17th February - Valencia.
The booming UAV market
According to Meticulous Research the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or drone market, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.1% from 2020 to 2027 and reach a whopping $21.8 billion by 2027. Volume growth is also set to exceed 13.2 million units by 2027.
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) has boomed in the last decade, making these flying platforms an instrument for everyday data acquisition in different applications ranging from advanced autonomous navigation to monitoring of environmental parameters particularly in Geomatics. Their flexibility and (relatively) limited costs have made them a valid alternative to traditional measurement techniques, such as land surveying or terrestrial and airborne acquisitions. This has been reflected by the incredible number of contributions in different scientific communities dealing with the use of UAVs. It includes geomatics engineering (and surveying engineering) and is related to geospatial science (geospatial engineering and geospatial technology).
Even if UAVs were not initially designed and realized for geomatics or other applications, commercial solutions have been progressively adapted to fulfil different geomatics fields of applications and operative requests. Thanks to new technologies, innovative solutions and sensors have been recently developed even for civilian applications, allowing to improve the flexibility (less restriction in term of sensor’s installation), performance (more duration, better aerodynamics profile, better navigation systems), and planning tool (new tools have been developed for planning and control the UAV operations).
For civilian purposes, the most significant recent improvements are the development of low-cost flight controller systems and the great diffusion of structure from motion (SfM) applications that allows the creation of 3D models from a sequence of images captured from different points of view.
A host of new military and non-military applications
New applications are having worldwide impacts and efficiencies that are moving UAV technologies to the top of the agenda for areas such as environment and animal welfare and nature.
Young companies are driving the market forward. At the recent CES2021 Icarus Swarms announced a new range of products to “transform” military and police strategies when responding to emergency situations by deploying swarms of up to 50 autonomous drones. Based on a pioneering technology the UAVs use intelligent pathfinding algorithms and micro drones coordinated in a swarm to aid emergency forces without diverting their attention and manpower.
Skydio also launched a new drone Skydio Autonomy X2, an AI-driven system that “gives drones the skills of an expert pilot,” with a foldable, portable airframe that leverages hyper-strength composites to withstand the most demanding environments. X2 mounts a dual 12MP colour optical plus a thermal sensor and is equipped with GPS-based night flight and strobe lighting, making it airworthy for day and night operations, while providing up to 35 minutes of flight time on a single battery. The drone provides the aerial data collection solution for situational awareness, asset inspection, and security patrol.
Major technology players like Amazon have been in the market for a long time and recently received federal approval to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones, a milestone that allows the company to expand unmanned package delivery. The approval will give Amazon broad privileges to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers. It gives Amazon the ability to carry property on small drones “beyond the visual line of sight” of the operator. David Carbon, vice president of Prime Air, states,“We will continue to develop and refine our technology to fully integrate delivery drones into the airspace, and work closely with the FAA and other regulators around the world to realize our vision of 30 minute delivery.”
Last April, Alphabet-owned Wing became the first drone delivery company to receive FAA approval for commercial deliveries in the U.S and last October UPS won approval from the FAA to operate a fleet of drones as an airline.
With the growing demand for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) across commercial and non-commercial markets, the skies will get busier. An upshot would be to manage and maintain an increasingly diverse airspace, while keeping all the air traffic safe and efficient.
The need for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) infrastructure
Unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) can play the role of a “key enabler” in the future of UAVs and presents significant business opportunities to main stakeholders. Managing the airspace and establishing standards for all stakeholders is critical to the long-term success of UAV. UTM development will ultimately identify services, roles and responsibilities, information architecture, data exchange protocols, software functions, infrastructure, and performance requirements for enabling the management of UAS operations.
The evolution of aircraft tracking, software apps, and drone technologies have far outpaced current Aircraft Traffic Management (ATM) technologies. Leading organizations and market innovators are developing solutions that apply emerging technologies and provide practical—and future-ready—solutions.
Large well-known investors are heavily backing the drone enterprise market and management systems. For example, AirMap, the world’s top supplier of ATM software for UAS completed US$26 million of Series B financing in 2017 that included a number of investors, including Microsoft Ventures, Airbus Ventures, and Qualcomm Ventures. The company will be using Microsoft’s resources, software, and artificial intelligence tools.
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain also promise to play a critical role in the development of UTM. Deep Aero is developing an autonomous, AI-powered drone system using blockchain that will act as an on-demand logistics system and a fully functioning UTM platform. Their solution includes universal drone registration standards, open identification systems, and 3D mapping data.
NASA is leading the way with a UTM system designed to enable commercial use of UAS within lower-altitude airspace and airspace that does not interfere with regular National Airspace System (NAS) operations. The system is designed to support accelerated drone applications ranging from simple to sophisticated, strategic to tactical.
New drone battery capability
Funding in the development of UAV Battery technology has also been significant. Breakthroughs in the use of new elements away from the traditional Lithium-ion base are increasing the range of drone flight radius.
SolidEnergy Systems, has developed a battery that it says has double the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries. That means that its battery could be half the size of a standard lithium-ion battery and hold the same amount of energy.
It is claimed that when using regular batteries and chargers, delivery drones will have to sit idle for long periods of time while recharging (resulting in lost revenue), or they'll be limited to accessible locations where paid workers perform battery-swaps. As a result, some companies such as StoreDot are working on new battery technologies to reduce charge times and increasing valuable flight times.
"Drones will now be able to spend much more of their valuable flight time engaged in actual missions, greatly extending their range, rather than having to return to base to have their battery swapped out," says StoreDot CEO Dr. Doron Myersdorf. "At the same time, UFC [ultra-fast charging] will also enable drone users to expand their operations into regions they could not previously access. Both of these factors will significantly increase operational efficiencies and profitability, making the business case for drone use much more attractive than ever before."
Sourcing new talent
As a result of the level of investment into new developments in the UAV ecosystem there is a solid requirement to find highly skilled engineering talent from different sectors. However, in such a fast moving and increasingly cluttered market, it needs experts to locate the ideal engineering resource to advance new products that are going to impact the next generation of UAVs. Experts such as CIS, who have a proven track record in providing resources to pioneers in this field for over 20 years.