Hobbyist Interest Has Unlocked Commercial Drone Adoption

New DroneAnalyst Research Reveals Commercial Drone Adoption Has Been Spurred by Hobbyists and “Bottom-Up” Growth

Many drone industry veterans have stories of a drone program starting from an employee bringing their personal drone to work. Or a utility company where budget for a small drone fleet is kept just below limits that require management approval.

I have heard more of these “unofficial” stories of drone adoption than I can recount. And through our recent DroneAnalyst 2020 Market Sector Report, we’ve seen that this is more than a personal observation.  “Bottom-up” means of adoption have founded 68% of all business and agency drone programs

These findings correlate to trends in the B2B software market, where bottom-up sales approaches are a go-to for new brands. These brands – including Salesforce who made this approach famous –  develop an easy to master product and rely on individual employees becoming brand ambassadors within an organizations. By comparison, typical “top-down” approaches to B2B sales seek to approach budget holders first.

Bottom-Up Beats Top-Down

We explored the question of bottom-up versus top-down adoption in the drone industry by asking nearly 500 business and agency users across various industries and regions how their drone program was founded.

Respondents were able to select any number of six pre-selected options – three representing a top-down approach and the other three bottom-up – or select “none of the above”. The results from our survey are shown in the image below.

Correcting for multiple choice responses, we saw that 68% of drone programs were founded through less official, “bottom-up” approaches and just 25% from “top-down” ones. Chief among these “bottom-up” approaches were a hobbyist bringing their interest and at times even their personal drone to work. This commercial drone adoption trend is consistent across all industries and regions.

Most notable is the small role innovation departments have played, leading to just 12% of drone programs. Innovation departments only helped found a significant portion drone programs in the Oil & Gas industry.

How Long Will Hobbyists Drive the Industry?

While this trend may be expected in the early days of a new industry, we assume this trend will reverse as solutions mature and the ROI of drone-powered solutions become better established. The solutions today are rudimentary compared to the autonomous, drone-in-the-box data acquisition solutions dreamed up by innovation departments.

This data shows that the drone industry has risen despite this solution immaturity. Hobbyist pioneers have turned today’s drones into piloted data capture tools, helping to fund future innovations through their purchases.

Despite our expectations that this trend will shift long-term, we aren’t seeing this shift yet. Drone programs founded in the past year were more likely to be driven by “bottom-up” approaches, not less.

We are just now seeing a shift towards more autonomous solutions and regulations catching up to enable their use. The first group of Level 4 autonomous drone solutions became available in 2020. We’ll be paying close attention to how this trend shifts as the technology and stakeholders adapt.

How This Impacts the Broader Drone Market

These data highlight that – in these early days – the industry has relied on the hobbyist segment for growth. That should influence the decisions made by brands, and how regulators consider new rules.

The effect of the industry’s hobbyist roots are best shown through the new FAA Remote Identification (RID) rules. After receiving over 53,000 comments – many concerned that network RID could harm the hobby – the FAA shifted to solely requiring broadcast RID instead and allowed for the creation of FRIAs. The FAA’s actions should not just be seen as supporting hobbyists, but securing the growth of the commercial drone industry.

Where to Find More Insights

This is just a sliver of what DroneAnalyst’s 2020 Drone Market Sector Report covers across 67 Figures and 10 Tables. The report is critical for industry stakeholders to understand the players in each market segment, and key trends across drone purchases, service providers, business & agency users and software services.

You can learn more here: https://droneanalyst.com/research/2020-drone-market-report

Here are a few of our previous posts you may also be interested in:

David Benowitz

David is the Head of Research at DroneAnalyst, responsible for developing and expanding its drone industry research portfolio. David joins the team from DJI, where he contributed as a founding member of its Enterprise business. David is based in Shenzhen, China waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic.