Drones are Overhyped

According to recently released research, drones still have some distance to go to meet expectations.

Sean Fisher

4 minute read

Drones are Overhyped

Drones are generally overhyped.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I know. I love drones too. But there’s just more to the story.

Drones in the Market

Why do I say drones are overhyped? Let’s have a look at some research on the current drone market.

Gartner’s Take on the Drone Market

Gartner produces an annual (expensive!) report on emerging technologies and places each technology on a curve that represents the amount of hype to which the technology is subject. There are several areas of the curve, labeled along the bottom. You can learn more about the hype cycle at the Wikipedia article. Here’s the curve for 20161. Look for Commercial UAVs (Drones).

Gartner Emerging Technology Hype Cycle 2016

and here’s the curve for 20172:

Gartner Emerging Technology Hype Cycle 2017

As you can see, drones are moving along the hype cycle at a good clip. There are some (valid) criticisms of the Hype Cycle, but in this case it’s spot on for drones: we have been in a period of elevated hype and are now headed towards a period of “disillusionment.” Many businesses have dived into drones, are past the “proof of concept” phase, and now have a good idea of the benefit they will actually bring.

Skylogic Research’s Take on the Drone Market

Skylogic Research just released a drone market analysis report (also very expensive) in September 2017 with survey results from over 2,500 respondants and information from interviews with business users.

The Skylogic report found that although many market forecasts predict phenomonal growth for the drone industry, these forecasts are “questionable” because of the lack of historical sales or reliable market survey data.

One telling statistic is that:

… more than two-thirds of the service providers have been in business less than a year, and they’re making very little revenue.

and only 6% of the revenues of business users come from large enterprises (those making more than $1 billion).

Most of the services drone operators provide come from one particular sector: film/photo/video, making up a whopping 61% of drone services offered. In order to live up to the hype, drones will have to branch out in significant ways, instead of being clustered to one particular use case.

These findings, along with the others in the report, point to a market that is growing, in the public’s eye, and popular, but overhyped.

My Take on the Drone Market

Drone Application is Exaggerated

Once you get over geeking out about flying through the air with a tiny machine, you start to think practically about how to use these tools. The cost, sensing capabilities, and speed with which a business can ingest data are unparalleled with drones. There are specific use cases that match up particularly well to unmanned aerial vehicles. However, just like with any tool, not every use case is a good match. The trick is finding those use cases and capitalizing on them while not trying to use a screwdriver on a nail.

Something like delivering packages with drones, or walking your dog with a drone? There may be proofs of concept, but mainstream reality is still a long, long way off. A grab for attention, more than anything. But using drones to map construction site progress? That’s here, it’s real, and it’s incredibly useful. I think these valid use cases will continue to grow, but at a steady rate, not an explosive one.

There’s one major exception to that. As soon as the FAA approves operations where you don’t have to have physical eyes on the drone at all times (called going “beyond line of sight,” in technical parlance), I think we’ll see another spike in adoption and use case development.

Drones Still Useful

Just because drones are overhyped3 does not mean there is no use for them. To the contrary, many applications have already been discovered and the market is indeed burgeoning (even if its pace is slower and its eventual peak is lower).

Tune in next time for a post about the things drones can do :)

What do you perceive sentiment about drones to be around you? Can you sense a waning of interest or is the hype still real? Leave your comments below.

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