As we look forward to 2022, it’s time to reflect on the drone industry 2021. Despite chip shortages, new regulations, an ongoing global pandemic, and the challenges inherent in a growth sector, the drone industry came out on top in 2021. We asked our sponsors and partners to describe the drone industry 2021 in a word (or two) – and here’s what they said.
Brett Kanda, drone industry veteran and VP of Sales and Marketing at BRINC Drones, makers of drone solutions for law enforcement and first responders, says the industry is shifting.
“2021 was an inflection point in our industry. We saw the 90% market share lion in DJI start to lose some momentum and most importantly, key executives and personnel in North America. This has created an opportunity for other manufacturers to build differentiated solutions that can compete with DJI in the very near future. We also started to see the landscape change in terms of end user sentiment. The need for tailored solutions that solve niche problems were on the rise. No matter the vertical, the end user is becoming more educated and comfortable with robotics and autonomous systems. What we as an industry have been seeing and feeling for years is starting to bleed over to the end users in terms of ROI, value proposition, and capabilities for autonomous systems.”
For BVLOS Fixed Wing providers Censys, the advance of regulations for flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) has led to a lot of activity. Waivers are increasing, and customers are seeing the opportunity to take advantage of using unmanned systems in the field.
“We have seen an incredible increase of companies looking to start utilizing UAS in day-to-day operations and companies currently with UAS advancing their operations,” says Kyle Miller, Director of Business Development for Censys. “The number of BVLOS approvals we won in 2021 and drones we have sold are a testament to the booming industry.”
Coiled – Like a Snake!
Commercial UAV‘s Carl Berendtson always has the mot juste – and has a unique bird’s eye view of the drone sector, with the biggest rolodex in the industry. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Commercial UAV Expo put on a great show in Vegas this year, and is getting ready for the future – when flight beyond visual line of sight will help drive even more industry growth.
“I would say “coiled” like a rattlesnake,” says Berendtson. “Held back by external forces, but building momentum none the less, beneath the waves. BVLOS will be the catalyst to release the hounds.”
For major drone retailer Drone Nerds, 2021 has been a year of growth and evolution. “In one word, accelerated – we’ve seen continued growth in the consumer market and tremendous growth in the adoption of drone technology for the commercial market. So really, it’s an exciting time to be a part of this evolution of hardware, software, and payloads focusing on enterprise applications. Our Drone Nerds team loves crafting diverse options into comprehensive solutions and witnessing first-hand the efficiencies that drone technologies bring across many industries. It’s incredibly rewarding to see this accelerated growth,” says Drone Nerds CEO Jeremy Schneiderman.
For Heisha Tech, makers of battery charging and automation solutions for COTS drones, 2021 was a great year – and they expect 2022 to be even better. Heisha Tech CEO Lu Ling says that for fully automated drone systems, 2021 saw a lot of development. “In 2021, the drone in a box industry developed all kinds of resources and created the conditions to be ready for 2022. In 2022, we see more companies entering the market to launch new products, and more customers purchasing as BVLOS regulation is loosened around the world,” says Ling. “And, 5G drones will create a fast lane for the industry.”
Optelos provides data management solutions designed to make drone data more valuable to enterprise clients. In 2021, the drone industry moved to a new focus on value and actionable insights, says Chief Revenue Officer Edward Sztuka.
“In 2021 we saw the use of drones continue to expand in asset inspection applications across several industry verticals. Companies are going beyond the unstructured data generated by drones and increasingly seeking to transform that data into “actionable” insights to provide results that directly improve and streamline existing processes,” says Sztuka. “For the market to continue to expand, drone technology companies will need deliver vertical specific expertise and insights derived from drone collected data to deliver meaningful breakthroughs to their customers.”
SimActive, developers of the Correlator 3D™ suite of software, provides photogrammetry solutions for a wide range of industries: including surveying, construction, agriculture, forestry, and mining. As drone platforms and sensors continue to develop, says Dr. Philippe Simard, SimActive President, customers are getting more value from drone programs. “The technology is becoming mature with highly sophisticated sensors such as LiDAR being used more and more,” says Simard.
Skyfish is a U.S.-based manufacturer of precision drone solutions. Orest Pilskalns, CEO of Skyfish, says 2021 was a growth year for Skyfish – and agrees that the drone industry is maturing. “The industry matured just a little bit more, with more customer momentum than ever, and more scale was required.”
As the drone industry matures, Pilskalns sees more specialization in functionality of drone platforms. “The commercial drone industry use cases are becoming much more defined and verticalized,” says Pilskalns. “The value of ‘engineering-grade’ drone enabled photogrammetry is being recognized.”
“Engineers are now able to use drones to accurately inspect, measurement,and analyze critical infrastructure to satisfy regulatory requirements. As an example, with drone photogrammetry, Cellular Towers can now be accurately 3D modeled to produce engineering grade ‘mount maps’ that can be signed off on by regulators… and this was not the case last year.”
Teledyne FLIR makes the thermal sensors that drive a large and growing area of commercial drone use. From search and rescue to roof inspections, thermal imaging combined with unmanned systems offer incredible value and an ever-increasing field of opportunity.
New products and new use cases have defined 2021, says Kelly Brodbeck, Teledyne FLIR Product Management Executive. “Missions and technology are evolving together with features such as improved thermal imaging performance and functionality along with reduced weight, size, and cost,” says Brodbeck. “The alignment of needs and capabilities are supporting safer and more successful life-saving missions and more efficient industrial inspections.”
Dr. Will Austin, President of Warren County Community College, says that the pandemic provided a unique backdrop for the emergence of the drone industry in everyday work:
“2021 illustrated a remarkable emergence for the drone industry, as the pandemic provided time for many of the technology goals to be realized; now we just need the regulators back in 2022 to catch up with industry goals and all the newly realized AI enhancing the systems. Simultaneously, our society witnessed the mass rejection of dull, dangerous, and dirty work by those refusing to return as the pandemic diminished; leaving it to the drone industry to provide robotic solutions for employers to reignite our economy. It is likely that the drone industry will be recognized in future years as the entrepreneurial enterprise that allowed us to roar back to a new normal, as we redefine what the work standards shall be in the future.”
Finally, our friend Sami Sarkis, the brilliant artist behind the HosiHo Aerial Images site, summed it up beautifully: “It was the most hectic, erratic, unpredictable year we have ever had, but ultimately the best since 2014!”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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