It has been just over a year since Jeff Bezos went on 60 Minutes and demonstrated how drones are the next big transformative technology. If you live in Silicon Valley or are a dog, that one year felt like seven and a lot transpired. Drones have gone from “the next big thing” to technology that is so far reaching it has noticeable, quantifiable trends like…
Bezos started it all on 60 Minutes with the introduction of Prime Air, Amazon’s initiative to deliver packages to your doorstep by drone. The FAA may be barring Amazon from conducting tests in U.S. airspace, but R&D is alive and well overseas and Amazon is hiring like crazy to make Prime Air a reality.
To lend some credibility to the fact that drone delivery is just over the horizon, consider all the other delivery drone prototypes that we saw in 2014: Matternet is building a network of drones to deliver medical supplies in third world countries, QuiQui is set to bring prescription meds from pharmacies to the people of San Francisco as soon as the FAA will let them, DHL is already doing just that in Germany, Zookal and Flirtey have teamed up to deliver textbooks to university students in Australia, Bizzby is developing personal delivery drones in the U.K., and AMP Holdings is developing drones to work in tandem with delivery trucks.
Oh, and a little company called Google showed the world its drone delivery prototype, Project Wing, in August. (Which bears a striking resemblance to a similar delivery drone, known as VertiKUL, developed by three university students in Belgium.)
And those are just the serious examples.
Shortly after Bezos made his appearance on 60 Minutes, a video made the rounds on YouTube of a bar delivering beer via drone. Even if the service was never intended to be used for real, it has spawned many imitators, leading to the second drone trend of 2014…
Capitalizing on the novelty of UAV technology, plenty of companies used drone deliveries as publicity stunts this year. Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and pizza joints across the world have capitalized on the viral nature of drone delivery videos.
You probably haven’t clicked on a banner ad since you were getting used to your first iPhone in 2007. But banner ads are doing a reverse-print-media; instead of being phased out, they are making the jump from digital to physical. The most well known example of a company like this is DroneCast, the Philadelphia-based start up you can hire to fly a banner at your next event.
‘Selfie’ was Oxford Dictionary’s 2013 word of the year. But, as selfies have become more popular, the limitations of a human’s ability to take a selfie (i.e. their puny human arms) have become glaringly apparent. That’s why, this year, the drone community took selfies to new heights by outsourcing selfies to flying robots. This trend of a selife via drone has, creatively, come to be known as a ‘dronie.’
Vimeo started its own dronie channel in April, which was popularized by this video by Amit Gupta:
The Twitter handle @dronie launched at the Cannes Lions festival in June, highlighted by the most high profile dronie to date:
— Dronie (@dronie) June 15, 2014
DJI, the company behind the instantly recognizable Phantom drone, fully recognizes that their drones are being used as the next stage of selfie evolution.
“It’s sort of an extension of the selfie stick really,” Eric Cheng, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging, told CNN, “It’s an unlocking of the third dimension for camera positioning.”
Drones are even taking dronies of themselves.
When drones began to gain popularity, the primary novelty was capturing images with an off-the-shelf product that were never before possible. Now, the novelty is taking pictures of yourself in previously impossible ways.
And some companies recognize this and see value in it, which is why they developed a feature that lands in the final spot of our list:
As I said before, humans are a pesky inconvenience in the drones’ rise to power. That’s why a number of companies introduced the concept of the Follow Me drone, this year. With a Follow Me drone users tells the UAV to lock on to an object at a certain distance and angle, and the UAV keeps the object at that angle as the object moves around.
The HEXO+, which reached its $50K goal on Kickstarter in 37 minutes, locks on to your phone’s location and is controlled with a companion app.
So does the PlexiDrone ($1 million on IndieGoGo).
AirDog ($1.3 million on Kickstarter) locks on to a separate piece of hardware, known as the AirLeash, which is worn on the wrist and features simple controls for adjusting the position of the drone.
All three of these drones were publicly demoed this year and are slated to release in early 2015.
Beating the crowdsourced drones to the finish line, though, was 3D Robotics’ flagship UAV, the IRIS. The IRIS, now known as the IRIS+, got an upgrade in September which, among other things, introduced a Follow Me feature.
Technology evolves on a bell curve. Facebook went from a social-ish website for Harvard students, to the social media giant of the internet, to a company employing drones to bring the entire population of the world online in 10 years.
2014 for drones was like 2006 for Facebook: the technology was opened to everyone. Popularity skyrocketed. It became a buzzword for media outlets. Businesses were clamoring to understand how they could use it. Entrepreneurs began investing serious time and money in developing new uses for it.
And yet, in 2006, nobody, not even Zuck, knew what Facebook could be.
UAV technology came a long way in 2014.
But it has barely scratched the surface of what it will be.
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