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If agriculture is 25 percent of the total available commercial drone services market, there could be 150,000 drones used in agricultural areas such as precision farming in the US by the end of 2017. That’s a very rough, back-of-the-envelope guess, and that’s just the US. In Europe, Poland, for example, is very keen on agricultural automation. And we should see lots of innovation in Asia also. In India, companies have been working on drone fleets that plant seeds by firing them into the soil.
Countries will need extensive data infrastructure to support drone data collection and analysis. Most drone fleets will be operated by service providers. There are dozens of drone data collection service startups in the US alone. You could try to count the size of the fleets each has, to get a more accurate number. We interviewedearlier this year about their method. (See ) Their CTO posts many interesting answers on Quora, by the way.
Japan has used unmanned helicopters for decades in agriculture. Are those drones? Let’s say drones are autonomous, not just radio controlled unmanned aircraft.
The era of autonomous aerial drones is just getting started. A rough guess is that the overall market for autonomous aerial drones would saturate in the late 2020s. It took 60 years for the market for manned aircraft to saturate, but could be less than ten for the market for autonomous aerial drones to saturate.
Drone swarms would be next. The University of Pennsylvania has been doing R&D that includes work on drone swarms, or drones flying autonomously in groups without crashing into one another. We call the full market trend an aircraft autonomy S wave, a series of S curve.
Keep in mind that the best drone data services use several data sources, not just from drone flights, but also data from satellites, manned aircraft and ground vehicles. It’s a very data- and machine learning-intensive process, not an easy one. Gao told us, “It’s not just about surveying; it’s also about how to analyze and process the data. And that’s a challenge we’re working through. I don’t think a single farm somewhere is able to achieve that. We need to ingest a vast amount of data to build the model.”
UC Merced has developed a data collection robot for precision farming in orchards, where drones can’t easily operate beneath an orchard canopy. Are ground vehicles “drones”, or robots? Let’s say they’re robots.
Source: PwC, 2016