What To Expect From Commercial Drones in the Coming Year

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The last year has been a big one for the commercial drone industry as a whole. The FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) helped push forward innovative new use cases and furthered regulatory conversations. Drones were also used to aid in disaster relief efforts around the world, from aiding first responders in assessing damage and finding those in need of help, to expediting the claims process with FEMA and insurance providers.

It’s also been a big year for Cape. In May of 2018, Cape was selected as one of ten participants in the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, in partnership with the City of San Diego. Since launching the nation’s first Drone as a First Responder (DFR)  program in partnership with the Chula Vista Police Department in October, at the time this blog was posted, Cape-enabled drones have responded to more than 451 high-priority emergency calls and contributed to more than 61 arrests. Thanks in large part to the early results of the program, we were able to play a key role in securing a Certificate of Authorization (COA) with a provision for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations from the FAA -- a rare but extremely important regulatory win that will lay the groundwork for other agencies and organizations across industries to push the boundaries of drone innovation even further. In recent months, Cape has also been proud to be selected to offer insight and expertise at a variety of conferences, including AUVSI XPONENTIAL, IACP Technology, the Commercial UAV Expo, the International Drone Expo at Mobile World Congress and the Global Security Exchange. Cape CEO Chris Rittler was also selected to join the Commercial UAV Expo Americas 2019 Advisory Board alongside an exclusive roster of leaders across technology giants including AT&T, Intel and DJI.

As we look ahead, analysts are predicting the commercial drone market to exceed $17 billion by 2024. On that road to $17 billion, here’s what we expect to see over the next twelve months.

Shift from flash to function

Much of the talk about commercial drones to date has been about flashier use cases -- getting your pizza or latest online purchase delivered or the latest drone light spectacle at a major event. But the coming year will be all about shifting the focus to function and how drone integration can improve our daily lives and the daily operations of enterprises and organizations around the world. The growth of the industry and more widespread adoption will be driven by the impact organizations see with regards to cost reduction, resource productivity, operational efficiencies and safety improvements. To enable that, usability, safety and security will ultimately define the winners in the commercial drone software space.

Focus on collaboration

Over the next year, improving collaboration will be critical for unlocking the full potential of commercial drone integration. At the center of this will be the need for improved collaboration between government entities and regulatory agencies and the private sector. As more and more IPP deployments roll out in the coming months and we get additional data on adoption and impact, we’ll see a lot more discussion around how the regulatory environment must change to keep pace with the technological innovation that’s happening in the space. Similarly, 2019 will bring continued focus on collaboration and integration within the private sector. Expect improved hardware and software integrations to unlock new, impactful payloads and allow organizations to easily connect the data collected by drones to existing business applications, helping them seamlessly integrate technology into daily operations.

The industries leading the charge

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Drones have the ability to impact nearly every industry -- from agriculture to construction to telecommunications. This year, however, we’ll see drones really take center stage in a few key verticals: public safety, oil & gas and utilities. Thanks in large part to the UAS IPP, cities across the country are already leveraging drones for public safety, with a specific focus on emergency response support. In Chula Vista, for example, Cape-enabled drones are being dispatched to high-priority calls, arriving ahead of ground units to give responding officers improved situational awareness and allow for faster and more accurate resource allocation. With recent studies showing consumer support -- and demand -- for drones to keep their communities safe, we’ll see more and more cities turn to technology as a critical tool.

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Oil & gas companies will also be among those embracing drones in 2019, as they work to reduce the costs associated with highly manual and resource-intensive -- not to mention often dangerous -- tasks like well inspections. And with upstream M&A activity at an all-time high, drones will play a key role in helping expedite facility construction and consolidation activities. Where those efforts previously required upwards of 30 people traveling regularly to the site to track progress on the project, drones can now give teams eyes on the facility from anywhere in the world, in real-time at any time. Finally, the recent investigation into the California Camp Fire, which pinpointed damaged equipment and towers from PG&E as a potential cause, highlighted the need for improved asset inspection within the utilities space. In light of that, we’re sure to see utilities companies start to invest in new tools and technology -- particularly drones -- for ensuring equipment is in working order and that any potential issues are caught and quickly addressed.

2018 was a great year of progress for the commercial drone industry, but we have still just seen the tip of the iceberg. In 2019, we’ll see the industry really take off, with companies like Cape leading the charge in enabling the safe integration of drones across industries around the world.

Nicole Amsler