Drones hit the headlines recently as news coverage of Amazon’s idea for drone delivery lead to talk of skies filled with unmanned aerial vehicles. Far from being mere toys, predictions of rapid growth in the drone industry estimate that it may be worth over $127 billion by 2020. However, progress still needs to be made before ideas like this can truly ‘take off’ and technical limitations and legislation mean that widespread delivery such as this is likely to be more than a decade away.
Barriers to flight
For starters, the technical limitations of drones limit how well, how high and how far they can fly. The most significant of these issues is that flight times are capped at around 20 minutes due to short battery life. This short battery life, combined with limited power, also limits the weight that drones can carry posing a problem for delivery at the moment. Despite this, legislation remains the biggest barrier to the industry’s development and restrictions around weight and landowner authorisation continue to prevent the industry truly getting off the ground.
Although price and public perception have held the market back in the past, both of these limitations are predicted to be far less of an issue into the future. Experts predict that the price of drones will drop in the future as the market grows, and that public perception will improve as more and more people come into contact with drones on a regular basis.
Drones beyond Delivery
The earliest adopters for commercial drone use have been companies operating in areas where drones can provide a service which is already required either more quickly or at a lower cost. Examples include the police force supplementing their helicopters, Network Rail checking stretches of track and media organisations acquiring footage where filming is expensive or difficult.
In the coming years, the areas we expect to see the highest use of drones, and where we would recommend companies looking into drones to support their operations are in surveying and marketing.
Drones are particularly well suited to low cost, high definition surveillance. They provide accurate data more quickly, cheaply and using less man-power than traditional alternatives. These industries include railways and construction, and most notably agriculture. It is estimated that 80% of current global drone industry revenues are related to agriculture. The world market for agricultural drones is currently $494 million and is anticipated to grow rapidly to $3.69 billion by 2022.
However, it shouldn’t be assumed that their uses are limited to static inspection. The capacity of drones to create 3D images and time series insights expand their potential uses into event organisers using drones to identify queues forming, or logistics operators monitoring their routes for heavy traffic.
There is huge potential for drones to flourish in this area given the wider trends in online growth, particularly in tourism and property. While consumers have shifted their browsing and shopping habits in this market, sellers have done little to adjust the presentation of their offerings. Drone footage releases the potential to shoot stunning perspectives in seconds, leading to more engaging content and increasing traction on social media. However, quality of content remains key and drones should be used as a tool to present such content, rather than the subject itself. As social media channels reach saturation point, standing out becomes increasingly important. Drones offer a lens through which to do so, helping your business take off.
Although it was the idea of delivery that caused drones to hit the headlines, their uses could stretch far wider than that. As technical limitations such as short battery life are overcome and more detailed sensors and cameras become available, drones’ utility for surveying, inspection and content generation will become even greater. We are only just beginning to see the innovations that have been enabled by drone technology and as the market develops there will be new spaces and niches for companies to explore and exploit.