According to a post by McKinsey on their website, investment in unmanned aerial systems is soaring, but challenges remain. Here’s what stakeholders need to know about the evolving landscape.
Most people think of a drone, also known as an unmanned aerial system (UAS), as a sophisticated military technology or a hobbyist’s tool for capturing images of foliage, sporting events, and cityscapes.
But businesses across industries realize that drones have multiple commercial applications, some of which go beyond basic surveillance, photography, or videos, and they are already using them to transform daily work in some industries. Insurance companies are using drones to inspect damaged assets, for instance, and farmers are sending them to monitor crops and collect soil data. Even more dramatic changes could be in store as innovators explore new uses, including drone-delivery services for retail stores and air taxis for commuters.
The United States has been a particularly strong source of commercial growth, with the value of drone activity rising from $40 million in 2012 to about $1 billion in 2017.1 By 2026, we estimate that commercial drones—both corporate and consumer applications—will have an annual impact of $31 billion to $46 billion on the country’s GDP.2 Developments within the United States could thus signal how commercial drone usage and investment will proceed in other markets. (This article focuses on the growing commercial market, as the military-, security-, and intelligence-applications markets are already advanced.)
As with any new industry, the UAS market could take some unexpected turns. Investment is soaring, but many companies are directing their funds to untested applications. Take air taxis, which are drawing much press attention. These technologies are still in early development, and public acceptance is uncertain. Other hurdles involve regulatory approval and infrastructure. Government officials will not rubber-stamp a proposal for unpiloted flights, nor will cities automatically invest in infrastructure for drone takeoffs, landings, and storage. The situation with air taxis may be extreme, but similar issues could arise with any UAS application.