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Three million personal and commercial drones to ship this year

Research from Gartner sees no let-up in drone sales despite increasing regulation

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Global shipments of personal and commercial drones will rise by 39% this year, despite increasing, and necessary, regulation of the market by civil aviation authorities, according to new research from analyst house Gartner.

Gartner’s analysts predicted that 2.9 million drones would be shipped worldwide this year – 2.8 million for consumer use and 174,000 for commercial use. This will represent total revenues of $6.05bn (£4.81bn) – $2.36bn from personal drones and $3.68bn from commercial devices.

Gartner said cheaper and lighter personal drones priced below $5,000, capable of flying for no more than 5km or one hour and with their flight height constrained to about 500m, would gain popularity as an extension of consumer smartphone devices. They will continue to be typically used for taking video and photographs, and even sport.

Meanwhile, the commercial drone market, which has a significantly higher average selling price, will stabilise as more countries settle on effective regulation, and more companies feel confident to test and deploy the technology.

Commercial drones tend to have higher payloads, be capable of longer and higher flight, and have enhanced safety technology. They are also more specialised for functions such as mapping, delivery or asset inspection.

But Gartner senior research analyst Gerald Van Hoy said the commercial and personal drone markets were increasingly overlapping as some businesses preferred to use lower-priced equipment for commercial ventures.

“Personal drone suppliers are now aggressively trying to position themselves in the commercial market,” said Van Hoy. “Recent technological advances blur the lines, allowing personal drones to be used in many special-purpose applications, such as surveillance, 3D mapping and modelling.”

Other case studies are rapidly coming to light around commercial drones, showing savings in costs and time, and highlighting the increasing accuracy and quality of the technology.

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Although agriculture was predicted to be the first big commercial drone market, pricing and the economic dynamics around tightening crop yields and return on investment (ROI) mean farming will account for only 7% of commercial market growth up to 2020, said Gartner.

Delivery drones, which were also predicted to take off and have been tested in the UK by Amazon, captured the popular imagination but will not become a major market factor for some time, again because ROI with regard to cost and operation of the drone versus a single customer delivery has yet to be proven satisfactorily.

“Delivery drones will be mired in logistical issues like the time needed to return a drone to its origin point after delivery, and will amount to less than 1% of the commercial market by 2020,” said Van Hoy. “We expect that delivery drones will begin finding a niche in business-to-business applications first, particularly for internal services within one company, where logistics will not be such a big factor.”

The market sweet spot will prove to be drone use for industrial asset inspection around oil and gas, energy, and infrastructure and transportation. This area will be much more lucrative than previously thought because most asset inspections are at close range and low-height drone use is less affected by new regulations. This segment will account for 30% of the market through to 2020, said the researchers.

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