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Drones are rising, and might pull up much more than themselves

An autonomous Agro drone spraying insecticide. Image credit: AirBoard Agro

The drone landscape is really expanding like the Big Bang: in just a few years the drone ecosystem is now seeing more than a thousands companies (see the infographics in the second figure of this post. Yes, I know, it is impossible to read but you can get a bigger, and fully readable version here). I have been following Drone INdustry Insight over the last three years and enjoyed the map they create at the end of each year. It shows an exponential growth of the market, both in terms of companies, and, even more interesting for me, a growth in the areas of applications.

We now have Agro drones used to spray pesticides, like the one in the opening photo of this post. AirBoard Agro, the company selling that drone, claims an operation cost that is less than 50% of the cost of using a helicopter. The drone itself is way cheaper than an helicopter (Agro costs some 65,000$, four times less than the cheaper helicopter on the market) and can operate in a completely autonomous way, using a radar to localise the field and intelligent software to control the spraying. The onboard batteries provide 15′ flight time, sufficient to spray 2 acres with 65 litres of pesticide.

What I find intriguing observing the expansion of the drone landscape, hence the title of this post, is that their growing fields of application is stimulating more and more companies to enter the market and in turns this creates competition and lead to very rapid improvement.

Interestingly, these improvements have a fall out in many other areas. Digital cameras, to mention one, are being designed to be lighter and with software able to get stable movies, batteries also need to be as light as possible and yet to deliver more and more juice to cater for longer flights.

The use of drones by lay people, unexperienced as myself, require to focus on increasing the drone intelligence, something that is probably easier, and surely cheaper than trying to train people. This is stimulating the development of better and better sensors and better and better software.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this software will find a way into other autonomous systems, including self driving cars. The crucial advantage that drones have over other types of autonomous systems is the production volume (market size) and the continuous release of new generations, each slightly better than the preceding one.

An impressive map of the drones market landscape in 2018. It contains 1,000 companies addressing the various aspects of drone manufacturing, operation, service provisioning. Image credit: Drone Industry Insight

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.