Commercial applications of drones are gradually increasing, and many enterprises are seeking regulatory permits for full-scale deployment of drones in their day-to-day operations. This optimistic outlook for drones is driving intense competition in the market with many companies, both established players and start-ups, vying for a share in a market that is set to enjoy strong growth over the next five years.
Listed below are the key macroeconomic trends impacting the drones industry theme, as identified by GlobalData.
Accounting for more than 70% of the global drone market, the government segment, comprising of military and law enforcement agencies, was the key demand generator for drones. Primarily used to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) activities, military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are currently being developed for a wide range of uses such as electronic attack (EA), strike missions, suppression/destruction of enemy air defences (SEAD), network nodes, communication relays, and combat search and rescue (CSAR). Demand for UAVs from military forces will continue to grow as the number of potential applications of drone technologies increases.
Drones emerged as a remote warrior in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Several nations including China, US, Australia, Germany, India, Chile, Indonesia, and Philippines have mobilised drones for a wide range of applications such as disinfecting indoor and outdoor places, surveillance and monitoring, and contactless deliveries of medicines and groceries. Also, broadcasting with loudspeakers attached to drones worked as a prospective communication method used to make important public announcements. In countries like China, Germany, Ghana, and Italy, drones were also deployed for the collection and transportation of patient samples, swabs, blood, plasma, and personal protective equipment (PPE) kits.
Drone technology will be adopted in industrial markets in the following domains: aerial inspection and monitoring; payload delivery; media and entertainment; and security. These applications will demand the integration of a range of technologies such as 3D, laser, acoustics, augmented reality (AR), computer vision, and cognitive tools. However, the growth of drone applications in commercial spaces will continue to be restricted by existing regulations and public concerns around safety, security, and privacy.
Industries which are set to exploit drones and associated technologies within the next 12 to 24 months include construction and real estate, oil and gas and mining, power and utilities, agriculture, and media and entertainment. Subsequently, the surge in drone-related investments will also be noted across the telecoms, insurance, retail, and logistics industries, over the next two to four years.
The global drones market is exceptionally competitive, with varied solutions and services being offered by numerous companies. Although full-scale application of drones in commercial airspaces is restricted mostly by regulatory frameworks and lack of effective traffic management systems, the potential market valuation from recreation and business operations is attracting companies from all information and communications technology (ICT) fields.
Drone manufacturers, component suppliers, software integrators, and prospective enterprise users all share a vested interest in collaboration in order to promote the adoption of drone technology. The commercial deployment of drones beyond pilot studies and proof-of-concept projects is held back by the sluggish pace at which regulations are being defined and adapted. This creates a common cause for multiple organisations to work together to influence the pace and direction of public policy with respect to drone technology.
Beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
In order to be truly effective, drones must be capable of operating at long distances from the controller. The ability to operate BVLOS is currently the most demanding challenge faced by commercial drone applications worldwide.
Under its ongoing unmanned aircraft systems traffic management (UTM) programme, which focusses on the control and management of unmanned aircraft, NASA is endeavouring to develop an efficient “detect and avoid” solution for drones, which will take advantage of onboard sensors and computers to safely avoid nearby traffic. Supported by NASA, a drone software integrator, Simulyze, has demonstrated its BVLOS and collision avoidance capabilities in its Mission Insight platform.
BVLOS operations are gradually gaining ground, with regulatory authorities granting approval in special use cases, albeit most often for experimental purposes at this point in time. For example, Switzerland and Sweden have permitted full scale BVLOS operations for SenseFly and Heliscope/Scopito respectively. Such initiatives by national regulatory bodies are encouraging drone industry participants to continue exploring BVLOS technologies and enabling development of an efficient drone management system.
Rise of China
China is currently the dominant country in the commercial drone market and is set to play a key role in reforming the industrial trends and regulations in the coming years. China is continuously investing in the development of drone capabilities for both military and commercial applications. The country’s latest development – Caihong 5 (CH-5) Rainbow – is being compared to the US Reaper and Israeli Heron TP, which are recognised to be the most advanced strike-capable military drones currently in service worldwide. Although China has demonstrated strike capable drones, deployments have so far been limited to non-combat zones.
China has delivered faster development of superior drones for enterprise applications.. As commercial demand for drones grows, the leading Chinese players are working to develop their ability to sell into, and provide services and support for, international markets. To maintain their market share in Western countries, Chinese firms are rapidly investing in technologies which are set to drive regulatory reforms for drone applications in commercial airspaces.
In order to promote R&D in Chinese drone technology, the country is also exploring the relaxation of its domestic airspace restrictions. According to the latest announcements by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the Chinese domestic drones market is set to be valued at 180 billion yuan ($25bn) by 2025. The MIIT has released guidelines to promote unified management systems for the domestic drone industry, strengthen the competitive edge in the international market, and foster the leading Chinese manufacturers. These guidelines represent a strong signal that the country is determined to challenge globally and enable its home-grown firms to solidify their market positions in future.
This is an edited extract from the Drones in Construction – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.