The drone market is projected to grow to $43 billion by 2024—a compound growth rate of around 20.5 percent, according to ResearchandMarkets.com.

In no small part, this growth is being fueled by a number of successful use cases in energy, transportation, and other industry sectors—and by extension of drone flight possibilities, such as the successful beyond line of sight drone pilot project conducted by the University of Alaska in collaboration with the FAA in 2019.

All of this solidifies the case for significant drone expansion in 2020, which is likely to be characterized by the following emerging trends:


More commercial drone use cases

Drones are commonly deployed in military operations, but important use cases will continue to expand to broader applications in fields such as real estate, construction, oil and gas exploration, utility inspections, agriculture, logistics, government, insurance, law enforcement, and retail, to name a few. In many cases, regulatory guidelines must still be articulated, but industry is ready to deploy.


Improvements in battery technology

Battery life is still a limiting factor for drones, and it won’t be totally solved in 2020, either. However, new lithium battery technology that packs twice the power of traditional lithium batteries is on the horizon, as is photovoltaic technology that can convert heat into electricity, bypassing or reducing the need for battery power. Both technologies could provide breakthroughs for companies wishing to keep drones airborne longer.

LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is getting more light weight and coming in smaller form factors. This will reduce the carrying weight for drones equipped for LiDAR, lengthen drone flight durations, and reduce power consumption for drone batteries. Expect more light-weight LiDAR products to arrive on the market in 2020.


A new round of legal and regulatory engagement

As drone technology continues to advance in 2020, legal and regulatory guidelines will still lag. However, the maturity of new drone technologies and the growth of many new drone use cases will provide impetus for regulators and legal experts to issue more guidelines.

In Europe, comprehensive safety, security, and sustainability standards will be set, allowing for seamless operations of drones through the European Union. In the U.S., the FAA will seek public input to identify major drone safety and security issues that may pose a threat to other aircraft, to people on the ground, or to national security as drones are integrated into U.S. national airspace.

Efforts like these will provide clarity for drone operators and for companies operating drones.


AI advancement

The incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) in drone software will take giant steps forward in 2020. Already, drone software with AI is being used to monitor cities and crowds, inspect construction sites and utility lines, report on weather conditions, perform surveying, and translate visual input gathered into maps. This work is being done in real time or near real time. In most cases, the AI results come to a human for final interpretation or decision. Getting preprocessed information for informed decisions will reduce time to insight.


Concluding remarks

2020 will be the year when present drone “road blocks” such as battery limits and heavy drone payloads, will experience major improvements. At the same time, regulators will move forward by issuing more concrete guidelines, and/or by soliciting input from the commercial drone community so a set of more concrete guidelines that facilitate commercial flight can be defined.

One thing is certain: drones will continue to move forward as a commercial means of delivering goods, inspecting sites, and producing field insights for those who no longer have to travel to the sites to get their information.