At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the 50th anniversary of the giant tech trade show, the launch of a range of new and improved technologies is expected, including self-driving cars, advanced wearables, personal robots, and cutting-edge virtual reality devices. But perhaps standing out from all of these exciting technologies are drones with pundits insisting that 2017 will be the year of the done.
Already a market leader, DJI is considered by some so advanced as to blow the rest of the competition out of the water. However, experts believe the market is broad enough for new innovations of various shapes, sizes, and abilities to successfully enter the fray. With a range of categories still open to drone developers, from racing to indoor to underwater to name a few, we’re likely to see competitors offering both mimicking challenger products at lower prices, as well as embellished devices hoping to catch the consumer’s eye, and entirely distinctive pioneering models offering the market a brand new idea to get excited about.
But though drones will certainly fare well in an exhilarated consumer market, predictions for drone application are far more diverse. 2017 could see drones operated in government sectors for a variety of functions from energy applications and monitoring to security management and inspection, though rules and policies will first have to be devised and implemented. On the commercial side, we’re already seeing drones used for delivery services; though still at the early stages, it might not be long before drone/consumer interaction grows via this mechanism. Drone delivery does, however, still involve a fair number of limitations, not least of all the weight loads possible, nor the distracting idea of drone flight paths buzzing over all of our heads; and we’re perhaps not all ready to say goodbye to the friendly delivery person who hands packages over at safe and convenient times, to be replaced by tech that merely drops parcels somewhere in our yards.
The spread of drone technology will, however, be restricted by regulations, along with cyber threats, for some time to come with the FAA’s rules regarding commercial unmanned aerial vehicles insisting that drones stay within the navigator’s sight and not fly over people. This does, of course, significantly affect the usefulness of drones for delivery purposes. Currently, regulations also limit drone applications with regards to autonomous functions which, though potentially ground-breaking initiatives, aren’t allowable under the existing FAA rules.
Despite some restrictions created by current regulations, it’s expected that we’ll start to see many corporate giants investing in and making use of drone technology. Venture capital investment may wane this year, but already telecoms companies and consumer electronic giants are seriously investigating drone tech, and we’re seeing greater spend and more partnerships develop in the area. Uber’s first Elevate Summit, to be held later this year, will highlight one of the more extraordinary potentials of drone technology; after publishing their first flying car white paper in 2016, Uber and a small community of stakeholders interested in low-altitude airspace will be investigating, and likely financing, a very novel vision of future transportation.
For the time being, we’re not likely to have more than around 5,000 drones in the air globally at any one moment, but predictions of quadruple this number by year end are becoming popular. As cities adapt to our new technologies, the regulations and possibilities for drone use will open up, and of course we can also count on the prices of the tech dropping, putting it within reach of far more users. And so, in 2017, whether consumer, corporate or state market, it seems drones will become a regular feature with room for much excitement and innovation.
By Jennifer Klostermann