Ziv Marom, founder and CEO, ZM Interactive Inc.
This last year brought truly unprecedented challenges to our industry, as well as ample opportunities.
While we saw most major events canceled and growth stifled in some programs, and even companies shutting their doors for good, we also saw attitudes change toward UAV technologies as everyday consumers saw the potential for drones to assist in the coronavirus response.
Here in the US where I am based, we also closed out 2020 with the FAA releasing two long awaited drone rules to advance safety and innovation in the US.
I’m more excited than ever about the future of the drone industry, and I’m not alone – almost half of the respondents to a recent survey were optimistic about where the industry is headed in 2021.
The entrepreneurs in this space are some of the most creative and agile in the world, so I’m sure we will be in for some exciting surprises as well, but these are the industries and trends I am confident will thrive in 2021.
Disruption of Traditional Industries
While some industries ground to a halt with the first wave of shutdowns, we counted on our essential workers in infrastructure, construction, and oil and gas to keep those critical operations fully functioning. The backbone of our day-to-day life, we’ll begin to see drones making these critical jobs safer and more efficient.
In construction, a new generation of heavy-lift drones that can lift thousands of pounds are arriving and will replace some cranes, reduce worker injuries and make these busy work sites safer and more adaptable.
When it comes to inspections for the oil and gas industry, drones are key and they’re already getting approvals from regulators. There are an estimated 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines throughout the United States alone. Every mile of those lines must be monitored to meet industry standards and protect the public – but the job is risky and done by pilots who must fly small planes at a low altitude, often in dangerous conditions.
In the past drones may have been held back by their limited flight times, but now we’re seeing drones that can fly for up to eight hours at a time – making them more efficient than human pilots with Cessnas and helicopters for linear infrastructure inspection. In 2021 we’ll see true routine commercial infrastructure inspections.
Human Lives and Property Saved
One of the most exciting applications of drone technology is their ability to assist in emergency operations and save lives. We’ve seen drones assist in organ delivery for transplant patients and partnerships to bring them into lifesaving search and rescue operations.
In 2021 we will see these types of life saving drone flights finally become more common and predictable. For example, following several historic fire seasons in California, firefighters in the state are now trained to use ZM Interactive’s xFold heavy-lift drones to drop massive fire extinguisher bombs.
Innovation in Transportation
In 2021 flying cars and drone taxis will continue to grow in popularity and demand as consumers begin to see drones and autonomous technology as the safest option for travel. But autonomous flying vehicles whisking us away to run errands and get to work are still some years out – based only on regulatory hurdles, since the technology is rapidly maturing.
To someday reach the typical consumer in the form of taxis and passenger transport, this space will first advance in 2021 by leaps and bounds in the industrial and military side with cargo delivery, including to sea vessels, as well as search and rescue applications that fly people to safety with drones.
Security – Eyes in the Sky
2020 brought extreme volatility to the worldwide economy, which also increased the demand for security and surveillance across all sectors. Drones are already being used to keep an eye on facilities and operations from above because they provide an obvious value – they can cover more ground than their ground-based counterparts while being smaller, cheaper and more efficient than other manned aircraft like a helicopter. They’re already popular with police departments and military operations.
In 2021 we’ll see a shift towards home owners using small drones to provide an aerial view of their homes and properties. A remote drone that autonomously launches itself and flies the perimeter of the property to identify and alert a potential break in will be the fastest way to take action to protect homeowners’ property and family. This technology is already here, we are now waiting for the regulations to allow it without an actual pilot in private properties.
Pace of Regulatory Change
As someone who has worked in the autonomous vehicle industry for a number of years, it’s really exciting to see the regulatory changes that are finally allowing the technology to progress at a noticeably faster clip.
I know we have a way to go until UAVs take over some of the most essential tasks, but I’ve never been more confident about where the industry is headed and the people working to make it happen.