Spinning into the Future: What’s in Store for the Future of Drones?

Dreaming of the day when drones will deliver pizzas and walk our dogs? Well, those days may come sooner than you think . . .

Friends, we’ve been lied to.

As card-carrying tech freaks, we’ve all been sold a promise of flying cars, jet packs, and hoverboards. But look what we’ve actually got—two-wheeled skateboards and Teslas. We’re not saying these things are worthless, but seriously, WE. NEED. TOYS. THAT. FLY.

And you know what? Drones just might be our savior.

Drones have been a dream since before the Wright brothers ever took flight and they’re still bringing the dream of flight to the common man. With today’s powerful souped-up telemetry systems, killer FPV rigs, and high-end photo options, drones have become an obvious choice for hobbyist fliers. They’ve come a long way even in the last five years, and who could possibly guess where they’ll be in another 20?

Well, we’re going to give it our best shot.

drone flying above the seas during sunset

It’s fair to say that drone technology is crushing it right now. From hobbyist fliers to farmers to the military, everyone has a use UAVs. But here’s the problem. How is anyone supposed to know when’s a good time to invest in a new right? With improvements coming every year it can be hard to know if you’re investing in gear that will keep you happy over the long haul.

woman smiling while holding a drone wire

Hanna Timberlake, test engineer at Hanscom’s Space Fence program office; Image by Benjamin Newell via U.S. Air Force

Nobody wants to invest their hard-earned cash into a new drone system or new components just to learn that the sickest new tech is ready to drop in two weeks. We get it. Obsolescence is part of the deal whether you’re looking at drones or mountain bikes. But we all want to get the absolute best bang for our buck, right?

person navigating a flying drone

Well, here’s some good news. There are predictable trends coming down the line in the drone market and you can jump on board early. Nobody really knows what’s in store for the future of drones, but in this article, we’ll give you some of our best guesses. First, let’s break down some topics we’ll hit about the future of drones:

drone infographic

Before we start thinking about the future of drones, let’s wind back the clock for a quick history lesson . . .

Drone-Tech Rewind

Drones have been front of mind of aviation innovators practically since people first looked at birds. It has taken us a while, but we’re reaching a time in which drones are not only clever but also powerful and practical. The future of drones is indeed looking bright, but the Rome of our aviation dreams wasn’t built in a day.

leonardo da vinci drone sketch

Leonardo da Vinci helicopter drawing; Image from PD-US by Leonardo da Vinci via Wikimedia Commons

Then and Now

The future of drones is paved with the brilliant ideas of some clever (and damn stubborn) inventors. Here are some key moments in drone history:

Key Moments in Drone History

Dreaming of the Future of Drones

Since we mentioned the future of drones, let’s consider some trends that are currently fueling the drone biz.

The Future of Drones

We’re lucky to be living in a time of ridiculous technological advancement. But few sectors of the drone world have benefitted quite like aerial photography . . .

Changing the Way Our Cameras Click

Cameras and drones go together like beer and pretzels. Or really any two things that go well together. Both the photo and the drone worlds have made huge advancements in the last decade and paired up they make a powerful tool that is revolutionizing a beloved art form. Let’s look at some ways photography is likely to impact the future of drones.

Drone Artistes

There was a time in the not so distant past that drone cameras were just a novelty. I mean, why not slap a camera on the shaky toy that’s zipping up over the house, right? These days, however, drone cameras have improved to the point that photographers are beginning to see drones as a tool for art. Look for drone photography to become more widely accepted as high-art as camera resolutions and drone stabilization improve.

flying drone with attached camera

Looking Through a New Lens

One of the major knocks on drone cameras today is the lack of lens choices. Any true photographer will probably want to use a wide selection of lenses to their best possible work. Today that’s just not possible. With better batteries and more lifting power though drones will have the capacity to carry larger cameras that may have swappable lenses. And this is just one way that versatility will improve.

camera lenses

Possible Shots from Impossible Angles

Even the best photographers can’t fly. Taking photos from a helicopter is great an all, but who has the budget for that? As drone cameras continue to improve photographers will have access to shot angles and locations that would be impossible even with a helicopter. Smart features like object avoidance and stabilization will also help keep massively expensive camera gear from smashing into stuff. Which is great!

drone over the city

The future of drones is inextricably linked with photography. But there’s another industry where it’s probably even more valuable.

Defending Borders and Skies

For a lot of people, the word “drone” conjures images of stealthy mini-planes dropping bombs from a mile up in the sky. And those people aren’t wrong. Drones have become one of the most important weapons for advanced military arsenals. So it’s safe to say that the future of drones will also be largely driven by the defense industry. Here’s how:

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and F-16 Fighting Falcon

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and F-16 Fighting Falcon; Image by 1st Lt. Shannon Collins via U.S. Air Force

A Global Tool

With more producers cranking out military-grade drones expect countries around that world to stock up. Nations with expanding military capabilities including India and South Korea have already committed billions of dollar towards drone purchases in the coming years. Drone strikes are likely to remain a contentious issue in global politics, but they could grow more frequent.

Indian air force pilots after landing at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii

Indian air force pilots after landing at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Image by Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo, U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia Commons

On the Borderlands

Drones are growing more popular as a defense tool around the world, but they’re also playing a bigger role in American domestic security. As a national debate rages over immigration and border security issues US defense agencies are planning to beef up drone fleets on the borders. Customs and Border Security actually began testing small surveillance drones back in 2017 both on the southern and northern borders.

border patrol riding atv and woman being intercepted

We’re Going Fully Automatic

The biggest and most lucrative development for the drone market will be a move towards fully automated UAVs. Most of the drones currently in use by the military and government agencies are partially automated. This means they can fly on their own, but only to a point. Manufacturers are already investing millions to develop drones that can safely accomplish missions without the need for a human attendant.

drone over the mountains

The military may have a big hand in the future of drones, but what does this mean for lowly consumer drone pilots?

Drone Pilot Trends

The times they are a-changin’. In the good old days, like five years ago, the choices were few and drone technology was still young. These days drone pilots have a huge range of options but increased popularity also brings increased scrutiny. The future of drones is sure to bring some changes for dedicate drone pilots. These are just a few of them.

DRL Pilot Moke flying FPV during the 2016 Season's Level 1

DRL Pilot Moke flying FPV during the 2016 Season's Level 1: Miami Nights at Miami Sun Life Stadium; Image by Melanie Wallner via Wikipedia

Big Brother Is Watching

One of the biggest changes likely coming down the pike for drone pilots is FAA regulation. There are currently several proposals that would bring a mandatory registration for all drones into law. This would impact not only the commercial big boys but also you and your weekend flying buddies. This might sound like a real pain, but don’t worry there’s good news too

Sedona No Drone Zone

Sedona No Drone Zone; Image from Coconino National Forest via Flickr

Decisions, Decisions

The FAA is considering greater regulations for drones because there are more drones. This not only suggests good things for the future of drones but for drone pilots. With new drone makers and new technology hitting the market each year, the drone industry has proven itself hugely viable. And you know that means? That’s right . . . more cool drone companies to choose from.

quadcopters on display

Leader or the Pack

While there are sure to be plenty of newcomers to the drone industry, a few of the stalwarts are sure to stick around. DJI, for example, has been an industry leader for nearly a decade and have found a way to continue pushing the future of drones. We’d be lucky to see a few new names come in and drive innovation. But don’t expect any of the old standbys to exit stage right.

drone lying on the ground

Drones: Primed for Delivery

Drones had a true moment in the sun a few years ago when Amazon announced their plans to start using small UAVs for package delivery.

Yeah, we were also wondering what ever happened with that . . .

Needless to say, Jeff Bezos and company haven’t exactly blotted out the sun with their drone fleet. Let’s check in with that story and see if Amazon is still primed to become a huge player in the future of drones.

Method to the Madness

Many critics chalked Amazon Air as little more than a publicity stunt for the online megastore. As it turns out though, Amazon saw a dual opportunity with the future of drones. Sure, it’s a good look for the company to do something innovative. But the end goal is to kick up efficiency by taking packages out of as many human hands as possible.

amazon fulfillment center

Amazon Fulfillment Center; Image from Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Tony Webster via Flickr

Testing . . . 1, 2, 3 . . .

It has not been smooth flying for Amazon Air quite yet. They initially crashed headlong into a series of FAA regulations and are still ironing out things like, uhh, weather. The project is alive and well, however, and they are currently testing various models of drones in mixed weather conditions. Their current systems are totally autonomous and rely heavily on obstacle avoidance software.

The Proof Is in the Rotors

Thus far Amazon hasn’t given a prospective launch date for their package-lugging drone fleet. There is some speculation that customers close to a fulfillment center could start seeing the service as early as 2020, but Bezos and crew are staying tight-lipped. What we do know is that with testing sites in the US, UK, Israel, France, and Austria, Amazon’s really not kidding about this. But who else is betting hard on the future of drones?

Future Tech: Forward Thinking, Forward Flying

From farmers to firefighters, there are a lot of professionals out there who are banking on the future of drones. Really, how many industries couldn’t benefit from awesome little flying computers? We know that the defense industry and tech sector are gaga over these gadgets, but let’s look at a few other industries that may benefit from drones in the future.

Drones in Uniforms

With the addition of high-powered add-ons life thermal cameras and GPS telemetry, drones have become a key tool for law enforcement and safety teams. Cops and firefighters are already using custom-built drones to aid in search and rescue operations. Soon, however, drones may also become a go-to choice for supply drops to people stranded during natural disasters.

Taking Flight for Food

Farmers may not be the first people that come to mind when you think about the future of drones. But they should be. Drones are rapidly growing as a key tool for commercial agriculture operations to collect data and learn more about their crops. Using things like color sensing technology, large-scale farms can detect unwanted variations in their crops and make quick adjustments to water and pesticide levels before it’s too late.

drone surveying in the farmland

Amazon’s Not Alone . . .

Amazon may be leading the charge for drone package delivery, but they’re far from alone. Other sectors of the consumer industry like food delivery are also exploring how drones can become a part of their future plans. Soon you may not need to worry about having cash to tip the pizza the guy.

woman holding open pizza on a box

The future of drones will probably have an even greater industrial impact than we know. And drones are already changing the cultures around us.

Drones All Around Us

Isn’t it crazy that the world existed without the Internet? In this interconnected age, it’s sometimes hard to even imagine the ways in which technology has changed the world. Drones probably won’t change the world the same the Internet has, but there are signs that they are already changing our lives. Think we’re kidding? Consider these examples.

Conservation from Above

Wildlife conservation officials are using drones in innovative ways to help maintain and grow critical animal populations. This is especially true in some African nations where authorities have successfully used drones to monitor endangered species and bring poachers to justice. Technology has always played a hand in wildlife conservation and the future of drones might make that hand even bigger.

Tidy Up That Airspace

Drones are making a positive impact on some aspects of culture, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Irresponsible drone pilots have caused costly delays and shutdowns to commercial air traffic at major airports including London’s Gatwick airport and Newark Liberty in New Jersey. Delays like these are forcing the FAA to not only consider mandatory drone permits but also limited airspace options.

Runway Vierstrahlig Cityjet Stockholm-bromma

Drones are Athletes Too!

If things are fun and move fast then humans will probably figure out a way to race them, right? Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Drone Racing League. In just a few short years the DRL has racked up over 100 million views through its broadcasts on network television in 80 different countries. The league is bringing huge swaths of fans together and also attracting advertisers like, you guessed it, the US Air Force.

The Future of the Skies?

It’s clear that drones are already starting to make cultural waves, but can they really be the next big thing in our airspace? We’re a long way from considering drones a normal part of everyday human life. But let’s consider a few clues that suggest drones could be next frontier for global aviation.

Data is King. Drones May Hold the Crown.

If there’s one thing that Amazon has taught us it’s that data is worth a lot of money. Drones have not quite fully reached their potential for data collection, but when they do watch out. As technologies like facial recognition and pinpoint GPS accuracy evolve drones could serve as a goldmine for businesses that trade in data and analytics. Especially when they all have massive hard drives.

Smart Tech Getting Smarter

Drones are already loaded with some impressively powerful tech, but they’ll only get more powerful. The future of drones seems to be on an inevitable collision course with AI technology and predictive analytics. When these two spheres of the tech world meet we could see a whole new breed of ultra-smart drones capable of taking on very sophisticated tasks. And then watch the money flow.

Follow the Money

Where there’s money there’s a future and some market analysts are predicting that drones could generate over $17 billion by 2024. With financials like that the drone industry is bound to gain some pretty hefty investors in the coming years. Nobody knows for sure what will happen on the tech side of the drone industry. But whatever happens, it sounds like there will be a whole lot of money involved.

Drone Prophet – Our Top Predictions

Drones are an indispensable part of life for governments and hobbyists alike and there is no sign that they’re going away. So what are our top guesses about what the future holds for drones? Drum roll please....

child holding a bubble ball on his hands

Let the Good Times Rotate

It’s unclear if drones will make a lasting impact on businesses like Amazon. What’s clear is that people love flying these things. Consumer manufacturers like DJI and Parrot have been cranking out new and innovative designs for years and recreational interest is very likely to increase. As drones get better and easier to fly, we think more new drone pilots will take to the air every year.

man tossing a drone on the air

New Tech, New Laws

If the skies start filling with little whirlybirds, then get ready for a lot more regulation. While there are plenty of tax dollars Uncle Sam could probably rake in from drone permitting, it’s not just about dollars and cents. Until we have a totally safe, fully automated aviation industry with a clean safety record there’s just no way that drone pilots can fly freely wherever they want.

lighthouse airport tower

Drone Jobs for the Win

Drones could play a key role in the future of some industry sectors. Once that happens, it will become critical that there are qualified drone pilots and technicians ready to keep these little beauties up flying safely and consistently. Right now there are some private sector jobs for drone experts but expect the need to grow in the future. And fast.

person trying to hold a drone

Don’t Hold Your Breath

So now you know our best guesses for the future of drones. But what about the total pipe dreams? What about the dreamland tech that we probably won’t see for a hundred years (or ever)?

Well, first and foremost, don’t get too excited about actually ordering pizza for drone delivery. Pizzas are fragile, ya know? They’ll probably get all mangled in the air. You’ll also end up with cold pizza. And that sucks.

We’re also pretty sure you shouldn’t plan on flying yourself around on a drone. We know, we know. People are out there working on it. But until you have a half-million dollars to buy one it might be better to just go skydiving.

We Have Lift Off

Full disclosure — we don’t actually have a crystal ball or any real wizard skills at all. Fortunately, you don’t need either of those to know that the future of drones is going to be awesome. Whether you’re a military pilot and just a kid who has been saving their allowance, a drone can fulfill the dream of aviation in a way that humans have never known. So fire up those rotors and flip down your goggles. It’s time to hit the skies.

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