2017 was a big year for drones: the industry saw unprecedented growth, progress in regulations, and new uses and technologies almost every week. With 2018 upon us, DRONELIFE asked three industry thought leaders for their predictions about what the next year will bring – and added some of our own.
Machine Learning and AI
Amit Ganjoo, Founder and CEO of ANRA Technologies and a technologist with deep experience in aviation and drones says that the next step for the industry is clear. “Machine Learning and AI is the next focus for the industry,” says Ganjoo. “It’s all about how we process data.” Ganjoo points out that the expansion in enterprise adoption and the use of drones is leading to significant improvements in machine learning and AI, as they generate more and more data. “The technology is there,” says Ganjoo. “The training set is what’s holding it back –as more operations take place, the data sets will get bigger, you can train the algorithms better and get more accuracy.”
Many companies are already utilizing AI to assist with data analysis – or in automation, as drones learn to fly without pilot intervention.
Drones Will Enter a New Era of Automation
As the provider of the most popular drone mapping app in the world, DroneDeploy has a vast experience in the commercial drone market. Their prediction for 2018 is that automation will change the way that drones are used.
“As more large companies put drones to work, we can expect to see a greater need for automated flight, workflows, and analysis,” says DroneDeploy. “The increase in the data produced will require automated data transfer and analysis around the clock. More APIs and integrations will connect drone data with industry tools, eliminating silos and driving collaboration across organizations. ”
Jono Millin, Chief Product Officer at DroneDeploy, sees flight changing: “With improvements to flight automation, a drone will be able to evaluate its environment—enabling smarter in-flight decisions and adaptive flight planning in challenging environments.”
Leading drone industry analyst Colin Snow is an expert in identifying and quantifying trends as they occur in the industry. His recent article on the major industry themes in 2017 leads him to point out some of the challenges that the drone industry will face in 2018. Technical issues like endurance, perfect AI, management of large data sets, and information accuracy still need to be improved. Business value needs to be proven in order to improve enterprise adoption: “We’ve yet to see credible ROI that hits the executive scorecard,” says Snow.
The shift towards more state and local involvement in regulations with the UAS Integration Pilot program could also create “more regulatory red tape” says Snow – and public sentiment about drones remains a major problem for the industry. “Basic public concerns still exist about drone safety, security, privacy, and their public nuisance,” Snow points out. “My question is: How can we overcome this?”
Consumer Markets Will Change
At DRONELIFE, we’re following the industry every day – and making predictions and observations of our own. One prediction is that serious photographers, FPV racers, and artists will continue to take over the consumer market. “The idea that every single person is going to fly a drone for fun may be past – drones just require a little more skill than many people want to acquire in order to fly well,” says Frank Schroth, DRONELIFE’s former editor-in-chief. This means that the pure consumer market may shrink a bit – but the equipment and software available will get better and more interesting. Additionally, as collaborative regulatory efforts continue with manufacturers and government agencies more safety features will be built in to systems.
Commercial Markets are Rising with New Tools
Commercial markets are also shifting as more companies like Airobotics in Israel and now Boston-based American Robotics develop fully automated systems that can fly well-defined missions repeatedly, reliably, and without pilot intervention. The move towards full automation will push adoption into new verticals, and more of the work will move in-house as drone programs become more about the data use and less about the actual flight and data acquisition.
Progress with Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) solutions and drone integration will also help boost the commercial market. Integration into air traffic control systems will be as significant as Part 107 in moving the industry forward.
At DRONELIFE, we see the drone industry in 2018 continuing to mature, continuing to develop, continuing to add value. Growth is a given. Regulations will progress, adoption will expand, and drones will continue to do more good work for communities around the globe.