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Alastair Hayfield Administrator
Senior Research Director – UK
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Alastair has over 10 years’ experience leading research activities in scaled, high-growth industrial and technology markets. At Interact Analysis he is responsible for electric trucks and buses, autonomous trucks and off-highway electrification. 

A series of important technology and infrastructure milestones are in reach which could enable the rapid growth and adoption of commercial UAVs.

In the latest Interact Analysis market research study – here – we have identified a series of technologies and the likely time and importance of them to the development of the commercial UAV market. Whilst many are used today, that use is limited, expensive or restricted by legislation. The chart below shows when we think these technologies will start to have a material impact on the commercial UAV market.

UAV Technology and Infrastructure Forecast

First Steps

Initially, and within relatively easy reach, are LiDAR (for sensing) and Sense & Avoid. Interact Analysis has written previously about LiDAR and the impact the automotive industry will have on its price and its ability to be used with UAVs. They are related and crucial technologies for autonomous operations – UAVs must be able to react to their operational environment without the input of an operator. These technologies are only moderately important – they have advantages, but it is what they enable that is critical.

Giant Steps

Of high importance are four technology and infrastructure developments – Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), UAS Traffic Management (UTM), autonomy and battery performance. The first three are related and dependent upon technological advances in sensing/processing and a favourable legislative environment.

In many industries, the use of machine intelligence is being used to increase levels of efficiency and automation. The commercial UAV market is no different – if UAVs could be flown without pilots/observers it would reduce operational costs and improve safety (it is assumed machines would be better able to avoid collisions, not get fatigued, etc.). As with other industries – for example, automotive – the real challenge for autonomy will be two-fold: societal and legislative. The general population needs to ‘feel’ confident that UAVs won’t crash and governments need to regulate in a way that allows the technology to flourish in a safe way.

UTM is critical for the UAV commercial market to reach its maximum potential. Using real-time communication and management systems, UAVs can be operated more safely in more locations. It is a positive that several public bodies are investigating UTM requirements and that several companies are offering airspace management solutions. However, we believe that the industry is still several years away from a global, harmonized UTM system that enables any drone to be flown with a high-level of safety in any location. In some applications, this will not be a problem – the current use of technology and legislation provides for safe, effective operations. In others – particularly those requiring BVLOS, shared airspace, or proximity to people/infrastructure – the current lack of global UTM standard will slow application growth since the safety and legislative burden will slow UAV uptake.

The technology and infrastructure is sufficiently developed to be used now. However, the legislative environment has yet to catch up. We expect that over the next five to ten years – as more UAVs are deployed and the use cases become very clear – the legislative environment will progress to allow for more widespread use of autonomous commercial UAVs. UTM and BVLOS operations will be key to this.

Battery technology is rapidly developing, driven by the consumer electronic market and the automotive market. Increases in performance mean that, in the next 5-10 years, we expect that electric powered drones will be able to rival some of the smaller, gasoline powered drones. This is important because gasoline powered drones tend to be expensive to purchase and maintain. An electrically powered rival would help to lower CAPEX and OPEX.

UAV swarms – those that are intelligent and aren’t simply following a pre-programmed route – are highly interesting but many years away from practical commercial use. The technology is complex and very much in the R&D phase; however, the capability for multiple drones to work together collaboratively on tasks without direct human intervention is transformational. Scenarios such as warehouse management or city monitoring require multiple tasks to be achieved in parallel, often in changing environments. Accuracy, speed and costs can likely all be improved by the use of reactive, autonomous swarms. Until the technology can be tested and developed, we believe it will have moderate impact on the overall commercial UAV market in the mid to long term.

If you’d like more information about this new market study, The Commercial UAV Market – 2017, please contact us at info@interactanalysis.com.

Posted by Alastair Hayfield

Alastair has over 10 years’ experience leading research activities in scaled, high-growth industrial and technology markets. At Interact Analysis he is responsible for electric trucks and buses, autonomous trucks and off-highway electrification. Read More