Happy 2024, dronies! Last week we looked back at the 11 biggest drone news stories of 2023. But now that it’s the new year, it’s time to look ahead, and there’s plenty of changes, policies and products set for lift off in 2024. Here are the seven biggest 2024 drone stories I’ll be following over the coming year:
Remote ID enforcement will go into effect
Remote ID (which is a sort of electronic licensing plate system for drones with a built-in layer of location information) was one of 2023’s biggest drone news stories given that Remote ID rules for drones went into effect on Sept. 16, 2023.
But the rollout was hardly smooth. Remote ID modules quickly ran out of stock, making it impossible to be compliant even if you wanted to be. It’s also drawn criticism from many drone pilots. Many have suggested it’s a waste of effort (which also means a waste of time and money) since the rule likely wouldn’t prevent bad actors from flying unidentified anyway.
Largely in response to the module program, the FAA decided to offer a Remote ID extension in terms of enforcement, which means drone pilots now have until March 16, 2024 to make their drones Remote ID compliant.
Come March 2024, it’ll be interesting to see if that enforcement deadline gets extended once again, though that feels unlikely since most of the best Remote ID modules, such as the U.S.- made Z-RID broadcast modules from Zing, are finally back in stock.
Perhaps more interesting for those seeking juicy 2024 drone stories will be if enforcement actually leads to any meaningful changes in the drone industry. That said, many industry experts are not convinced it will.
“Like a license plate on a vehicle, bad actors will simply stop RID transmissions (akin to removing the license plate on a car) or “spoof” the signal, similar to changing a license plate’s characters,” said Mary-Lou Smulders, chief marketing officer at Dedrone which builds counter-drone and drone detection technology. “These shortcomings will mean that some malicious drone pilots can’t be prosecuted or caught unless there’s more than just Remote ID in place.”
California-based drone maker 3DR will relaunch
After a spectacular crash and burn of $100 million in investor funding, 3DR might be back. At the tail-end of 2023, 3DR returned by way of quietly launching a new website as well as a Discord community server.
3DR is a particularly compelling company given concerns around Chinese-made drones, such as the biggest player in the consumer drone market, DJI. Especially since Skydio shut down its consumer drone arm to instead focus on enterprise and defense industries, consumers currently have no options for a good consumer camera drone made in the USA).
We’ll be closely watching the 3DR return in 2024 and its impact on the consumer drone landscape in America. In general, American drone companies will mark among the 2024 drone stories highlights, and given its name, 3DR absolutely should be one of interest.
All the big drone events
Some of the top drone events of 2024 are pure fun, like the drone group trips to exotic destinations. Others are major conferences, which is where you can expect to see the biggest product launches. Conferences and summit also tend to be where we get the most insight on the state of drones today, whether it’s the latest policy plans from the FAA, or how politicians are thinking about shaping drone laws.
Among the biggest events to expect new product launches are CES 2024, which is just over a week away from Jan. 9 through 12 (held annually in Vegas), and AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2024, which is set for April 22 through 25 in San Diego.
The shrinking consumer drone market
Sure, conferences mean product launches, but expect most of this year’s product launches to be enterprise focused.
That’s because, at least according to the second edition of the annual Drone Manufacturers Ranking 2023 from Drone Industry Insights (DII), the consumer drone market is shrinking. While the drone market as a whole is set to grow to $54.6 billion by 2030 (that’s a compound average growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1%), it’s actually being dragged down by the consumer market, which will slightly shrink in size by an estimated CAGR of -0.3%.
A growing enterprise market
The drone industry is set to still grow, but the consumer side is shrinking. How does that work? That’s all because the enterprise side is set to grow at a CAGR of 7.7%, according to DII predictions.
That just leads to all sorts of new use cases and companies offering drone services
“Spurred by developments from war zones to more reasonable drone legislation and BVLOS becoming easier, the drone economy across all sectors is simply going to keep growing,” Smulders said. “If BVLOS becomes easier to accomplish, drone deliveries will become a reality and DFR means that more first responder agencies will want even more drones. However, there are also some non-obvious industries that would increase their investments in drones, like the energy industry using drones with cameras equipped for visual inspections of power lines and other equipment.”
More drone companies pivot toward military applications
Many drone companies that started as consumer product makers have pivoted toward making enterprise-focused products. And of those, a steady stream of them are focusing almost primarily on government and military applications.
For example, Parrot, which arguably deserves all the credit for bringing drones to consumers thanks to its Parrot AR.Drone (which yes, preceded the DJI Phantom) and later the Bebop consumer drones, is all about enterprise products. Its flagship drone is the ANAFI Ai, which is designed for photogrammetry on an open software platform. A sibling model called ANAFI USA is made in the U.S. and meets critical security standards including being Blue sUAS program approved, NDAA & TAA compliant.
Then there’s Red Cat, the parent company of Teal. Teal started as a teenage boy’s vision of building modular drones primarily for FPV flying. Today, the company is mostly focused on its Teal 2 drone, which was designed for military nighttime operations augmented by FLIR’s new Hadron 640R sensor. And by the way, that teenage boy, George Matus, is now in his mid-20s and was recently named CTO of Red Cat.
Another critical example is Skydio, which this summer announced it would shut down its consumer drone arm to instead focus on building drones and related products for enterprise and defense industries. It caught the attention of the Department of Defense. Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks even paid Skydio’s factory a personal visit in late December.
You will finally see a drone light show in person
This is more of a prediction, and I’m counting on you to make it happen. But I’m willing to whip out my crystal ball and say you will see a drone light show in person this year. Consider it an opportunity to tell your own 2024 drone stories.
That’s purely founded on the fact that drone light shows exploded in popularity in 2023, and are set on a path for the mainstream. That included Serena Williams’ baby gender reveal party, a Marvel drone show at Disneyland Paris and a show to inaugurate World of Frozen at Hong Kong Disneyland.
In fact, 2023 was the year that I experienced my own, first in-person drone light show.
Of course, this means you’ll have to help me out to bring this prediction to fruition by heading out to your city’s Fourth of July evening celebration, or perhaps visiting a theme park or attending a conference. You’ll be glad you did.
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