A brief and recent history of drones

Drones have come a long way…and aren’t going anywhere

Full Drone

Where have drones come and where will they go? Wow. It’s been a busy year in the history of drones. There has been a significant increase in drone investments. There are many new entrants in the field and many mainstream companies are entering the market. Many said drones would be a fly-by-night fad that would come and go. But if you look at the stats, they’re pretty astounding. And there is no doubt that drones are here to stay.

Consumer drones

There was a significant increase in consumer demand for drones this past holiday season. It made for a serious dent in the history of drones. According to FAA estimates, during the 2015 holiday season, $1 million in drones were sold. DJI took the lion’s share of the 1 million drones sold per year, which was an increase from the 20,000 sold last year. The 2016 drone race will include the following contenders: DJI, EHang, Parrot, and 3DR.

history of drones
Parrot Bebop Drone (Source: Parrot)

Parrot is the mini-drone market leader. They specialize in mobile app and safety integration. 3DR creates new applications for mining and construction. ZeroZero is a new entrant into the field after raising $25 million for it’s flying camera drone. This new company shows that there is a demand for new ideas and innovative drones. As new technologies come into the market, new drone companies will enter the field.

Drone startups

Although drone startups face significant challenges, there is a rapid growth in this new market. Some companies have been able to get their drone company startup funded with the help of a high-quality Kickstarter video and a working prototype, although this is difficult and has only been achieved be a few companies. Most new drone companies are taking longer than expected to get their product to market. This spring, Vantage Robotics will be shipping Snap Drone, their signature flying robot.

history of drones
Snap Drone from Vantage Robotics (Source: Vantage Robotics)

Many new consumer drone companies were formed this year. Most of these businesses are based in China and hope to take some of DJI’s market share, which is approximately 70 percent of the current drone market. Yuneec is the leading contender. They produce the Typhoon and Tornado series, which are considered high-quality drones. There are also several American companies that seek to enter the commercial drone space. Airwave and CyPhy lead the current pack, for new commercial drone startups.

The history of drones should include flying cars, right?

Millions of American commuters have dreamed that one day they could order an Uber Drone. That would surely add a flag in the history of drones. Imagine being picked up from home and delivered to work in a flying car. There are currently five companies in the race to build “drone-like” machines to transport people. Volocopter, a German company, has successfully flown their CEO in a drone.

History of drones
The Volocopter (Source: Volocopter)

Zee Aero is currently building an electric stealth manned drone in Mountain View. Terrafugia, a Boston Company, is working on developing a flying car. This year at CES, EHang unveiled their UAV, but the machine in not yet flight-ready. Joby Aviation, a Santa Cruz, California, company is working on a flying drone that seats four.

Big Data and Drones

With the increase in the number of drones in the air, there is an increased need to crunch drone data. There are many companies that are set to provide “big data analysis for drones” services and enter overall history of drones. Commercial drones may be used to capture data for construction, mining, real estate, exploration, agriculture and other industries. DroneDeploy, Skycatch, Sky-Futures, Redbird and PrecisionHawk, are companies that manage the data generated by drones.

History of Drones
Skycatch drone in action (Source: Skycatch)

These are all ingredients that when combined show that the drone industry will continue to grow and drones will get safer, faster, cheaper and better in the future.

The SaaS platform being developed by DroneDeploy allows a person with a common drone and their free app, to collect data. The app sets a flight path for the drone, takes pictures, then relays the information collected to the cloud. The SaaS platform would crunch the data and provide a report with terrain models, volumetrics and 3D models. And, all of this is done in almost real-time.

Precision Hawk is developing a program that can create mapping and flight analysis for less money and faster than the traditional those currently use in the agriculture industry.

This year, Measure has introduced the first drone franchise business model. Sense-and-avoid technology is also improving, which is critical for future growth and development within the industry. A small lightweight camera was introduced by FLIR, who partnered with Movidius. The Boston Thermal Camera can be carried by a drone.

Drones become mainstream

Last year, venture capitalists invested $450 million in 74 drone deals, according to CB Insights of New York. This was a four-fold increase over the $111 million invested in 2014. Amazon, Facebook, and Google are all building drones. Last year, the first ever drone delivery was completed successfully by Maersk. the delivery was sent to a tanker positioned off the coast of Denmark. Drone deliveries stand to reduce the cost of shipping, inspection and delivery.

With an increasing amount of drones in the air, there is a need to build a platform to keep drones out of the way. Grayphon Systems is a new startup, building a platform which will combat aerial threats. There is another startup up who aims to help police remove drones from areas where they should not be.

What about the law?

Last year, advocacy from the drone industry made a huge impact on Congress. Congressional leaders recognize the potential drones have for economic and consumer benefit. They also know that laws need to be made that will enable the industry to grow in a safe and timely manner.

The Senate plans to move ahead with an ambition UAS subtitles that will include the above provisions and other federal provisions to ensure a safety standard and endorsement of beyond the visual line of sight and nighttime operations. They also seek broader UAS unlicensed spectrum.

So, as you can see, all the ingredients are in place to ensure that faster, better, cheaper and safer drones in the future. And these drones will be available in the marketplace. Silicon Valley is currently leading the way in creating companies with layers that can serve the needs of consumer and commercial done applications. Drones are her to stay and over time, you’ll find they will be a central part of your daily life.