Three Forces That Shaped the Drone Industry in 2018

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

Four Commercial Drone Trends to Watch in 2018

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 predictive maintenance and service solutions, as well as 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

Five Biggest Commercial Drone Trends of 2017 and the Challenges Ahead

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

Who Benefits from Airmap and its Digital Certificates for Drones?

Airmap, with its low-altitude airspace management platform for drones, continues to garner international market share and new investment, but some uses for its digital certificates raise questions about their role in future airspace regulation.

 

THE FACTS:

AirMap provides low-altitude navigational data and communication tools to the drone industry. In February 2017, they announced $26 million in Series B funding from Microsoft, Airbus, Qualcomm, Yuneec, and Sony, with Microsoft leading the round. At the same time, they announced a partnership to deliver their airspace services for SenseFly drones directly integrated with senseFly’s eMotion flight and data management software. This comes on the heels of many other partnerships and integration efforts with the likes of 3D Robotics, DJI, Hover, Intel, Kittyhawk, Lufthansa Systems, and The Weather Company.

 

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT:

The Airmap smartphone app—available in the App Store and Google Play—is a very useful tool for drone operators. I first became acquainted with it when Hover began using it as the map for their app. I use it to determine (among other things) if the location where I want to fly has any flight restrictions. Flight restrictions include controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E), airports, heliports, and caution areas (like Temporary Flight Restrictions, wildfires, prohibited and restricted airspace, national parks, and marine protected areas). All of this of course just augments the geofencing systems that are already built into many drones (like the DJI GEO), which can lock you out of flying in restricted areas.

Another unique feature is Airmap’s Digital Notice and Awareness System (D-NAS), which allows users to communicate flight intentions to the more than 125 airports worldwide that accept digital flight notices. With D-NAS airports can view past and current drone flights, and communicate with drone operators.

At any rate—kudos to the managers and development team for their attention to detail and expanding capabilities. I suspect we’ll see more partnerships and integrations as a result of the AirMap Platform announced in August 2016. This developer platform offers Airmap airspace information and services capabilities for anyone who wants to integrate it with their own software for drones, mobile apps, or web applications.

But here’s the thing

What I think has gotten lost in all the euphoria of recent announcements is the significance of Airmap’s announcement in December 2016 of Drone ID.  Basically Drone ID is a digital certificate for your drone.  Digital certificates are important tools used to secure the internet and other digital communications. The certificate establishes a pair of digital “keys” that are used to encrypt information shared between websites or devices and users. If you are an online shopper you are no doubt aware of browser security that ensures no one can “snoop” in on your transactions. The ‘S’ at the end of HTTPS stands for ‘Secure’. It means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted. For this to work, an organization needs to install the SSL Certificate onto its web server to initiate a secure session with browsers.  In Airmap’s case, the certificate is issued by them and DigiCert to enable secure connections with drones.

Airmap says the way it works is:

“Drone operators that register their drone online will receive a digital Drone ID certificate, including a unique, validated aircraft identity number that can be loaded onto the drone and shared with others in the drone ecosystem. That identity can be used to digitally sign information coming from the drone, enabling more efficient and secure communication from drone to drone, between drones and other aircraft, and with platforms providing airspace information and services, like AirMap.”

Hmmm.  That’s not like a browser, a device, or a user. That’s other things and other people too.

Drone ID isn’t public just yet.  It’s scheduled to be released in Q1 2017 for drones built with the Intel® Aero Platform for Developers.  At that time, it will also be immediately available to other manufacturers and developers interested in the free service.

So why do you need this and who benefits?

Airmap says Drone ID is designed to “facilitate instant verification of an unmanned aircraft’s identity via a digital certificate, enabling authentication and encryption for drones.” Possible use cases include:

  • Enabling encrypted video to be sent from a drone to a pair of first-person view (FPV) goggles
  • Authenticating commands to each drone in an automated swarm
  • Ensuring that ground communication is “talking” to the right device
  • “Signing” information sent by a drone, such as data from an ADS-B transponder, to verify that it comes from the right drone and isn’t being spoofed

Airmap’s concept of using digital certificates for regulatory purposes first caught my attention when they released the white paper Robust and Scalable UAS Registration – Key Technology Issue and Recommendations in February 2016. Here are the opening paragraphs:

“The growing Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) ecosystem requires accountability of operators, availability of airspace, and security of communications, particularly a confidential, authenticated, and accessible registration system. The FAA’s recent launch of a web-based registration service starts the UAS registration system in an excellent direction. Nevertheless, the scope and scale of the system’s future capabilities remains a concern. The anticipated growth and diversity of UAS use suggests the need for a globally-integrated system more capable than today’s.

A robust and scalable registration system considers the right technologies for its organization, registration information, queries, and security as the UAS ecosystem expands. This paper argues that careful selection of current Internet technologies and protocols can help enable the creation of a registration system that serves present needs but will also evolve as technology advances.”

But their service didn’t get included in the FAA’s small UAS registration, so now what?

Airmap has progressively worked together on an ongoing basis with regulators and other private companies on the various Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) projects. UTM refers to efforts to build an air traffic management infrastructure for drones worldwide, such as the NASA-FAA UTM project. That project is a collaboration between regulators and private industry partners like AirMap.  You can read Airmap’s statement on UTM here.

One of Airmap’s ideas is to have their D-NAS system at the center with drone operators submitting digital flight plans to airports to receive authorization to fly. The other idea is to have their digital certificates be “the thing” that identifies the aircraft and its owner.

Pregnant pause

Right now all aircraft identification is achieved by physical means commonly referred to affixing an “N” number to the aircraft.  It’s like the license plate on your car.  It’s a semi-private number and it’s tied to your car’s registration. But cars and aircraft don’t have digital certificates.

Don’t get me wrong. I think using digital certificates for data security is generally a good idea. The data collected on the drone should be secured for lots of legal reasons—chain of custody being the most important. But that’s the data—not the drone aircraft itself—and that has nothing to with registration or remote identification of the aircraft for regulators or within an air traffic control system.

There are other solutions for aircraft identification that don’t involve certificates or a digitally enabled UTM system. For example, Vigilant Aerospace completed beyond line-of-sight flight testing of its new FlightHorizon collision avoidance system for drones at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in the Mojave Desert without a complex system. You can read about that here.

Airmap is not alone in their quest to be at the center of UTM. That’s because everyone assumes—and no one questions—that UTM is needed right now because “we’re heading fast towards a future in which tens of millions of drones fly billions of flights.”  Airmap says it this way:

“Whatever future you can imagine for drones – from package delivery to flying cars – we are confident that the drone industry has the potential to surpass even the most bullish predictions.”

Sorry.  We don’t see it that way.

I’ve written a detailed piece on why the drone network of tomorrow is farther away than you think. I make the case why 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 won’t repeat what it says but the bottom line is the vision of tens of millions of drones flying in the NAS alongside manned aircraft is vastly overstated. Our research shows that the vast majority of operations over next decade will be done largely single purpose drones in visual line of sight (VLOS), not beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

THE COMPETITION

There are several Airmap competitors.  Whereas Airmap clearly dominates the “Sky Atlas” space in the U.S., there are other companies that do the same thing. B4UFLY is the “sanctioned” FAA smartphone app. Altitude Angel is the choice in the U.K., and DRONE COMPLIER the choice in Australia.

Even with Airmap’s competition, many operators find a sectional chart to be more reliable, and this is why competent Part 107 operators won’t use these apps. Several drone lawyers tell us they get calls from their clients asking, “Can I fly here? Because Airmap says I can’t.”  Over time, operators are finding that Airmap and B4UFLY say you can’t fly in a lot of places when in fact you can legally fly there. Perhaps the apps are overly restrictive to cover themselves legally.

One thing is for sure. What the FAA showcases in this video is a system of record based on an Esri ArcGIS platform. That platform provides the FAA and air traffic controllers everything from navigational charts to ensuring drones and planes can safely share the national airspace. The presenters indicate the drone data is provided by FAA’s Pathfinder Program partners. There’s no mention of Airmap.

In the digital certificate arena, Airmap seems to have no competitors. But I suspect when one of the Department of Defense (DoD) contractors like Lockheed Martin or Harris wakes up, they’ll just pull the right government levers to secure the business. You can see what Harris is doing already with BVLOS testing here.  We’ll see.

BOTTOM LINE:

Airmap thinks Drone ID with its extra authentication layer will bring security to drones—and for data, we think that’s a good idea, but not if it’s to secure a live link. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from the management of Air Force drones. Major General James Poss writes about his experiences in It’s the Data Link, Stupid. He says:

“Generally, the less encryption a link uses, the more reliable it is.  Encryption requires lengthy “handshakes” for link nodes to establish identity, then it uses encryption keys to establish a secure link. Too many things can get bungled with an encrypted link. The nodes can fail their handshakes, making it impossible to establish a link. The complicated keys must be the precisely the same on both sides and some human (probably named Murphy) inevitably keys the wrong key at some point.”

General Poss goes on to point we have not figured out how command and control can be performed reliably over the cellular network.

But let’s assume for a minute the “tens of millions of drones” volumes are true. If so, then it’s understandable that any company would want to be in the middle of an internet enabled UTM with a controlling piece—like aircraft registration via digital certificates. Surely at some point in the future it would produce a steady revenue stream. In the Internet world, there are various classes of digital certificates and they range in cost between $18 and $120. Most have to be renewed after two years. The simple math says if those hyped drone volumes come true and if regulators require certificates, then the digital certificate provider could stand to make a lot of money—perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in the first year of implementation. So, ask yourself, who is benefiting from Airmap’s digital certificates? You as a drone operator, governments, or Airmap?

As always, I’m always interested to hear your thoughts and insights about this topic.  Please comment below.

Image credit: Airmap

Can PrecisionHawk Tame Drone Traffic in the Sky?

PrecisionHawk’s LATAS delivers an innovative air traffic control system for drones, but it’s one of several that depends on the not-so-imminent success of all aircraft using ADS-B.

THE FACTS:

This past week (August 29, 2016), the FAA granted PrecisionHawk a waiver from Part 107.31’s visual line of sight (VLOS) limitations, which gives them the ability to continue their research and to train those who want to offer these extended visual line of sight (EVLOS) flights as a service. The waiver was granted based on over a year’s worth of testing under the FAA Pathfinder program. Under Pathfinder Phase 1 research, PrecisionHawk determined that the extension in range offered by EVLOS operations supports a significant expansion in the area that each drone flight, possibly up to 12 times what is achievable within line of sight.

To do this, PrecisionHawk uses their airspace display technology called LATAS, which stands for Low-Altitude Tracking and Avoidance System. LATAS is an onboard system that connects airspace management technologies, such as sense and avoid, geo-fencing, and aircraft tracking, into a service package for commercial and recreational drone operators as well as regulators and air traffic controllers. Developed to be plug and play or integrated into a drone’s circuit during manufacturing, LATAS is small (3-in by 2-in by 1-in), light (Less than 100 grams) and operational on network speeds as low as 2G. While it is not required to receive an EVLOS waiver, LATAS plays a key role in PrecisionHawk’s own operations. The LATAS web application is a free tool available on www.flylatas.com  and is intended to provide an extra layer of safety and protection operators flying under Part 107.

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT:

As I’ve have noted in Market Impact of the FAA Small Drone Rule, the inability to fly EVLOS restricts some high-margin operations. This new ability allows a drone to improve its economic efficiency and cover acreage which is needed for a large percentage of agriculture fields, mining operations, and large infrastructure sites.

One problem we see with this type of system is it may not be reliable in remote areas.  Even though cell network companies are working to extend their networks by partnering with rural carriers, everyone who uses cell phones knows about gaps in service that happen unexpectedly. These gaps could have much more serious consequences than a dropped call if they happen to a small drone.

Additionally, we see integration with the Harris ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) network data as a good thing, but, as we have written about in our in-depth research study ADS-B and Its Use for Small Drone Traffic Management, the FAA’s NextGen mandate for ADS-B has inherent limitations. For one, use of ADS-B “Out” (the signal that says “here I am”) is not required in Class G airspace where most small drones fly, and two, the FAA did not mandate ADS-B “In” (the ability to see other traffic). These together are killers for its effectiveness. Aircraft (including drones) can push all the “Out” signals they want, but if other aircraft can’t receive or “see” them, then they don’t know where your aircraft is and no avionics system can overcome that.

THE COMPETITION:

PrecisionHawk is not alone in their endeavor, and we’re beginning to see others create ADS-B based solutions for drones.

For example in July 2016, DJI and uAvionix announced the release of an ADS-B collision avoidance developer kit. The uAvionix “Ping” sensors are among the smallest and lightest ADS-B-based hardware available for unmanned aircraft. Their Ping ADS-B receiver allows a drone to “see” surrounding aircraft and initiate collision avoidance maneuvers based on that information.

Sagetech has created a family of transponders ideal for the size, weight, and power requirements of unmanned systems applications. Their XP transponder data can be output via RS-232 serial communications to a wide range of compatible flight computers.

Other drone traffic management paradigms have been proposed – for example Google’s SkyBender and Amazon’s “Good, Better, Best”.  I could go on, but you get the point. The pot is beginning to boil.

BOTTOM LINE:

The current FAA plan emphasizes using small UAS in areas outside airport locations which should be geo-fenced to avoid drones interfering with large vehicle landing and take-off activities. But for all these drone traffic management plans, ADS-B technology (or ADS-B-like signal integration) is a key element for tracking and reporting a drone’s position.

NASA knows that someday unmanned vehicles will share airspace at low altitudes with general aviation equipment such as airplanes, helicopters, and gliders. That is why it created the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) initiative.  Agreeing on a safe and efficient system that will manage both manned and unmanned traffic is a vital concern for the FAA, NASA, private companies, and academic users.

But given the inherent limitations of ADS-B, will any of these systems work as intended?

Image credit: PrecisionHawk

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com

 

Will the U.S.’s New Drone Pilot Certification Accelerate Commercial Growth?

FAA testing and certification for small UAS remote pilot certificates begins in earnest this month, but does that mean the commercial drone industry will see rapid growth?

THE FACTS:

Beginning August 29, 2016, the new small UAS Rule for commercial drone operations in the U.S. takes effect.  One very important change is that operators will now have to obtain a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. Under the new rule—also known as Part 107—the person actually flying the drone must have this certificate, or be directly supervised by someone who has one. In advance, the FAA has published a variety of documents to assist businesses seeking to be compliant with the new regulation. You can find an article with references to those documents here.

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT:

The new rule (and the new certification process) marks a complete shift in the way the FAA permits commercial drone operations in the National Airspace System (NAS). Under the old approach, known as Section 333 Exemption, companies or individuals could apply for an airworthiness certificate exemption and then the FAA would grant them on a case-by-case basis. Commercial operations rules also required the pilot-in-command of drone operations to have at least a sport pilot’s license.  At last count (8/19/2016), 5,542 petitions had been granted. The process was intended to provide safe and legal entry into the NAS, thus discouraging illegal operations and improving safety. It was anticipated that this activity would result in significant economic benefits.

The point here is Section 333s were granted to the business operators of the aircraft–not the pilots themselves. The new rule is pretty much the opposite.  It is a pilot-based certification that switches the responsibility from a business entity to a person.

THE RUB:

In March 2016, the FAA released its annual Aerospace Forecast Report Fiscal Years 2016 to 2036, which cites potential sales of more than 600,000 commercial small UAS requiring registration, growing to 2.7 million by 2020. This forecast was developed in conjunction with the Teal Group Corporation. They segment the commercial market into industrial inspection, real estate / aerial photography, agriculture, insurance, and government with industrial inspection taking the bulk of the market at 42%.

But as I have written in Diversity and Hype in Commercial Drone Market Forecasts, Teal’s forecast is inflated and out of touch–as are a lot of others. We currently track 41 different forecasts. The trouble is none take into account existing market trends or the economic force that a lower barrier to entry will have on pricing of drone-based business services. To put this disconnect into perspective, one only need look at other related forecasts.  For example, the revenue of photography services in United States in 2020 is expected to be about $6.7 billion. Portrait studios account for about 70% of industry revenue; commercial photography for about 30% of that. That means commercial photography is only a $2 billion market.  How we get from there to PwC’s prediction that $127.3 billion of current business services and labor will be replaced by drone-powered solutions is baffling to say the least.

BOTTOM LINE:

Our survey data going back to 2014 and even our most recent report tells us that the film/photo/video market is–and will probably always be–the largest commercial drone market segment. Neither Teal nor PwC forecasts account for the full potential of drones in that segment, nor do they incorporate any first-hand knowledge from those who’ve already operate in that segment.  In contrast, I have heard from scores of photographers and videographers who operate their small UAS for business without regard to legality. Most never applied for a Section 333 because of the stringent pilot license requirement. Most have been waiting for this day to arrive so they can get certified and “come out of the shadows” to operate legitimately. Most will never do industrial inspections, or agriculture, or any of the other business services being predicted for commercial drones.

This article says 3,351 people have already signed up with the FAA to have their aviation knowledge tested on the first day possible. I predict most of these are either film/photo/video operators who were granted Section 333s and never had a pilot available to them or those operating in the shadows. I’m just not convinced that means big money for the industry yet. We’ll see what happens, but one thing is for sure—we’ll see a lot of very small businesses (read: photographers and videographers) now openly advertise their aerial services.

Image credit: Shutterstock

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com

New Report: Drones in Public Safety and First Responder Operations

It may not seem like it, but drones are still in their infancy and only proving themselves through the rigorous testing done privately, commercially, and by state and federal government agencies. Despite the tangible benefits that drones can provide, the public has mixed sentiments about their use by law enforcement, firefighting, and search & rescue operations.

As early as 2012, this AP-NCC poll found a third of the public fears that police using drones for surveillance will erode their privacy.  But negative sentiment is changing.  In 2013, an Institute for Homeland Security Solutions (IHSS) and RTI International survey found 57 percent of the general public supports the use of unmanned aircraft systems for any application. It found:

  • 88 percent of the general public supports drone use in search and rescue operations
  • 67 percent support drone use in homeland security missions
  • 63 percent support drone use in fighting crime

Nevertheless, despite fears by segments of the public and civil rights proponents like EPIC that broad use of drones heralds a domestic “surveillance state,” many more believe unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) provide tremendous benefits and dividends for public safety. This includes everything from traffic accident investigation, to forensics, to fire investigation and damage assessment.

With that in mind we just released our third research report series of studies that looks objectively at each major commercial market for drones and drone technology. This study titled “The Truth about Drones in Public Safety and First Responder Operations,” shows how drones have been used successfully by law enforcement, firefighters, and search & rescue thus far, reviews competitive and traditional approaches using incumbent technology, discusses the opportunities and challenges posed by regulations, outlines the lessons learned, and discusses what’s next for drones in this industry. Here is an excerpt:

“All these use cases are vital public safety matters that civilian market drones are well suited to handle. Cities, towns, and municipalities facing strained budgets and dwindling resources may more easily be able to afford small drones than traditional big ticket first response equipment and personnel. Consequently, drones will give some local governments a bigger bang for their buck.

But would-be adopters need to know that in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) controls the skies and has created regulations (safety standards) governing the operation of aircraft. Thankfully, not all, but still some, of the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FARs”) apply to public aircraft. The FAA allows first responders with an FAA certificate of waiver the ability to create their own safety standards for the pilots, the aircraft, and maintenance. Additionally, first responders can choose to also operate under the newly created and liberal Part 107 small UAS regulations if that benefits their operations more.

In the U.S., it’s reported there are almost 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies with at least one full-time officer or the equivalent in part-time officers.  That includes over 12,500 local police departments and over 3,000 sheriffs’ offices, and 50 primary state law enforcement agencies. The National Fire Protection Association reports that in 2014, there was an estimated total of 29,980 fire departments, of which 19,915 (about two-third) were staffed only with volunteers.  Smaller law enforcement agencies and volunteer fire departments that have limited finances stand to benefit greatly because the price entry point has decreased for consumer drones (like the one pictured in Figure 3), their capabilities have increased, and the new liberal Part 107 regulations make it easier to legally operate.”

The report details major use cases and discusses the challenges and lessons learned by police and search & rescue teams including the lessons offered by Gene Robinson, head of Unmanned Aircraft Operations for the Wimberley Fire Department, from his work in the aftermath of the 2015 Texas Memorial Day floods.

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 colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image courtesy of AeroVironment, Inc.

Commercial Drone Markets: 2015 Year in Review

What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, I reflected back on the news and trends of the commercial drone markets of 2014 and wrote about the mixed state of affairs in the U.S.  Back then, drones got considerable media hype and you would have thought that drones could do anything from guide your car in the wilderness, to save the planet from starvation.  In reality, we were just beginning to see the very first FAA grants of regulatory exemptions for commercial activity—which was nothing more than filming on closed sets.

Contrast that with this year, one in which we’ve seen more than 2,500 Section 333 grants for all kinds of commercial activity and the press’s narrative that ‘drones are cool’ turned to ‘drones are a headache’. Even so, there’s more going on than just public consternation.

In this post, I’ll review what I think were the six most significant commercial market trends for drones in 2015 set in the context of movies and myths.  Enjoy.

  1. Casino Royale: Venture Capital

In the 2006 movie Casino Royale, James Bond attempts to bankrupt a terrorist financier by beating him in a high-stakes poker game. The plot twists and the tournament culminates in a $115-million winning hand for Bond—who discovers later the woman he fell in love with has stolen the winnings.

Just how high is the game of drone investment?  According to CB Insights data, we’ve seen $199 million in 30 deals year-to-date. That’s more money invested in commercial drone businesses in the first nine months of this year alone than all previous years before.

These investments have been funded mostly by venture capital firms like Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. But other firms—like GE Ventures, Qualcomm, and Intel—are also investing to cash in on what they see are growth markets for their chips or IoT offerings.

The gold rush may be over. As pointed out here, there’s a growing sentiment that we’ve reached a precipice. Private valuation euphoria seems to be dissipating. Tech IPOs are down (and the tech startups that have gone public are generally under-performing). Volatility in broader markets is creating uncertainty.

Will these firms get stiffed like James Bond?  Some will. Just look at the offices some occupy in San Francisco (big rents!) and the high cost of high-caliber employees.  Not to mention the assumed crazy forecasts included in these firms’ business models (like the ones I’ve referenced in Diversity and Hype in Commercial Drone Market Forecasts). In 2016, we may not see a “crash and burn,” but keep your eye out for a quiet “right sizing.”

  1. Magic Carpet: Drone Air Traffic Management

In nearly all the legends and folklore, the magic carpet is used to portray the power of the carpet’s master. One legend has it that the Queen of Sheba gifted King Solomon a green and gold flying carpet studded with precious jewels. It is said that this flying carpet held spectacular powers. Made from a special type of clay with magnetic properties (and since the earth is a magnet), it held the ability to hover several hundreds of feet above the ground. With the carpet, Solomon was able to travel vast distances, but not without some big mishaps.  In legend, the carpet seems to be a metaphor for his power and reach.

A lot of companies like Amazon, BNSF, BP Google, and even Walmart, want a magic carpet, too.  They want a low-altitude air traffic management framework for drones so they can deliver goods and perform operations beyond visual light of sight (BVLOS)—and that’s exactly what NASA has promised in the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) project. NASA’s UTM piggybacks on the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

The present FAA plan emphasizes use of small UAS in areas outside airport locations, which would be ‘geo-fenced’ to avoid drones interfering with large vehicle landing and take-off activities. But for all these future UTM plans, ADS-B technology (or ADS-B-like signal integration) is a key element for ‘tracking’ and reporting the position of a drone.

The problem is ADS-B use as mandated by the FAA is fraught with shortcomings.  For one, ADS-B is not mandated for use in Class G where most small drones will fly. On top of that, ADS-B “In” (the part that tells you where other aircraft are) isn’t mandated for anyone. Additionally, some pilots already feel the new activity of ADS-B distracts too much, and small aviation flyers may choose to ignore new input or not update their systems.

So, here we are working on a magic carpet solution to low-altitude flight management, and the mistake may be that we are trying to solve it with an improperly regulated flight management solution. We’ve detailed these and ten other issues in the study ADS-B and Its Use for Small Drone Traffic Management which you can read more about here. We also discussed the NASA UTM on the sUAS News Podcast: Drone Hype Cycle.

  1. Enter the Dragon: DJI

When it first looked like there could be commercial uses for drones, analysts assumed that defense avionics and electronics suppliers would lead the market because they had a head start. Then came DJI.

Often considered one of the greatest martial arts films of all time, Enter the Dragon (starring Bruce Lee) was the first Chinese martial arts film to have been produced by a major Hollywood studio, Warner Bros. The 1973 film is largely set in Hong Kong.  I think the name is a fitting description for DJI, which is headquartered in Shenzhen, China, just outside Hong Kong.  According to The Economist, the company is at the forefront of the civilian-drone industry.

DJI estimates itself to have 70 percent of the commercial market worldwide and a larger portion of the consumer market, but it really more like 50 percent.  This 50 percent number plays out when looking at FAA data.  As we reported in sUAS News, DJI is the first drone company to break the magical 1000 N registered airframes, and they still hold a commanding lead with a reported 44% market share as of December 8, 2015.

DJI continues to release new product after new product and leads other manufacturers with technology like geo-fencing and even micro investments with its SkyFund.  I predict this will continue well into the future given their current lead, their strategic partnership investment with Hasselblad, and their recent investment into an R&D facility in Palo Alto, California.

  1. Our Gang: Consumer Drone Registration

Our Gang (also known as The Little Rascals) is a series of American comedy short films about a group of poor neighborhood kids and their misadventures of saving others and sticking together. Their motto was: One for all, and all for one. And while that’s not the motto you would normally hear from such a diverse group as those on the UAS Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee, it is the outcome.  And what an outcome it is. You can read their recommendations here. Some mainstream publications like this one are describing the consumer registration process as “becoming a pilot” or “getting a pilot’s license.” Which you’d have to do when you purchase a $200 hobbyist drone. Really?

Just as we see in the Our Gang films, the outcome is not always optimal and the methods used to get there questionable. Jonathan Rupprecht has a good analysis on the outcome here. Another analysis here calls it “ineffective and unenforceable.” To be fair there were dissenters in the group. For example, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), which is the world’s largest community-based organization, made this statement on the recommendations.

Nothing has been put in place yet, but one thing is becoming clearer: the FAA’s method to put hobby drone registration in place is specious. A thorough legal analysis by Morrison and Forrester here spells out the FAA’s procedural shortcuts and how the registry would present legal challenges and confusion for commercial drone registration.

  1. Best in Show: Drone Expos

2015 was the year we saw a proliferation of the drone conferences. These ranged from consumer to commercial expos.  I heard early from vendors who straddle both markets that they could not attend all, so they had to choose. In March I gave a quick list of criteria to help navigate the confusion in Five Tips for Navigating the Drone Expo Fad.

I reported then and Gary Mortimer reported here we are still in the ‘inflated expectation phase’ of the hype cycle for drones, so it’s anybody’s guess which conferences will shake out.  Still at every show I attended this year, these two questions came up: Which drone show was the best? And which ones will you attend next year?

The question reminds me of the comedy film Best in Show. The film follows five entrants in a prestigious dog show and focuses on the slightly surreal interactions among the various owners and handlers as they travel to the show. Afterwards, the film explores what each character is doing after the competition—and this is the real drama for drone vendors: What happens after the show?  So the better question is not about how many connections you make at the show, but are shows in general a good channel at which to engage prospects?  I think that topic (as well an exploration of distribution channels) is worthy of some Drone Analyst research in 2016. Look for more on this topic soon.

  1. Waiting for Godot: You

In the absurdist play Waiting for Godot, two bedraggled companions, Vladimir and Estragon, wait endlessly and in vain for the arrival of an unspecified person called Godot. The play opens on an outdoor scene and the weary Estragon mutters “Nothing to be done.”  When Estragon suddenly decides to leave, Vladimir reminds him that they must stay and wait for Godot. Unfortunately, the pair cannot agree on where or when they are expected to meet with this Godot. They only know to wait at a tree, and there is indeed a leafless one nearby.

For many of us, it seems we have been waiting for Godot, I mean the FAA, to finalize the rules for commercial use of small UAS. We got the Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) earlier this year and the 60-day public comment period closed on April 24, 2015. Sure, as noted above, we now have about 2,500 Section 333 petitions granted, but that does not make an industry.  Everyone wants to know—will Godot arrive in 2016?  The tree we wait under now is pretty much leafless, and we hope the rules will help our industry garner growth.

What should we expect in 2016?

I said this last year, and I’ll say it again.  A lot depends on the forthcoming small drone rule from the FAA.  If it looks at all like the NPRM, then the U.S. commercial market should expect moderate growth—but there will be winners and losers.  If the FAA changes it, for example lowers the altitude ceiling from 500 feet above ground level to 200 feet, then growth will be seriously hampered.

You can find more of our 2015 insights on these SlideShare presentations. I’m always interested to hear your thoughts and insights about the commercial drone market. Comment or write to me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

5 Tips on Finding a Good Drone Attorney

By Jonathan Rupprecht, Esq. for Drone Analyst

In response to the rapidly growing drone industry, there are now many attorneys and law firms that are seeing an opportunity to make money and are offering drone legal services as a part of their regular practice areas.  Although many of these attorneys and/or firms may have experience in their regular and specific legal fields, they most likely are just trying to get into this new legal field area (“get their feet wet”) by offering a new drone practice group with drone legal services. How can you find an experienced drone attorney that will best serve your drone legal needs as opposed to an attorney who is just trying to dabble in the drone area? Here are five tips to find an attorney to best help with your needs:

1. Find out how many 333 petitions the attorney has filed.

Many attorneys are starting to come into this new legal field. Some of those attorneys have no aviation law knowledge or section 333 experience. If they don’t have any experience, this could cause some problems.  One example is where an inexperienced attorney might charge you more for a petition so they can learn how to do it or to get experience. Another example is that an inexperienced attorney might not be able to rapidly file your 333 petition which means your wait is longer until you can commercially operate.

2. Find out how many of the attorney’s clients are commercially operating now after they received their 333 petition.

This is helpful because it tells you that the attorney has taken a client all the way through the 333 process and the drone registration process. Also, ask for the names of their previous clients who have been approved and are commercially operating. Contact those clients and ask them for their opinion of the attorney and whether they would recommend that attorney.

Another benefit of using an attorney who has clients who are commercially operating is that the attorney is familiar with the “real world” problems commercial operators face, such as the 24-hour NOTAM problem, the 500ft bubble from non-participants, flying within 5 nautical miles of an airport, or flying under the Class C or Class B shelf.

Are there any benefits to using an attorney new to the area? A new attorney might perform exceptional services so that they can get their feet wet and make a name for themselves in the industry. If they are desperate to get experience, you might get a great deal for an exemption. Also, some attorneys new to drone law are very skilled in other areas of the law which you might need help with such as business or tax law.

3. You should find out what the costs will be.

The fees of different law firms range all over the place. The general range of prices I’ve heard of is between $2,500 and $12,000 per petition. Larger law firms sometimes charge more than smaller law firms. Partners charge more than associates. Check out the location where the law firm is located because law firms in fancy buildings have higher overheads costs than firms in more modest buildings. You, not them, are paying the rent for the location.

If they provide you a cost estimate, ask them to break the hours down and also ask them about what they used to arrive at the estimated number of hours. It is a good idea here to get a fixed cost and not have the attorney bill you at an hourly rate which could turn into a black hole for your money. That being said, if you are asking for something that has never been done before, or is a really complex and difficult situation, you are most likely only going to have the option of the attorney billing you hourly.

If the cost is out of your immediate price range, ask them to split the payments up so you don’t have one lump sum. You could maybe negotiate the contract so that 1/3 of the cost is up front, 1/3 is before submission, and 1/3 is upon the petition being completed. You could also ask for a money-back guarantee.

4. Ask who is developing the manuals?

The FAA looks at the manuals you submit for the aircraft and operations to determine if there is an equivalent level of safety as the regulations. Are you going to create the manuals or is the attorney? Some attorneys do not do manuals. This is understandable because they did not go to manual school but law school. Does the attorney have a referral source who can do manuals for you in case you do not have the knowledge to do them? What are those costs?

Also, the FAA is requiring that petitioners asking for closed-set TV/movie filming operations will be required to submit to the FAA a Motion Picture and TV Operating Manual (MPTOM). Does your attorney even know what an MPTOM is or where to get one? Your attorney should explain the benefits of having closed-set TV/movie operations on your exemption and also define what “non-participant” means.

5. Do they have an aviation background?

Finding a good attorney in the area of drone law is not just about getting the 333 petition filed for the lowest price but is also about complying with the federal aviation regulations. A good attorney needs to understand your long-term goals of actually operating under the regulations. Your attorney needs to see the potential problems with your proposed commercial operations and help you decide whether to change your business operations/model or scrap the idea altogether. In one of the Abbot and Costello movies, Costello was asked, “Was your business legal?” His response was, “Better than that. It was profitable!” A good drone attorney can help you be legal AND profitable because they know the aviation sector and how to navigate the regulations.

Another problem with using an attorney that does not know aviation law is that they will most likely not be able to rapidly answer the questions YOU need answered so that you can make money. The attorney will have to do research to give you an answer because they are unfamiliar with the regulations or restrictions. You want an attorney who you can call or text who can rapidly give you answers regarding commercially operating under your exemption. Who better to do that than the individual who also filed your petition and helped you in determining the most economically feasible area?

It is best to do your research before hiring a drone attorney. Hopefully these tips should save you time and money when searching for the right attorney who can help serve your specific drone legal needs.

If you have questions about this or the commercial drone market comment below or write us info@droneanalyst.com.

 

New Commercial Drones Report: Current State of the U.S. Industry

UPDATE: September, 2016. This report has been updated to include the latest market trend and FAA Part 107 rules

I just released a new research report.  It details the state of the commercial drone industry in the U.S. as of the end of September 2015.  It looks at recent innovations, business applications, key ecosystem companies, and market forecasts. It analyzes the business impact and market opportunities that proposed Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) rules have on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manufacturers, distributors, service providers, and investors.  The 34 page report is a great primer for those who want to take advantage of the coming boom in this potentially lucrative industry.  It provides fresh information for industry veterans, entrepreneurs and investors, career changers/advancers, and corporate personnel in all industries. The full text of the report contains the most salient industry statistics illustrated by 12 figures and four tables.

Included in the report are the following:

  • A primer on commercial drones that discusses common terminology and the distinctive nature of commercial drones as aircraft systems and Internet of Things devices.
  • An outline of the growing number of commercial applications for drones, with categorization into major market segments for easier consumption and further analysis. We discuss the growing interest in commercial drones, what forecasters say about future demand, and what investors are banking on.
  • An overview of the industry’s flourishing ecosystem of businesses that support commercial drone activity. We present a few of the most prominent firms and companies that provide legal services, insurance, flight readiness applications, and training.
  • A detailed discussion of the fluid state of FAA restrictions on commercial UAS operations in the U.S – including the FAA’s proposed rules for small UAS. We also discuss the growing complexity of state and local issues, the current state of private sentiment and legal concerns, and the impact of proposed FAA rules. It shows that some markets are winners, but some are bigger winners than others. We report on the important details and determine the success factors in each market.
  • Statistics on commercial drone use. We compare the number of drone operators by country, the manufacturers who have the most aircraft in U.S. commercial operations, and which market segments are shaping up to be the biggest.

In the final section of the report you’ll get a glimpse of the future.  I present a list of several firms in Silicon Valley and across the U.S. that either have, are incubating, or are working on innovations that will solve the complex problems of UAS integration into the national airspace.

The report is available for purchase here.

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

Image credit: Shutterstock