In March 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it will start testing the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like drones at 300 air traffic facilities covering 500 airports in the US on incremental manner on April 30. This deployment is scheduled for completion by September 13, 2018. Commercial drone usage is expected to surge. This surge is being made possible in part by the LAANC system that is expected to automate the approval process of airspace authorization requests for operations in the entire US. In addition, FAA rules and regulations that clarified previously identified as potential issues are also assisting this growth. The FAA expects commercial drones to grow fourfold within 4 years from 110,000 to 450,000 units in the air in 2022. But the impact on IT and cloud service providers is expected to be much larger.
Drones have long been in a trial phase for business use in various industries – delivering foods, packages & medical goods, monitoring agricultural crops and fields, responding to disasters, inspecting facilities, monitoring worker safety and mapping/surveying landscape to list a few. Powered by cloud platforms and the increasing availability of software applications, drones are able to function as robots in the air generating an enormous amount of data to feed cloud storage space and big data analytics.
Growing Usage of Imaging Apps
Photography and video are major drone applications. According to the FAA, 43% of commercial drone usage is for taking aerial photos, films and videos. Photos and videos are already must-have items for almost all industries for marketing materials, brochures, how-to-use videos, and so on. Increasing usage of social medias for marketing among businesses in any size has also been fueling the trend. In the realm of social media today, eye-catching visual materials are must have while the role of language is decreasing.
Virtual reality (VR) is still in the nascent stage. But it should be easy for everyone to foresee that it will play an important role in various fields in the near future – not just gaming, but we have already started to see its usage in tourism, entertainment and industrial design. The role of drones in the VR field is almost limitless.
The significance of these trends for cloud service providers is the data volume that drone operations will generate. Generally, image files are much larger than regular document files. In addition, an increasing number of commercial grade drones are equipping 4K cameras with 360-degree view for superior image quality. Drone photos will be a key driver for cloud storage consumption as, on average, a 4K video file is nearly 10 times larger than that of the standard definition.
Vertical Expansion and Applications
The core functions of drones in the traditional sense are transporting and monitoring. But their operation areas are widening. Power and energy companies, manufacturers and insurance companies are using drones for inspecting facilities. Telecommunication carriers are using drones to carry cellular network, especially in the isolated remote areas and disaster sites. Also, drones are convenient tools to manage inventory in huge warehouse facilities.
There is even a case where drones are used for time management by monitoring employees and work sites within an office building to reduce unnecessary overtime. This may look a bit awkward and employees may feel uncomfortable to be monitored but as insider threats by malicious users or employees are increasingly recognized as a major security concern, it will not be surprising to see drones hovering overhead in offices in the future.
Drone-Related Solution Providers
There are several players providing cloud-based drone tools for commercial use. Most of such tools are equipping functions of autopilot, data management, processing, analytics, planning and reporting. Most pricing are subscription models and quite affordable even for small businesses.
Key ISVs specializing in drone-related solutions include:
|Drone LogBook||NV Drones|
|Microsoft UAV simulator (an open source aerial informatics and robotics platform for engineers/designers to test and train machines)|
Mapping and Data Processing
|Avision Robotics||GeoCue Group||Skydio|
|Bentley||Maps Made Easy||SLANTRANGE|
|Botlink||Pix4D||Uplift Data Partners|
The market landscape is already quite crowded and M&As and vertical expansion strategies have already taken place. Verizon acquired Skyward in February 2017. This pairing is a good marriage of a wireless network and the aerial app. DroneDeploy is pursuing vertical expansion via launching App Market to integrate its solutions with external apps such as Audodesk and John Deere to appeal to manufacturers and farmers.
Commercial drones are clearly becoming a key market dynamic in the cloud landscape at the dawn of IoT era. IoT solution vendors and cloud service providers should gear in on these players.
~ Yuki Uehara, Senior Director