The world of electronics in general has been evolving in leaps and bounds, constantly in a state of change that is governed by consumer interest. Something that might seem a far-fetched novelty today might be the talk of the town tomorrow, and a simple science project might see itself making a market for itself!
A perfect instance in this regard would be the drone market. Originally built for military purposes, drones and other forms of quad and hexacopters are not just carving a niche for themselves – they’re building a whole sector. And that is the crux of my article here: The consumer drone market – what do the number signify, who are the key players in this segment and what the forecasts look like!
EASING INTO THE BASICS – WHY DRONES?
Consumer drones are primarily flying RC based vehicles which may come equipped with cameras. They come in a wide range of sizes – nano, mini, micro or even large ones – and they can be either quadcopters or hexacopters. They have varied flight range, power, speed, ruggedness and more advanced features which can make them dirt cheap or mighty expensive.
Speaking out of personal experience, when I brought my first (and only, till now) drone, a few friends found it funny that a grown up guy still buys toys. In fact, a large portion of the consumer drone market is designed specifically for hobbyists and flight enthusiasts, which does not really give the drone a large gamut of usage. Ergo, the moniker “toy”.
But delve deeper, and drones are finding their uses quite abundantly, in various sectors:
Precision Agriculture: Used in the Golden Prairie to capture the soil and growth information on thousands of acres of organic millet crops in Colorado, USA.
Infrastructure Inspection: Used in San Diego to inspect electric and gas lines.
Mining: Barrick Gold, Imerys and Rio Tinto use drones for pit surveys, stockpile management and road analysis.
Disaster Response: Drones helped in assessing the damage and relief efforts in Nepal after the recent earthquake.
Film Making: Drones equipped with cameras, and with special stabilisers and gimbals incorporated, are used for advanced photography and filming.
All these uses, combined of course with the ever increasing enthusiast and drone hobbyist communities, ensure that drones are steadily growing.
A valid indicator of the scenario of things till now would come in the form of the market statistics in this regard. A statistic from KPCB shows the global consumer drone market in terms of revenues and shipments. The estimate suggests that about 4.3 million drones would be shipped in 2015, which accounts for a whopping 167% year-over-year growth in a span of just two years, accounting for a net revenue of $1.7 billion.
Zooming into the region wise revenue, we see a majority of drones being brought by the U.S. market. Europe and China come at the heels of USA, and it is quite evident that the market for drones is growing in these regions in particular.
There are a lot of companies and brands within the drone segment, but when it comes to naming the biggest players, three brands stand out: DJI, Parrot and 3D Robotics.
DJI has carved a niche for itself as being a market leader as far as camera equipped drones are considered. Their Phantom line in particular comes with top of the line flight stabilisers and control mechanisms, and these factors along with the advanced camera technology makes these drones perfect for film making.
Parrot is a French company that makes varied kinds of drones – mostly ones which can fly as well as act as RC land vehicles too. An interesting thing to note about Parrot is that their presence has extended beyond their own turf: some Apple stores are also collaborating with the drone manufacturer to sell their drones in their retail outlets.
3D Robotics is a younger player in the drone business. Based out of USA, the company manufacturing in drones has received quite a few round of investments from venture capitalists, technology firms and entrepreneurs alike. In the last two round of funding – in February and April 2015 – the company raised a total of $64 million.
Let’s take the revenues of these companies from 2014 into comparison.
We see an overwhelming majority being taken up by the Chinese brand. In fact, a large number of Chinese corporations specialise in making drones which are not just perfect for enthusiasts and hobbyists, but are also great value for money. This in turn brings to the fore the reason of the popularity of drones – reducing costs and ease of availability make drones great gifts and electronics to own.
STATISTICS FROM EBAY
Let’s look at things from a bigger perspective now, through the search results and shipments through e-commerce giant eBay.
According to Terrapeak, the sales rates have more than tripled themselves in the period from March 2014 (where sales accounted for under $500,000 in volume) to over $1.5 million in early February 2015. There is a rise in interest for drones equipped with cameras, as seen in the following figure.
All in all, there was nearly $30 million in sales between March 2014 and February 2015, and nearly half a million drones that were shipped out to eBay shoppers. And this is just one website; there are a host of Chinese websites and e-commerce platforms which are not accounted for.
There is a wide diversity as far as the brands are considered in the drone segment. We’ve already seen the big three – DJI, Parrot and 3D Robotics, but besides these there is a multitude of smaller players.
Corps such as Syma, Hubsan, Walkera, Cheerson, Skytech, Eachine, JJRC and a whole lot more companies deal in low cost, durable drones with a host of features and modes. Most of these require little or no training on the part of the flyer, so this encourages more and more hobbyists and enthusiasts to take up drone flying as a hobby.
The drone market is estimated to climb steeply, if the trends and statistics till now are considered. In fact, they might just surpass the military drone segment, as is evident from this graph from BI Intelligence.
All in all, there is a wide diversity of opinions on drones – ranging from skepticism, to concern. For me, personally, I’d like to see how context, artificial intelligence and advanced positioning systems can merge together to make drones more intelligent and powerful than ever!
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