The Sky's the Limit for Personal Drones

December 16, 2015

Contributor: Christy Pettey

The personal drone is crossing over the toy boundary to become a serious consumer device.

The personal drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is proving popular as a new consumer device category. Currently, hobbyists and early adopters are using personal drones primarily for aerial photography and video, but we expect additional personal and business applications to take flight. Established vendors, such as Parrot, DJI and 3D Robotics (3DR), will soon see more competitors come to market, such as GoPro and Samsung.

With the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016 just weeks away, we asked Brian Blau, research director at Gartner, about the personal drone market, and what we can expect at the show and beyond.

Q: What new drone innovations can we expect to see at CES 2016?

A: We can expect to see a significant maturing of drone devices. At CES 2015, several drone makers emerged with first-generation products. But the market was still in a very nascent stage. This year, we’ll see more refined form factors, more intuitive software and increased usability.

Currently, most available drones have imagery capability and are adding “follow me” features, which allows the device to track and follow the user for movie making or creative photography. There is tremendous opportunity to continue innovating and facilitating new ways of self-expression and creating art using drones.

Q: What are the biggest inhibitors to mass adoption?

A: The two biggest inhibitors to mass adoption are lack of regulations and limited use-case.

The regulations for personal drones are ill-defined and inconsistent globally, which leads to consumer trepidation about legal use. Most countries are actively developing laws that would define specific capabilities and officially regulate the use of both personal and commercial drones. Just this week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said drone owners will need to register their drones.

The second inhibitor is a lack of primary use cases that go beyond photography and video. An ongoing lack of other capabilities means personal drone makers risk losing consumer interest if use cases don’t evolve during the next three years. Imagery alone is certainly a compelling feature for many, but ultimately may not hold consumers interest beyond the early adopter phase of the market.

Q: What factors will lead to mass market adoption?

A: Photography and video capabilities drive consumer sales and adoption today, and we see this as the main value proposition for the foreseeable future.

In the immediate future, aesthetics and form factor will help drive consumer interest. Over the long-term, factors such as more pricing options, ease-of-use, and proper developer platforms will drive more adoption. Personal drones on the market today require the user to control every action. With the integration of advanced features like scene-tracking software, we imagine a future where your drones will be able to make the movies for you.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow with more devices being connected, and new applications coming to market, we can expect that drones will continue to evolve significantly. Of note, the sensor revolution currently underway will complement personal drone innovation by enhancing the devices and/or helping them work with other computing systems and platforms. For example, proximity sensors could mean that drones can avoid collisions with each other and real-world objects. Additional processors could even give drones advanced visual computation capabilities that would allow them to identity, react to, and interact with their surroundings.

The drone market is primed for takeoff, thanks to global interest in mobile technology, a growing IoT capability, and more personal drone brands coming to market. With more competition expected, new features being developed, and regulations in progress for safe, secure use, we expect the drone segment to evolve quickly.

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