sector.”

This insight is mostly consistent with independent surveys and reports like this one, which finds more than 91% said they bought drones costing over $2,000 for professional purposes—either governmental, academic, or business.

The other good thing in this report is the FAA’s admission that the historical commercial drone registrations outpaced their own predictions by 80%.  Previously, they predicted a healthy growth rate of more than 40%—but they underestimated it.

“Last year, we forecasted that the non-model sector would have around 229,400 sUAS in 2019, a growth rate exceeding 44 percent from the year before (2018). Actual data far exceeds that trend with over 277,000 aircraft already registered by the end of 2018. Our forecast of non-model sUAS last year thus fell short by almost 80 percent for 2018 (or 277,000 actual aircraft vs 158,900 that we projected last year).”

The Bad

A closer look at the report reveals a few oversights and curious assumptions for their forecasts. Some of the key metrics and growth trajectories came from a survey the FAA conducted in June-July of 2018 about commercial activities performed in 2017 under Part 107. The survey sent to 89,000 individuals was intended to get a snapshot of non-model/commercial mission characteristics, including locations, aircraft types used, and altitudes flown. But the response rate to the survey—which was complex and time-consuming—was low (approximately 8 percent).

Still, the report projects the U.S. commercial drone fleet (small non-model UAS) to nearly triple from 277,386 in 2018 to 835,211 in 2023, an average annual growth rate of almost 25 percent. However, the main oversight is that most people don’t deregister their aircraft.  They may if they register a new one, but if they stop using one they are not going into the Registry to delete it. This keeps the current number inflated.

Another noticeable problem is the survey results are inconsistent with internal FAA data. And to be fair, the FAA admits there are big variations between the survey results and their aircraft registry. For instance, almost a third of survey respondents use one small drone; their aircraft registry (i.e., the Registry) indicates 55 percent use one small drone. The survey indicates that, for those operating multiple small drones, 54 percent operate 2-9, but the registry claims just on third fly multiple drones.

Another issue is the survey found the largest commercial use for drones was in R&D and in training/education missions (21%). But year over year, other industry benchmark surveys find the number one use for commercial drones is aerial photography and video. This disconnect is no surprise given how the FAA worded their survey questions. In this instance, the question asked for the number of missions performed on average per aircraft in each of activity they listed, not about its major intended use. Given most businesses were new to drones in 2017, it makes sense that the FAA found a lot of aircraft flew training missions back then—not actual industrial missions such as mapping and inspections as happens today.

The Ugly

Perhaps the biggest problem with the FAA report is in the Remote Pilot Forecast section. It predicts the number of UAS-certified pilots is “set to experience tremendous growth following the growth trends of the non-model sUAS sector.”  It predicts commercial drone activities may require almost 350,000 remote pilots in five years—a three-fold increase. Many in the press have run with this assumption and taken it to mean that the commercial drone industry is set to triple in the next five years. But a closer look calls this into question and makes that forecast specious.

To start, the FAA does not maintain a database showing the number of remote pilot certificate (RPC) holders who are current.  They only report gross new RPC holders. As reported here, 126,299 individuals have been issued a remote pilot certificate as of March 15, 2019.  But as of the same day, only 7,306 individuals have taken the remote pilot certification recurrent knowledge test, which is required every two years. Given remote pilot certification started in August 2016, that means only 20% of the original pilots have renewed their license to operate commercially.  To be fair, that figure may be higher but not by much since Part 61 pilots with an existing RPC and have met their flight review requirements are considered RPC current.

If the number of certified remote pilots is the benchmark for commercial drone industry growth (because, almost uniformly around the world, regulations demand each drone operation have one pilot), it seems crucial the FAA keep and report a database on current RPC holders in the U.S. That information would enable all to predict with greater certainty the growth of the commercial drone industry.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com
Image: A drone operator demonstrates a DJI Matrice 100 drone at the Applied Drone Technology for Business Conference. Photographer: Paul Faith/Bloomberg © 2019 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP

Increasing use of drones surfaces three best practices for state and local police, sheriffs, fire departments, and teams in EMS, search and rescue, tactical response, and disaster response.

I just released two new drone industry guides titled Three Essentials For Building Your Law Enforcement Drone Program and Three Essentials For Building Your Fire and Rescue Drone Program.

These are the first in a series of papers intended to share the latest lessons learned in specific industries and how to sustain and grow a drone program.

These guides offer essential best practices for law enforcement and fire and rescue teams. They answer questions like:

  • What have current users learned about what works and what doesn’t?
  • What are the most important topics to know to keep your drone program ongoing?
  • And where should you go to learn what’s next?

Here is an excerpt from the law enforcement guide:

Essential 1 – Take advantage of the latest technology

New technology is progressing rapidly in drones and aerial imaging processing—more rapidly and at lower costs than manned-based aviation solutions. It is important to keep up with the changes that could benefit your program. Nearly every week, a new product is announced. Two of the most exciting recent developments are smaller combination sensors and augmented reality.

The new sensors, like the one found on the DJI Mavic Enterprise Dual, combine visible and thermal imagery in one sensor. Multiple display modes allow you to see either the infrared or the visible image or a combination. Isotherm readouts help you get accurate heat measurements on a variety of objects and scenarios. This gives tactical teams more flexibility–they may no longer need to fly two drones each with its own sensor or deal with the complexity of landing and swapping out two separate sensors on the same drone.

ACTION: Keep up to date by attending at least one commercial drone show a year. When evaluating drone solutions or software applications, ask how new capabilities can meet your mission requirements.  If you don’t have a list of mission requirements, start with a narrow scope of operation. For instance, we recommend you treat drones as a response tool—not a patrol tool—and pick from a list of four operations that your constituents would find most palatable: search and rescue, accident scene documentation, the pursuit of an armed suspect, and disaster mitigation.

The guides describe what many police, fire, and emergency responders have learned from their programs and recommend the actions you should take for successful implementation and ongoing use.

You can download the free guides from our sponsor’s site here:

Three Essentials For Building Your Law Enforcement Drone Program: http://bit.ly/2UbrXcY

Three Essentials For Building Your Fire and Rescue Drone Program: http://bit.ly/2vHIiaM

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

Five years ago, the pundits predicted that by now we would be seeing tens of thousands of drones buzzing over our heads delivering everything from pizzas and burritos to the latest “must-have” item from Amazon. So what happened? Where are they? In a nutshell, they are here, but the general public doesn’t see them—at least not daily—and they aren’t necessarily delivering what was predicted.

The fact is that commercial drones fly in remote areas or over private property every day by the thousands. They’re performing work on farms, powerlines, construction sites, cell towers, and oil pads, especially in the U.S. where there are more than 118,000 FAA-certified remote pilots. Compare that to the U.K., where there are just under 5,000.

Delivering pizzas and burritos will likely be a very small part of what drones will be doing in the future. According to the largest benchmark study on commercial drones, the bulk of all current industrial use outside of film, photo and video falls into two categories: surveying and mapping land areas and inspecting and monitoring physical structures. And it’s these two uses that will continue to drive the growth of drones for industrial use for many years to come.

Three companies represent this growth and are worth getting to know: PrecisionHawk, DroneDeploy and SkySkopes. In many way,s they are emblematic of the current state of the growing commercial drone industry and provide insight into its future.

PrecisionHawk

Founded in 2010 and headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., PrecisionHawk was one of the first vendors to offer a full end-to-end enterprise drone solution stack. That stack included a drone aircraft with advanced sensors, software, analytics, and contracted services for inspecting things like oil well pads and utility lines and more. (“Advanced sensors” refers to specialized cameras on the drone that detect things like crop growth patterns.) With over $107 million in investment and more than 180 employees, PrecisionHawk has some large customers, including ExxonMobil, John Deere, Monsanto, and Verizon. They offer services in more than 150 countries and have a network of 15,000 pilots.

Two things illustrate how PrecisionHawk leads the industry. First is their regulatory experience and FAA partnership. Second is their focus on operating drones beyond the pilot’s ability to see them, or “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS). PrecisionHawk was one of a few companies to partner with the FAA on its Pathfinder Program, and the company’s work is informing current FAA regulations and BVLOS policy. PrecisionHawk also understands that as the commercial drone industry evolves, widespread BVLOS drone inspection has the potential to significantly change business models for many industries. With their programs and papers like “The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections,” they educate businesses and help them evaluate when it’s best to use traditional ground and manned aviation, line-of-sight drones, or BVLOS drone inspection approaches. PrecisionHawk is unique in evaluating the costs and benefits of BVLOS operations compared with traditional operations, which allows businesses to plan an aerial intelligence strategy that delivers the most value for the money.

DroneDeploy

San Francisco-based DroneDeploy provides software that controls drone flight plans and workflows as well as processes the images they collect. They have more than 4,000 global customers mapping and assessing everything from construction progress, to disaster recovery, to agricultural crop vigor.  Founded in 2013, the company partnered with leading drone manufacturers to provide its software to operators in a variety of industries, including agriculture, real estate, mining, construction and many other commercial and consumer arenas. Having raised $56M in funding, DroneDeploy started by selling software directly to pilots and later added selling through the channel that supplies mid-size companies and then added direct sales to enterprises and resellers.

By every measure, DroneDeploy has the most popular non-OEM mapping flight application on the market. They boast that their software processes over 100 million images per year and measures more than 10 million distances a year (for instance, between objects). But they are not resting on their laurels. Drone use by surveyors and mappers is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, and as that’s happened, DroneDeploy has been pushing boundaries more than any vendor. Their app market is the largest set of industry-specific integrated applications available.

Part of what has made DroneDeploy (and the drone industry itself) so successful has been the consumerization of drone technology. What others missed but DroneDeploy didn’t was the foresight to see that the prosumer drone category would be the only place where sales volumes and margins would be strong enough for aircraft manufacturers to recoup R&D investment. That’s why, early on, they pivoted from open source-based aircraft to DJI drones since DJI is and has been for four years the dominant player in the space. Last year, DJI’s market share for drone aircraft was 74%. As a result, all the major mission planning and mapping applications like DroneDeploy and dozens more now integrate with or run on DJI’s products. Most of them 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 drones. DroneDeploy made that bet early, and it has paid off.

SkySkopes

Whereas PrecisionHawk offers a full drone stack and DroneDeploy offers software, this last company doesn’t manufacture anything. They provide drone services. And in a field of more than 30,000 service companies, very few stand out as full-time ventures—let alone as profitable and growing—but SkySkopes does. They succeeded because they specialized. Based in Grand Forks, N.D., SkySkopes started in 2014 and has grown from a small startup with four part-time employees to over 18 full-time employees and four offices across the upper Midwest. Over the years, SkySkopes has refined its focus to strictly providing aerial services for the energy industry and now has operations in California, Texas, Minnesota, Florida, and Europe.

What makes SkySkopes successful is they are not afraid to push the limits of drone technology. Their specialization in acquiring aerial data with advanced aircraft has landed them projects with CenterPoint Energy, Duke Energy, Xcel Energy and a host of others. SkySkopes and NASA have also teamed up over the past few years to demonstrate and test BVLOS use cases for the UTM project to integrate civilian low-altitude airspace and unmanned aircraft system operation. All this landed CEO Matt Dunlevy a seat on the advisory board of the Energy Drone & Robotics Coalition, the only event exclusively focused on the business and technology of aerial, ground/surface and subsea robotics in energy operations.

Together these three companies encapsulate the present state of the growing industrial use of drones. Clearly, that’s not what the media prefers to focus on since it’s not sexy drone pizza delivery. But it’s important work with great business benefits to specific industries.

This article first appeared on FORBES.com

Image credit: Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg, © 2019 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP

This post first appeared on Forbes.com as Drones Pose A Unique Big Data Challenge For Business Users

The public might consider them nuisances, but in the commercial market, drones are valuable data collection devices. Their primary task is to capture, store, and transmit data. So as IT departments consider integrating more drone data into existing enterprise business processes, they face new data governance requirements. As drone technology matures, it is important to know what it means for you as the steward of your firm’s information technology and software.

Drones present both a big data and an IoT challenge

Up to now, the focus of commercial drone use has been on accurate data collection and visualization—not IT process integration. To be fair, applications have been developed to support verticals like agriculture, construction, energy, mining, and telecom with cloud-based services, but these applications mostly produce and serve up maps, e.g., location maps for managing and servicing company infrastructure and other assets.

Just as with big data, the challenges of drone data include analysis, curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, and information privacy. We are already beginning to see drones efficiently replace static IoT sensors with one device that is in motion and can capture multiple types of data (so not just pictures and video, but also emission gases, radio signals, geodetic data, etc.).

Is drone data that unique?

Like all IoT devices that are in motion, drones bring a lot of value and at the same time have a lot of challenges. For the most part, drone data is geospatial (or geographic data), imagery, videos, binaries, etc., so falls into the category of non-standard IoT data. However, if you work in IT, you’ll want to understand that this data has some unique requirements. F For example, it requires image recognition analysis and considerable transformation and data parsing to become useful.

A lot—if not most—of the data collected from drones can be used by geographic information systems (GIS).  GIS are mostly used for mapping and analyzing, and they integrate common database operations—such as query and statistical analysis—with visualization and geographic analysis. So, think mapping tools like esri’s ArcGIS.

Data governance implications

When dealing with drone data you may need to expand your current data governance policies because of new risks associated with aerial data itself (like privacy concerns) and the location and operations of the drone (because a drone is legally an aircraft and operates under certain regulations). For example, you may need to revisit policies regarding:

  • Source aviation system, its access, and APIs
  • Security and reliability along the “chain of custody” (drone service provider, to the cloud data service, to your front door)
  • Privacy and risk mitigation (legal issues)
  • Traditional Master Data Management (MDM) to straighten out the differences in reference data like location, asset type, customer name, etc.
  • Archive of source data for later re-processing (do you trust the custodian?)
  • Access control (who gets to see what and when?)

Learning a new lexicon

As you start integrating drone data, you should familiarize yourself with the most common types of processed “processed” data from drones—not the raw data, but the data produced by imaging software and the ones you’ll most likely come across if you’re in IT. Here are five examples:

An orthomosaic is an aerial photograph geometrically corrected (“orthorectified”) such that the scale is uniform: the photo has the same lack of distortion as a map. Typically, an orthomosaic is a composite of individual photos that have been stitched together to make a larger one. What you need to know is that the individual photos that make up orthomosaics each have their own georeference. The processed data (the composite) is what your end users want to use, but they may also want to know the location of the source data if it needs to be referenced later. Think about this in data governance terms. You may need to revisit your data retention rules if the source images are needed for evaluating changes over time.

Thermography (sometimes referred to as thermal imaging) uses thermal video cameras to detect radiation in the long-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Building construction and maintenance technicians can see thermal signatures that indicate heat leaks in faulty thermal insulation and can use the results to improve the effectiveness of their work. Thermal mapping is also “a thing” with vendors like DroneDeploy, which offers live streaming views, and can either be an image or a map.

Photogrammetry is a technique which uses photography to extract measurements of the environment. This is achieved through overlapping imagery, where the same feature can be seen from two perspectives. With photogrammetry, it is possible to calculate distance and volume measurements. Departments use these outputs to create “point clouds” or 3D images used to do things like render a building or measure the volume of a stockpile.

LiDAR stands for “Light Detection and Ranging.” It is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system—generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of objects and their surface characteristics. The accuracy of LiDAR images is stunning (we’re talking millimeters), which is why surveyors and construction engineers favor this technology. What you need to know is that LiDAR files are big. Datasets for a simple project area can be 1-2 TB.

Video is the most common and at the same time the most complex type of drone data. It’s complex because video is almost always stored in compressed form to reduce the file size for storage. A video file normally consists of a container format holding video data in a coding format alongside audio data in an audio coding format. Those are known as CODECs. The container format can also contain synchronization information and metadata such as GPS location and directional data, which can be encoded in each frame. 10 minutes of video at 30 frames per second = 18,000 frames. It’s complex because, when analyzing video data, you have to sort through all 18,000 pieces of frame data.

So here’s the big data problem—it’s the analytics. Most of what you want to know from images and video files (What can I see? What is happening? What is the value?) cannot be extrapolated by the traditional enterprise big data vendors. While automation can exploit this data and increase analysis efficiency, image and video analysis is more often done by teams of specialists. For this, you may want to outsource to an AI vendor that specializes in imaging or use an online drone data service.

Image credit: A SZ DJI Technology Co. drone is displayed during keynote presentations on artificial intelligence at the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Monday, May 7, 2018. Photographer: Grant Hindsley/Bloomberg photocredit: © 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

We just announced the release of our latest research on commercial drone operations. The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections is a white paper sponsored by PrecisionHawk, the leading provider of drone technology for the enterprise, which provides a foundation for businesses to evaluate when it’s best to use traditional ground and manned aviation, line of sight drones, or BVLOS (for “beyond visual line of sight”) drone inspection approaches. It’s designed as a comprehensive primer of drone inspections in specific industries.

The paper answers questions like:

  • What’s the best way to enable an effective drone strategy?
  • What are the economic benefits of operating drones?
  • What are the costs, benefits, and risks of using drones for BVLOS operations?
  • How does that compare with traditional inspection methods?

Here is an excerpt:

As the commercial drone industry continues to evolve, widespread BVLOS drone inspection has the potential to significantly change business models for oil and gas, utilities, insurance, and other industries. Representatives we spoke with in those industries point to four main drivers motivating them to explore BVLOS operations:

  • Safety, as in preventing fatal helicopter crashes or accidents from having to manually climb towers to take readings;
  • Costs, or reducing dependence on a $1,500-per-rotor-hour helicopter and personnel and even cutting the time and expense of the multiple flights needed in flying drones within visual line of sight (VLOS);
  • Data inconsistency and lack of quality, since manual data collection sometimes involves photos taken from a helicopter traveling at speed and at different heights for each flight—which leads to inconsistency—or hand-written notes taken while visually inspecting with binoculars—which leads to imprecise or poor quality data;
  • Time to value, meaning that BVLOS flight can cover a wide area and collect high-quality data much more quickly than traditional means, so, for example, insurance claims of total loss can be indemnified faster.

The 21-page report also provides a guide for when—and how—to deploy drones to inspect assets, use cases for how drone missions compare with traditional methods, and insight from PrecisionHawk’s customers about how they’re refining their inspection strategy—and their results.

You can register to get the free report here: http://bit.ly/2Rn8z6y

Image credit: PrecisionHawk

This post first appeared in Forbes

In many ways, 2019 will be another big year for the commercial drone industry. Last year saw a wider rollout of the FAA’s LAANC program (the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability that provides access to controlled airspace near airports), the launch of the UAS Integration Pilot Program from the FAA, and some significant developments for new regulatory frameworks for drones in Europe and in India. This year, expect more of the same—but with a few twists.

Trend 1 – Expanded business use

Adoption of aerial drones and drone technology will not be as widespread as some might expect. Instead, it will grow in select industries like agriculture, construction, insurance, mining and aggregates, public safety and first responders, oil & gas, survey engineering, telecommunications and utilities.

Last year, companies began to move beyond the provisional use of drones—where they were outsourcing to determine a drone program’s feasibility—to standing up or expanding internal teams to manage workflows and data. This year, expect to see reports about companies expanding their teams and adding use cases that take advantage of the waivers allowing limited beyond visual line of sight operations.

Trend 2 – Slower, more steady growth

The number of certified remote pilots is the benchmark for commercial drone industry growth. That’s because, almost uniformly around the world, regulations demand each drone operation have one pilot. Last year, the number of FAA-certified remote pilots grew about 50% over the previous year, to approximately 115,000. That increase was mostly made up of pilots who work for companies, enterprises or public agencies with internal drone programs as opposed to pilots who operate for drone-based service providers. It’s clear that commercial industries are now driving growth rather than individual interest as in years past.

One thing to keep in mind when looking at FAA numbers is that the month-over-month growth rate is beginning to slow. That may worsen given the current partial U.S. Government shutdown, which will delay the grant of new certificates. It may also slow further because some drone-based service providers who are not making money (most aren’t) will choose not to re-certify as a remote pilot.

Trend 3 – Further vendor consolidation

Much of the industry’s growth so far has come from the early hype about how drones were going to “transform” industries as well as huge forecasts that fueled investment. Over the years, we’ve seen those dreams turn to smoke as vendors like 3D Robotics and GoPro fell out of the sky. Last year was no exception. The $118M collapse of Airware and the release of Parrot’s disappointing financial results give us a glimpse into what will come.

Still, there is good news, and you can expect more moves like PrecisionHawk’s acquisitions as vendors seek leadership positions in key industries and secure new revenue streams.

Trend 4 – Public distrust and civil liability

Despite the benefits of commercial drone use, the general public still has concerns about drones with regards to safety, security, privacy and public nuisance. After the Gatwick debacle, expect more headlines in 2019 of unauthorized drone sightings and the coming drone apocalypse. In many ways these stories hurt legitimate commercial operators who often need to gain permission from reluctant land owners so they can perform inspections and survey maps for infrastructure unreachable by other means.

Here in the U.S., there is another tea kettle about to boil over. A little-known but highly influential group known as the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) will continue to work on a proposed “Tort Law Relating to Drones Act,” which concerns drones and privacy. If their proposal is adopted by states, we could see an arbitrary line drawn 200 feet in the sky that would establish a new aerial trespass zone giving property owners the right to establish no-fly zones. Right now, their draft goes much further than any existing state or federal law and, if enacted, would create a complicated patchwork of differing state laws that inhibit commercial operations. Until then, expect to see more local and state laws like this one in Pennsylvania aiming to protect people’s privacy from drones.

Trend 5 – More regulation – maybe

Some predict 2019 will be the year the FAA finally implements a requirement for remote identification for all drones, recreational and commercial, flying in the U.S. It’s expected this will be combined with a new rule for flights over people for small drones. But there is a big difference between the FAA proposing a rule (called the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or NPRM) and that rule becoming law. The difference can be anywhere from six to nine months. So it’s likely we’ll see a proposed rule, but implementation will be like Waiting for Godot.

To be clear, Drone ID is not a slam dunk, and the specifics of the ID signature are still being debated within the FAA. Even so, Drone ID needs to exist for Unmanned Traffic Management (aka UTM) to become a reality. UTM should help enable some of the most talked-about use cases for drones, from package delivery to aerial taxi services, but don’t expect this first iteration of remote ID to live up to the headlines or vendor expectations of a global autonomous drone network – as that would ignore the arduous political processes in each country or region to make UTM even possible.

Trend 6 – DJI’s continued dominance

SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd. (a.k.a. DJI), a Chinese company, continues to dominate the market and has made gains this year in every product category, from drone aircraft at all price ranges, to add-on payloads, to software. Recent survey data shows DJI is still the dominant brand for drone aircraft purchases, with a 74% global market share. Much of DJI’s dominance can be attributed to its aggressive product development, technological advancements and partner development in the enterprise channel. Last year, the company released two new series of enterprise products (Phantom 4 RTK and Mavic 2 Enterprise) that target industrial users. It’s safe to predict their leadership will continue given their strategic investment with Hasselblad, their recent investment in an R&D facility in Palo Alto, California, and their partners in the enterprise space such as Microsoft.

Trend 7 – Sensors, software, and AI advancements

Along with the new imaging sensor integration announcements in 2019 (such as smaller, more lightweight LiDAR), expect to see imaging software advancements as companies seek to combine RGB, thermal imaging, orthomosaic, and data from IoT sensors. More aerial imaging and mapping software firms will likely announce artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Right now, most of this is cloud-based machine learning (a.k.a. deep learning and predictive analytics), where datasets are trained by specialized teams. Already, there are some drone-based AI solutions for image recognition/machine vision, but it’s still early in the technology development cycle and AI is near peak hype.

Some big news for 2019 could be workflow integration of drone data and workflow into predictive maintenance and service solutions, as well as enterprise asset management systems such as those from IBM, INFOR, Oracle and SAP. Capabilities could include documentation, tracking and GIS data integration. That may bring a yawn to some, but when you can connect the dots and show the effect of drone data on the balance sheet, CFOs and CEOs will take notice and drive further enterprise adoption

Image credit: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg

This was a big year for the commercial drone industry as a whole. It saw a significant increase in the business adoption, the expansion of the FAA’s LAANC program (the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability that provides access to controlled airspace near airports), the launch of the UAS Integration Pilot Program from the FAA (aka IPP), new products like the Phantom 4 RTK from DJI, and some significant developments for new regulatory frameworks for drones in Europe and in India.

In this post, I’ll illustrate some of the market trends over the past year using data from our third annual drone industry benchmark report and describe what I think shaped the drone industry.

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

If I was to distill the key forces of 2018 on the drone market into three things, I would say they are:

  1. Business adoption
  2. Vendor contraction and expansion
  3. The DJI effect

Force 1 – Business adoption

Adoption of aerial drones and drone technology was not widespread, but it did grow in select industries such as insurance, utilities, construction, and survey engineering,

In 2018, we saw companies begin to move beyond the provisional use of drones—where they were outsourcing to determine a drone program’s feasibility–to standing up or expanding internal teams to manage workflows and data.

You can see this trend, particularly in the U.S. when you realize the growth in the number of certified Part 107 remote pilots. The U.S. began the year with about 74K certified remote pilots, and as of the end of November, we had about 112.5K. So we’ve added about 38,500 pilots this year. That’s a 50% increase over last year.

The thing about this increase is that it’s mostly pilots who work for companies, enterprises, or public agencies with internal drone programs.  We saw this trend in the data from our annual benchmark survey conducted over the summer.

Force 2 – Vendor contraction and expansion

There were some winners and losers this year in the race to gain more customers and satisfy investors.

Probably the biggest contraction story was the $118M collapse of Airware. Fortunately, Delair acquired Airware’s software solution, which ensures the continuity of service for existing customers and dealers. The agreement also included keeping the team from construction and mining specialist Redbird, which Airware initially bought in 2016.

The other contraction was from Parrot. Earlier in the year, Parrot released its ANAFI work drone for the commercial drone market. But then just last month, Parrot’s CEO announced disappointing financial results because of what he called “a significant consumer drone market contraction.” Suffice it to say they are running on thin cash flow, and it will be interesting to see if there will be a right-sizing of Parrot and its affiliates like senseFly and Pix4D in 2019.

Another big move this year was PrecisionHawk’s acquisitions of both HAZON and InspecTools. These businesses specialize in inspection services and technology for the energy sector. They bring PrecisionHawk the domain expertise that will enable tighter integration between collecting and analyzing drone data—something customers want. We think these acquisitions position PrecisionHawk as a leading service provider for companies wanting to perform asset inspections—specifically those companies in the oil & gas, insurance, and utility industries that need beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations. If you recall, PrecisionHawk was part of the FAA’s Pathfinder Program, so they have extensive experience in BVLOS ops.

Force 3—The DJI effect

You can’t talk about the drone industry without mentioning market leader DJI. The company continues to dominate the market and has made gains this year in every category, from drone aircraft at all price ranges, to add-on payloads, to software. Our survey data shows DJI is still the dominant brand for drone aircraft purchases, with a 74% global market share in sales across all price points.

DJI’s current global market share is two percentage points higher than it was last year (72%), and is a significant change from 2016, which showed them with 50% market share.

On that note, many industry and UAS news pundits speculated that security concerns about DJI small drone aircraft would be the death knell for DJI (a China-based company), but clearly these fears did not affect their sales. To stem concerns about DJI’s data security practices, the company hired a forensic investigation company, Kivu Consulting, Inc., to independently review DJI’s UAV data transmission and storage practices. Kivu’s analysis of the drones and the flight control system (drone, hardware controller, GO 4 mobile app) concluded that users have control over the types of data DJI drones collect, store, and transmit.

As I’ve have noted in our report, much of DJI’s dominance can be attributed to its aggressive product development, technological advancements, and partner development in the enterprise channel. DJI’s leadership role existed as early as 2015, when we looked at FAA data on commercial drone registrations. The company continues to release new product after new product, and it leads other manufacturers with technology and enterprise ecosystem partnerships.

We predicted last year that this would continue well into the future, given their current lead, their strategic partnership investment with Hasselblad, their recent investment in an R&D facility in Palo Alto, California, and the continuation of their AirWorks Conference enterprise partner ecosystem event.

That’s it for now. Look for a follow-up piece on our specific predictions for 2019, which will include investments, technology improvements, ecosystem partnerships, and software innovations.

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

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

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker

The $118M Airware failure is a cautionary tale for all potential commercial drone investors—as well as all existing commercial drone market participants. To avoid such failure—whether you are drone aircraft manufacturer, software vendor, service provider, business enterprise, investor, or public agency—you need the most reliable market data possible—not just best guesses.

I still believe the #1 misconception in the drone industry is how fast it will grow, which sectors will grow, and which ones will lag. As early as 2014, we wrote about this problem and warned about using unreliable data to measure the potential market for drones. Back then I said drone market forecasts abound. At that time there were 22 independent companies providing market forecasts, and each of them projected growth for the drone or unmanned aerial system (UAS) sector that was nothing short of phenomenal. Today there are 84, most still projecting remarkable growth.

Our observations:

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

Example of success

Despite the big disconnect, there are some big success stories in dronelandia—successes that can be attributed in great part to managing with good data.

Take DroneDeploy, for example. They report over 30,000 users that log over 65,000 flights per month. These users have mapped over 250,000 sites and uploaded more than 75 million images in the last 12 months.

By our accounting (results from our 2018 benchmark survey of over 2,500 drone industry participants), DroneDeploy has the #1 market share for agriculture and construction in automated flight / mission planning and data / image / video processing—despite having 16% and 12% overall share in those two software categories, respectively. All vendors continue to push out innovations, but it’s DroneDeploy that’s pushing boundaries more than any vendor. Their app market is the largest set of industry-specific integrated apps available.

How did they get to be so successful?

DroneDeploy operates in one of the most crowded segments of the commercial drone market—software. We track over 130 vendors servicing the two software categories in which they compete. Last year our data showed they lead with more agriculture industry market share than anyone but lagged in construction. This year, however, they targeted construction, and the results show it.

One reason for DroneDeploy’s success is they were able to track their results with data—data that we provided from custom queries tailored to their objectives that were included in their research sponsorship over the past two years.

Bottom line

The quote by Drucker above means that you can’t know whether you are successful unless success is defined and tracked. With a clearly established metric for success, you can quantify progress and adjust your process to produce the desired outcome. Without clear objectives, you’re stuck in a constant state of guessing.

If you have questions about how we can help you make critical investment decisions with confidence, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

We just released the results of our third annual drone industry benchmark survey and it’s a kicker.

The 2018 Drone Market Sector Report examines worldwide drone sales, service providers, business and public agency users, and software services. This independent research, which is sponsored by DJI, DroneDeploy, DroneInsurance.com, and Trimble, finds a growing demand for businesses to use drone-acquired data in their day-to-day operations as well as other fresh insights on major drone industry segments.

Research

Our online market survey garnered over 2,500 respondents representing over 60 industries worldwide. Our analysis yields 10 key insights that summarize the current state of the industry, plus detailed analysis of drone adoption by businesses and enterprises.

Report

The 107-page report presents the results and analyses from each survey question. It’s organized to match our survey, with four sections that correspond to the four major segments of the drone industry:

  1. Drone aircraft and payloads purchased
  2. Service providers that offer drone-based imaging or sensing services for outside hire or sale
  3. Businesses and public agencies with drone programs
  4. Software apps or online services for drone operations and imaging

The report features more than 60 helpful figures and tables and offering insight and analysis on:

  • Who’s buying what types of drones from which makers at what prices and for what uses.
  • How large the drone-based service providers are, and how they position themselves to their target industries.
  • Who the business users of drone-based projects are, and which industries have traction.
  • How much service providers, business users, and public agencies are using flight management, mission planning, and image processing software for drone-based projects.

Findings

Among the more interesting findings are that commercial drone fleet sizes are smaller than most people think. If you believe the hyperbole, there are hundreds of thousands of drones in the airspace at the same time, but the survey finds that the average commercial user has just two drones that are only flying two projects a month and most of those flights consume less than flight three hours.

There are many other insights in the report, but these three are especially worth highlighting:

  • Professional use of drones is growing. We find that almost three-quarters of all drones weighing over 250 grams are purchased for professional purposes—either governmental or business. This is up from last year.
  • DJI continues to dominate the market and has made gains this year in every category from drone aircraft at all price ranges, to add-on payloads, to software. Survey data shows DJI is still the dominant brand for drone aircraft purchases, with a 74% global market share in sales across all price points.
  • Most businesses and public agencies are new to drones, have small programs, and perform their own services. The survey finds that nearly three-quarters of businesses or public agencies have only had a drone program in place for two or fewer years.

How to get it

You can download a complete prospectus or purchase the report here: http://droneanalyst.com/research/research-studies/2018-drone-market-sector-report-purchase

Image credit: Skylogic Research

We’ve just announced the release of our Quick Start Guide to Drones in Public Infrastructure. This new report is the third and final series of white papers we’ve done to provide a complete primer to drone use in specific industries.

The report consolidates our best insights into the challenges and solutions drones add to inspecting assets like bridges, dams, highways, towers, and railways. It shows how drones add value to digital representation of physical assets and what information companies and public agencies are gleaning from the data their drones collect.

The paper answers questions like:

  • How big is the public infrastructure inspection drone market, and who are the major solution providers?
  • How do state DOTs, civil engineers, railroads, and telecommunications firms use drones and what challenges must be addressed?
  • What do you need to know about regulations, pilot certification, insurance, and training?
  • What are the best practices for adopting drones into existing workflows?

Here is an excerpt from the Drone Use in Public Infrastructure section:

“MDOT estimates that a standard bridge deck inspection takes eight hours, a crew of four people, and heavy equipment – costing at an estimated $4,600. The same inspection with a drone, however, requires just two people and two hours to complete at an estimated cost of $250.

A March 2018 survey, by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, found that 35 of 44 responding state departments of transportation (80%) are using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for a wide range of purposes. The survey also finds that 20 state DOTs have incorporated drones into their daily operations. All 20 are deploying the technology to gather photos and video of highway construction projects. In addition to photography, 14 states also reported using them for surveying, 12 for public education and outreach, 10 for bridge inspections, eight for emergency response, six for pavement inspections, five for scientific research, two for daily traffic control and monitoring, and one for conducting high-mast light pole inspections.

Of the 35 states deploying drones, 23 have established comprehensive policies that cover the acquisition, operation, airspace restrictions, and training and permitting of drones and pilots. Twenty-seven of the state DOTs said they were adding full-time staff to operate and maintain their drone fleets.”

The 10-page report also provides a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) for evaluating and designing your drone program and comes with an appendix that includes links to valuable online resources such as attorneys, advocacy groups, training & certification, and waivers & authorizations.

You can get the free report here.

Image credit: Emerald Expositions