The drone industry is still in its early stages, but it is rapidly growing and evolving every year. In 2015, we saw the birth of new hardware and equipment. In 2016, we saw a focus more on what the drone can do with the data it collects rather than on just the drone. 2016 also saw the finalization of Part 107, allowing small drones to be used for commercial use. Now we are in a new year, with a new President taking office—it is going to be an interesting year for drones.
InterDrone News spoke with some industry thought leaders to get a sense of the industry over the next year.
Kara Calvert, director of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance
DMA is looking forward to a great year in 2017. The immense benefits of drones are just starting to emerge as drone users continue to utilize them in innovative and unique ways. Continued safe integration into the national airspace is DMA’s top priority, and we want to work with Congress and the new administration to ensure there is a clear and balanced regulatory framework.
We believe key issues for 2017 include federal, state and local cooperation; user education; streamlined regulations for lightweight, low-risk micro devices; industry-led standards; and rules that may restrict—or allow for—operations in certain areas. It is critical that policymakers recognize that technological innovation will continue to help solve challenges and provide solutions for continued safe use and integration.
Lisa Ellman, partner at Hogan Lovells, and co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance
2016 was the year commercial drones made their broad legal debut here in the U.S. with the implementation of Part 107. Given the tremendous response that we’ve seen in the days and months after that event—more than 23,000 remote pilot licenses issued—I’m very bullish about 2017. It’s going to be a transformative year for the commercial UAS sector.
Industry is cautiously optimistic that President-elect Donald Trump, with his pro-business slant, will seek to expand the U.S. economy through innovation by relaxing regulations. While it’s yet to be determined exactly where Trump stands on commercial drones, he’s nominating Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary. She previously served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush, so she knows her way around the agency.
We’ll see regulators seek to expand the operating envelope, to broadly authorize critical operations over people, BVLOS, and at night. I hope we will also see enhanced government/industry collaboration. While the DAC and UAS Safety Team are a good start, we need to see greater collaboration between regulators and innovators at a working level.
Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap
Next year, we’re going to see drones come to the forefront of business, tech and our daily lives. A shifting adoption landscape, combined with new sources of funding and advanced improvements in technology, should make for a monumental year for the drone in 2017.
Here’s what drones have in store for us next year:
- We’ll see VC investment in drones decline in 2017, but that doesn’t mean total investment will slow. Expect large enterprises like telecom companies and large consumer electronics brands to begin investing more seriously in the drone space.
- Logistics companies like Amazon and DHL will start to put more and more drones in the air. Traditional retailers that have been developing drone strategies behind closed doors will announce their ideas for innovation and implementation, heating up the marketplace.
- By the end of the year, we will see 20,000 simultaneous drone flights worldwide.
- Smart cities will invest in civic drone technology to be adopted by fire departments, police departments, and local administrators. And we might even see competition among the most connected cities as they try to attract the first drone deliveries to their communities.
- Prices for drones will continue coming down, even for drones with sophisticated features. The experience of flying a drone will become easier, especially as autonomous flight capabilities improve. Abroad, I expect we’ll see other countries open the skies for more automated flight beyond visual line of sight.
Mike Winn, cofounder and CEO of DroneDeploy
Technology will continue to transform agriculture, and we’ll see a major increase in drone adoption next year. We already experienced early adoption of drones in 2016, before the FAA announced Part 107, enabling anyone to fly drones commercially. In 2017, we’ll see 2x to 3x more drones in agriculture collecting data not just on large, corporate farms, but also smaller, privately owned farms, including those in the most remote areas. The technology is rapidly maturing, enabling offline and low-bandwidth modes for rural farmers, and much more sophisticated tools enable deeper insights and better integrations with existing farm software. This aggregation of new data will help farmers continue to improve yields.
We’ll also likely see “traditional” [agricultural] manufacturers such as CNH and John Deere accelerate how they leverage drones for their customers.
Nicholas Pilkington, cofounder and CTO of DroneDeploy
New, more affordable commercial drone hardware, as well as new AR and VR devices, are enabling businesses to experiment much more with drone data. However, just as delivering fast, streaming video posed a challenge to Internet and mobile OEMs and service providers, sending and processing high-resolution drone maps as quickly as possible—to and from any device—is also a major challenge.
In order for enterprise organizations to fully adopt drones, current network speed and processing power constraints will need to be resolved. However, Intel and Qualcomm’s recent entry into the drone industry will spark some really exciting competition. Keep a close eye on how they—along with established players such as DJI—solve these networking challenges in 2017 and beyond.
Roger Matus, vice president of products and markets for Neurala
Drones will open their eyes and truly see in 2017. This is the first year that AI will be expected by drone buyers. Sophisticated deep learning algorithms (artificial intelligence) will be embedded into drones that will evaluate the visual information provided by the drone’s camera.
Until now, communications delays with software running on ground stations made real-time AI impractical for flight. But embedded real-time deep learning means that navigation and perception tasks commonly performed by human pilots will be increasingly performed by on-board software in real-time without human intervention.
The change will happen in stages. Today’s consumer “follow-me” capabilities will become “follow-that” capabilities using real-time learning. Safety will be enhanced as drones incorporate object recognition to automatically avoid large objects and crowds of people. Professional drones will use software to automatically identify objects of interest, which will save time and increase accuracy. High-resolution image analysis will become routine after a flight. Inspectors that used to watch hours of footage will be able focus attention on the areas of interest identified by the intelligent software.
By the end of the year, consumers and professionals will demand drones that will see and act. Drones without vision will become low-cost commodities in a world of intelligent drones.