Spending on the unmanned aircraft market is expected to hit $89 billion in the next 10 years, according to Teal Group, so it’s no surprise companies—both large and small—want a slice of this potentially lucrative pie.
“It’s great, it creates awareness. So when Amazon talks about delivering parcels, it’s put into the psychology of people to say drones could do really great stuff here,” Steve Roest, CEO of Skycap, told CNBC at the Farnborough International Airshow.
Commercial drones became a hot topic at Christmas when Amazon announced it was aiming to carry out deliveries using the aircraft within five years. Not to be upstaged, Facebook splashed out $20 million on Ascenta, a maker of solar-powered drones, while Google bought drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace in April.
“They are the ones who have the wherewithal to spark the public imagination and, on the back of that, you’re going to see a lot of smaller companies coming up and being fast risers,” Ken Wahren, business director at BlueBear, told CNBC.
Amazon’s plans have also changed the perception of drones, according to Roest, who said they were previously seen as killing machines. His company was born in 2014 out of a charity called Shadowview, which used drones for humanitarian projects such as protecting against the poaching of rhinos. It is now looking to sell commercial drones to be used on large farms and in the oil and gas sector.
But companies hoping to ride a commercial drone wave told CNBC that tight regulations were holding the sector back.
“In the commercial space we are much more limited, and that is due to regulations,” BlueBear’s Wahren said, speaking at Farnborough. “But there is really a worldwide effort now to work on the regulations, to work on the technologies so these systems can be used safely.”
A change of regulation would be “massive” for BlueBear, a drone maker of just 30 engineers and scientists, Wahren added.
Amazon’s announcement that it wanted to use drones was slated as a public relations stunt at the time – but it could have been dismissed too soon, with the e-commerce website asking the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to start testing drones.
While last week, the FAA granted utility company San Diego Gas & Electric limited permission to use drones for research and testing flights.
It’s the job of John Moreland, a manager at the Europe Unmanned Systems Center, to provide drone companies with accreditation of their craft’s airworthiness and safety for national regulators.
But he highlighted a key stigma associated with drones at the moment—privacy.
“They are mobile CCTV cameras, and we see that some collectors of that data publish it because it’s of public interest,” Moreland told CNBC at Farnborough. “But sometimes we think it has gone a bit too far, and it’s a difficult thing to regulate.”
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com