Hobby drone today; commercial enterprise tomorrow…

Do you have a fleet of one or more drones which you are so crazy about you cannot stop playing with them every chance you get?

They are your new dog or new cat. Your pain killer. Your oasis in the middle of the desert. Your vaccine in the age of a raging pandemic.

Are your recreation drones the love of your life?

If so, then you must be on to something – because according to research company DroneAnalyst, it is from these hobbyist activities that many commercial drone operations have sprouted from.

After all, didn’t Apple start out of a garage or something?

But DroneAnalyst should have the right of it, though – they are a research company after all. We know that Abdoulaziz Kountche – whose drone service start-up, Drone Africa Service is flying places from its base in Niger – was just following his childhood passion, which saw him build model aeroplanes from a very tender age.

Until somebody challenged him to build an aircraft with a camera attached to it. Then the dream became real.

Maybe the hobby domain is a good place to start – it will just be you and your dreams and passions, and you are not worried about money and markets and business prospects and… making money. It is just you. And your big idea. And when that idea grows big enough, the money will follow, at least as told by the many veterans of the drone industry who spoke to the researchers.

“Many drone industry veterans have stories of a drone program starting from an employee bringing their personal drone to work,” wrote David Benowitz, the Head of Research at Drone Analyst. “Or a utility company where budget for a small drone fleet is kept just below limits that require management approval.

“I have heard more of these “unofficial” stories of drone adoption than I can recount. And through our recent DroneAnalyst 2020 Market Sector Report, we’ve seen that this is more than a personal observation.  “Bottom-up” means of adoption have founded 68 percent of all business and agency drone programs.”

Most drone start-ups came from humble beginnings. Source: DroneAnalyst

Bottom-Up Beats Top-Down

The researchers from DroneAnalyst spoke to 500 respondents in the drone industry, 68 percent of whom confirmed that they founded their enterprises through the less official route where they had to fail upwards.

“Correcting for multiple choice responses, we saw that 68% of drone programs were founded through less official, “bottom-up” approaches and just 25 percent from “top-down” ones,” the statement says of the findings. “Chief among these “bottom-up” approaches were a hobbyist bringing their interest and at times even their personal drone to work. This commercial drone adoption trend is consistent across all industries and regions.

“Most notable is the small role innovation departments have played, leading to just twelve percent of drone programs. Innovation departments only helped found a significant portion drone programs in the oil and gas industry.

How long will hobbyists driving the industry last?

Apparently as long as the industry needs them? Then after that, they could be toast.

DroneAnalyst reckons that, while the trend for hobbyists turning commercial may be expected in the early days of any new industry, the assumption is that the time will come for a reversal, especially as solutions mature and the return on investment (ROI) of drone-powered solutions become better established. The solutions today are rudimentary compared to the autonomous, drone-in-the-box data acquisition solutions dreamed up by innovation departments.

This data shows that the drone industry has risen despite this solution immaturity. Hobbyist pioneers have turned today’s drones into piloted data capture tools, helping to fund future innovations through their purchases.

Despite expectations that this trend will shift long-term, it will not be here for some time yet. Drone programs founded in the past year were more likely to be driven by “bottom-up” approaches, not less.

“We are just now seeing a shift towards more autonomous solutions and regulations catching up to enable their use. The first group of Level 4 autonomous drone solutions became available in 2020. We’ll be paying close attention to how this trend shifts as the technology and stakeholders adapt.”

So, go on and keep playing with your little sUAS toys. The next big drone idea might come from your tinkering.


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