The new decade that began in 2020 has been plagued by economic recessions, lockdowns and social distancing. However, it has not all been bad news, and new technologies such as drones have certainly taken the opportunity to steal the spotlight. From early 2020 until the end of 2021, we have seen a lot of headlines about drone technology, particularly drone deliveries and passenger drones. So, as we kick off 2022 and prepare for ADW Hybrid 29-31 March, let’s visit some of the key topics and lessons to keep an eye out for the year.
One of the topics that has gained the most momentum over the past year has been air mobility. Passenger drones made headlines from the start in 2021 (with eHang stock), to the middle (when several companies reached a deal with SPACs), until the end (when Joby, Lilium, Archer, and Vertical Aerospace went public while Volocopter decided not to).
Many drone professionals know that these vehicles aren’t expected to hit the market until 2024 (at best), and even then, they will likely start being used more for cargo than for people. But the fact that average citizens are noticing this part of the drone industry (and getting excited about it) means that we in the industry also need to keep an eye on the topic. At the very least, it will help build a more positive image of drones in general for the public, and that is certainly a good thing.
Perhaps one topic that has made even more headlines this decade is drone delivery. Everything from delivery of vaccines, coffee, and organs to commentary on Amazon and DHL’s programs has been covered exponentially more and more throughout 2020 and 2021. Once again, the public eye might initially get the impression that drones will soon become rampant, delivering all day to every home, yet drone experts are aware of the limitations of last-mile delivery. Nevertheless, the potential of drone delivery will continue to make it a relevant topic. Once it is ramped up and scaled, it has the potential to transport goods at a much lower ecological footprint than cars. This is because of both the resources needed to operate and to produce e.g. a 5kg drone vs a 2,000kg car or even bigger helicopter (for emergency missions in developing countries).
Regarding developing countries, these also have the potential to leapfrog expensive and environmentally-unfriendly infrastructures. While some roads, bridges and train tracks will still be necessary, a lot of these may be avoided through the efficient use of drone technology. By transporting goods from A to B in a straight line rather than around/through mountains or lakes, developing countries will save on both the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, and this also benefits the environment.
In terms of drone security, we are at a point where computers were in the late 2000s: it’s great to have one but there is a growing threat of a virus or of being hacked. This scenario is more abstract than a full reality, and yet the truth is that drones are easier to manipulate/interfere with than computers were when they first started spreading. This threat also goes both ways: counter drone tech exploits “weak spots” in a drone, but drone delivery services need to make their systems secure enough to ensure undisturbed delivery. In other words, it’s a bit of a technological cat-and-mouse game where it is crucial for drones to avoid hacking because a few drones crashing could seriously damage the reputation and trust of a promising approach to create a sustainable and potentially life-saving solution.
Every new technology experiences an up-and-down-cycle from inflated expectations to disillusionment and back up to realistic expectations and productivity. Drones experienced this years ago. But the lack of necessary regulations has delayed a stable “plateau of productivity”. Some areas have had more traction (e.g. delivery), while others struggle in terms of adoption rate, but in general it’s great to see that drones are not a toy anymore. Commercial drones are participating in airspace, one of the most security-sensitive industries of all. Implementing them into airspace is difficult and creating frameworks allowing to truly scale drone operations is even harder, yet if we focus on what drone technology is already capable of (and actively doing), the above topics of mobility, sustainability, and cyber security will only help the global drone industry gain more momentum.
Droneii and ADW Hybrid
Droneii will share their latest insights during ADW Hybrid Tuesday 29 March 12.30 CEST at the ADW Xpert Theatre. For more information visit: https://www.amsterdamdroneweek.com/amsterdam-hybrid/