Try to find a businessperson who won't be affected by drone technology in some way, shape, or form over the next few years. Go ahead, I dare you. It's a hard task because drones are going to change everything.
To better understand how drones - also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or Miniature Pilotless Aircraft - will impact us mere mortals, I turned to Greg McNeal, one of the top experts in drone technology. I spoke to McNeal for my FUTUREPROOF. podcast since he's the co-founder of AirMap, the leading airspace services platform; he's also a professor at Pepperdine University, and a frequent keynote speaker on unmanned aircraft and innovation policy. In other words, if there's anything you ever need to ask anybody about drones, McNeal is your guy.
Here are some of the reasons why drones will be big:
#1: Drones won't necessarily be bad for employment prospects.
Some jobs might go away, but they may be replaced by better jobs. McNeal uses the example of the individual whose job it is to grab random spot samples of water to look for environmental contaminants. Drones will be able to gather far more data points than that human, so lower-level jobs like this will likely be replaced by many more analytical roles. You might even have some of those jobs replaced by people actually trying to do things to mitigate against that environmental harm. And, that's probably a good thing.
#2: Military drones are really just a fraction of the overall drone market.
The commercial and civilian drone market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth (CAGR) rate of 19% between 2015 and 2020. That dwarfs the CAGR of 5% for military drones.
#3: Seven million drones may be in the skies by 2020.
An FAA 2016-2036 drone forecast predicted that we will have about 7 million drones in the air by 2020. The FAA predicts that by 2020, commercial drone sales alone will reach 2.7 million. To put that number into perspective, it's estimated that there are between 23,600 and 39,000 planes in the world today.
#4: The global commercial drone market will reach $17 billion by 2024.
Right now, the most visible commercial application for drones has to be their use in photography and video. But, as a report from Global Market Insights highlights, drones are increasingly being used in sectors such as agriculture, construction, real estate, media, and delivery - just look at Amazon's proposed drone delivery service.
#5: Drones will save lives.
There are all sorts of mundane activities such as roof inspections that can be done more cheaply or more safety with a drone. At this very moment, you have people inspecting tiles or shingles on roofs, and every year, about 50 roofers are killed on the job, with countless more injured.
Today, AirMap works with companies like Kespry to get a drone up in the air, and in a few minutes can get the same information it would take a human 45 minutes to get. Of course, not only is this done quicker, but it's completed without jeopardizing someone's life.
#6: Less than 1 in 100 drones will be a delivery drone.
Drones delivering our packages are what most consumers think about when they think of commercial drones, but in reality, they will be few and far between. Gartner predicts that by 2020, less than one percent of all commercial drones will be used for deliveries. Gerald Van Hoy, a senior research analyst at Garner, believes that "delivery drones will begin finding a niche in business-to-business applications first, particularly for internal services within one company where logistics will not be such a big factor."
#7: Drone technology is more "advanced" than drone regulations.
Aviation is one of the most heavily regulates industries, with makes it difficult to disrupt in the way that startups are used to doing. A company with the typical Silicon Valley mentality might believe that if you "develop the solution, and you show to people, the wisdom of your idea and your solution is going to win them over, and that's just simply not how government works, or how heavily regulated industries work," explains McNeal. "You really need to have an approach to heavily regulated industries that allows you to recognize the constraints that the government faces even if they want to work with you as well as the timeline limitations on your ability to enter the market. With drones, it's not only the federal government, but there are also state and local government that are involved."