The drone industry is fast-growing and fast-evolving, with new market and production goals reached every year. That’s why we’ve sourced a comprehensive list of industry facts and statistics to keep you informed.
When we discuss drones, we believe the Internet of Things Agenda said it best with the following description:
“A drone, in technological terms, is an unmanned aircraft. … Essentially, a drone is a flying robot that can be remotely controlled or fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems, working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS.”
There are varying definitions out there surrounding the idea of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) because of the vast array of drone types, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll follow the understanding listed above.
Now it’s time to talk statistics.
We’ll cover a brief history of drones for those new to the industry, then explore the industry’s current market, leading manufacturers, applications, laws, and what we can expect in a future outlook!
A Brief History of Drones
The drone industry’s history is an interesting and long one, laced with innovative military weaponry and the first UAV recorded almost 200 years ago. Since then, it’s become a multibillion-dollar industry no longer kept solely for government use and flourishing as a commercial success.
Here is a quick overview of some historical high points for the drone industry.
- The first unmanned aerial vehicles date back all the way to 1849 when Austria attacked Venice using unmanned hot air balloons.
- The modern-day drone was first experimented with in 1918, during the First World War, when the U.K. and U.S. built the Kettering Bug.
- The famous Predator Drone was released in 2000 and used in Afghanistan to launch missiles and search for Osama Bin Laden.
- In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted hundreds of new exemptions that allowed companies to operate drones in the U.S. under the FAA Part 107. This pushed the commercial drone market into the success we see today.
- At the end of 2018, there were 900,000 FAA registered drones, however, by December 2019 there were 1,500,617 drones registered and 1,085,392 of them were for recreational use.
The Current State of the Industry
There are a couple of ways to measure the current drone industry.
One popular way is by breaking it down into these three segments: consumer drone shipments, enterprise drones – or commercial drones – and government drones.
Enterprise drones are drones used in business operations, while government drones are drones used by law enforcement, the military, and other government agencies. Consumer drone shipments focus on the hobby and personal use of drones.
On the other hand, you also have industry specialists who break down the drone market into hardware, software, and services.
Hardware represents drone manufacturing and software represents the technology created for drones, but services – the most profitable one– are the actions and work drones provide. This is mainly driven by commercial drone activities.
Both points of view are taken into account when sourcing the below statistics.
- According to Insider Intelligence predictions, consumer drone shipments will hit $29 million this year.
- According to Statista, U.S. consumer drone sales to dealers passed $1.25 billion in 2020.
- Enterprise drones currently hold the most potential for the broader drone market. These are drones sold directly to businesses for operations. For example, agriculture using it to survey crops, the media using drones to film, and law enforcement using UAVs as surveillance.
- The Defense Department was granted a $7.5 billion budget for unmanned systems. This includes UAVs, as well as other unmanned robotics and technology.
- According to AUVSI, commercial drones will bring 100,000 jobs and an $82 billion boost to the U.S. economy by 2025.
- According to the Drone Industry Insights 2021 report, service-related drone revenue accounts for 78% of the global drone revenue. It’s set to grow at a rate of 9.6% CAGR and reach $30.7 billion by 2026 alone.
- The drone services market is expected to grow from $4.4 billion in 2018 to $63.6 billion by 2025.
- Drone software companies saw the most growth in 2020 with a 20% increase, but they also experienced a decrease of -0.4% in total workforce. This is followed by drone hardware companies which saw an 18% increase, a record for the sector.
- Based on findings from the 2021 ResearchandMarkets.com report, the global consumer drones market is expected to grow from $2.09 billion in 2020 to $2.34 billion in 2021, with a CAGR of 12%.
- Despite industries being negatively affected by Covid-19, the drone industry continued to grow throughout 2020, even during the peak of the pandemic. The drone industry also reached a record number of investments in the commercial drone space.
- Asia currently holds the largest drone market, which is expected to grow to $16.5 billion. The U.S. and China markets are expected to grow at a 6.8% and 9.7% CAGR, respectively. (Drone Industry Insights, 2021)
- The South American drone market is starting to increase considerably with an 11.3% CAGR. Brazil is leading with a $373 million market, but Argentina is leading with a CAGR of 14.3%. (Drone Industry Insights, 2021)
Check out our article on the best drones under $100
Current Industry Leaders
Latent with opportunity, new companies pop up every day, but only a few have taken the market by storm.
DJI, Parrot, Skydio, and Autel Robotics are just a few of the current industry leaders, specializing in consumer and commercial development. Actually, 5 out of the top 10 global brands specialize in commercial drones, cementing the statements made earlier about enterprise drones holding the most potential for the drone industry.
- China-based DJI (Dajiang Innovations) is the leading manufacturer of civilian drones, accounting for 70% of the drone market, with no other manufacturer above 10%.
- French drone maker Parrot released the first off-the-shelf drone to connect to Verizon 4G LTE in 2021. This will allow for faster processing, mapping, data transfers, and modeling.
- The current consumer drone market leaders are Yuneec, 3D Robotics, Parrot, DJI, and GoPro.
Where & How Drones Are Used
We know there are consumer, commercial, and government drones, but those three labels cover dozens of applications.
Consumer drones are for personal use and government drones are usually for surveillance and weaponry, but the application of commercial drones has no end. Agriculture, mining, construction, filmmaking, photography, and exploration are just a few of the industries adopting drones into their business operations.
In agriculture, drones can survey and dust crops, monitor livestock, and manage irrigation. For construction, drones help companies adhere to strict health and safety regulations by surveying sites that would take hours or days by hand, in a matter of minutes.
All in all, drones provide data, increased efficiency, and affordability, and companies are jumping at the opportunity to integrate its use.
- The agriculture drone industry is expected to be valued at $1 billion by 2024.
- In agriculture, drones can inspect up to 1,000 acres of land a day, increasing survey times and survey accuracy.
- If regulators increased the maximum flight height by just 40%, it would double farmer’s daily coverage abilities.
- Dronefly estimates that drones can spray fertilizer up to 60 times faster than by hand.
- According to PwC, drone usage in mining and construction has the potential to become a $28.3 billion global market.
- According to Goldman Sachs, the construction industry boasts the largest commercial drone usage with an $11,164 million drone market.
- Currently, 345 U.S. agencies use drones for operations and there was a 518% increase in law enforcement usage in 24 months.
- A Goldman Sachs report on drone use estimated that $881 million can be spent on fighting fire globally with drones.
- From data collected by Globe Newswire, the global military drone market size is expected to reach $23.78 billion by 2027, with a single Predator drone costing $4 million.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection and local police forces have adopted American-based Skydio’s drones, which claims to be the most AI-advanced drone yet, according to Forbes.
- Business Insider expects consumers, primarily hobbyists, will spend $17 billion on commercial drones over the next few years.
Must-Know Drone Laws
While the Federal Aviation Administration has bolstered the market in the past, they‘ve also done their fair share in hindering it through several regulations. The most notorious being the “line of sight rule”, which mandates that operators must have the drone within their eyesight at all times.
Local restrictions regarding UAVs are often even stricter, so make sure you align yourself with the correct rules, but here are a few steadfast laws for everyone.
- For you to start a drone business, you must enroll in an FAA-approved aeronautical training course in order to qualify for a Remote Pilot Certificate, and you must pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test (Part 107 test) at an approved center.
- On January 3, 2018, a law was passed stipulating that all drone owners (consumer and commercial) must register their drone with the FAA and mark their drone with a registration number.
- Commercial drones must remain 400ft below the Class G (uncontrolled) airspace, since above that it becomes unsafe to fly due to controlled manned air traffic.
- NASA is leading a multi-billion dollar effort to help develop a US airspace management system capable of better supporting manned and unmanned flights, while the FAA is expected to ease restrictions.
Check out our buyer’s guide to the best beginner drones
Future Outlook of the Drone Industry
Drone’s may contain cutting-edge technology that transcends into futuristic ideals, but we’re far away from seeing the future. However, here are a few statistics that tell us we’re right to be excited.
- Business Insider predicts that the drone industry’s total global shipments will reach $2.4 million by 2023, putting it at a 66.8% increased compound annual growth rate (CAGR).
- According to the Drone Industry Insights 2021 report, the US drone market is expected to reach $41.3 billion by 2026 with a 9.4 % CAGR market model, from a mere $4.4 billion reported in 2018.
- The next generation of drones, Generation 7, is underway at 3D Robotics and offers complete commercial and safety compliance, automated take-off and landing, and enhanced intelligent piloting.
- According to Forbes, as cities continue to grow, Urban Air Mobility has turned heads in an effort to combat traffic and has an expected market growth of $2.6 billion to $9.1 billion by 2030.
- The FAA has recently enacted guidelines requiring a digital license plate, which allows for remote identification of drones. This is crucial to the future of UAVs moving into the National Airspace System.
Drone Industry Statistics: The Future of Air Vehicle Technology
If you haven’t learned by now, the drone industry is profitable, innovation-driven, and growing quickly.
Whether you refer to them as UAVs, flying robots, or thingamajig’s, you can’t deny its technological and economic prowess as it brings state-of-the-art AI, data, and image processes to a wealth of industries and buyers.
With the drone market growing by billions and increased investor attention, you can rest assure this industry will continue to offer life-changing progress and eye-grabbing headlines.