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Here’s a crucial piece of evidence that drone hobbyists are fundamental to tech innovation

Drone hobbyists are far more than people who fly drones in the park over the weekend because they’re bored. Drone hobbyists are actually crucial to technological innovation. And now, we have proof of it in the form of actual data — and the numbers are stunning.

Drone research firm DroneAnalyst studied the ways that drone programs at corporations, public safety teams, law enforcement agencies and more were founded. And unsurprisingly, nearly half of drone programs were founded simply out of “an individual’s interest in drones as a hobby.”

That’s according to the DroneAnalyst 2020 Drone Market Sector Report, which asked survey respondents a series of questions proving that enterprise drone adoption has been (and continues to be) primarily driven by the consumer and hobbyist market.

drone hobbyists programs founded

46.5% of drone programs were founded by someone who initially had interest in drones as a hobbyist. 21.8% of programs began organically without a formal budget. What it sounds like: passionate drone pilots saw that drones could be useful in their business, and either brought in their own drone to prove the use case, or rounded up some business funding to launch it.

The survey also found that 68% of drone programs were founded through “bottom-up” approaches. That means programs were built in a way where employees turned their hobby into a new business opportunity for their organization, convincing their managers to get onboard with adding drones to the team. That’s in contrast to a “top-down” approach, where management decides to create a new strategic initiative or adopt a new technology.

drone analyst drone hobbyists bottom-up adoption innovation

What didn’t happen: most drone programs didn’t launch out of a formal budget, with big stodgy board meetings to over-strategize. Drone programs are being launched by scrappy, enterprising employees who see their merit in saving companies time and money, or in improving safety.

The findings come at an interesting time, especially as lawmakers look to further regulate the drone industry with policies such as new Remote ID rules. While many enterprise and commercial organizations have welcomed such rules as a way to standardize requirements or establish safety procedures — which in turn allows them to move forward in product development — the same can’t always be said on the hobby side.

Many hobbyists have feared that over-regulation of small drones, particularly in areas like drone racing, will kill their industry. Why pick up a hobby that has cumbersome rules to comply with, when you can pick another hobby where you won’t accidentally break the rules? Even relatively small steps, such as the $5 drone registration fee, have long been considered a turn-off for hobbyist drone pilots.

“Policymakers need to consider impacts to the hobbyist market seriously as they could threaten the speed of commercial adoption of drones,” according to a Drone Analyst note.

Another interesting point from the Drone Analyst analysis: the strong hobbyist roots in the drone industry could help explain DJI’s dominance. DJI has a roughly 70% market share, which has concerned many who fear that no other drone companies can compete. Hobbyists likely got into the drone industry with something like a DJI Phantom or Mavic. They know and trust the technology. So when it comes time to bring a drone into, say, their law firm to perform accident reconstruction and collision analysis, why not use drone tech they’re already familiar with, like a DJI Inspire?

“This helps explain DJI’s allure to enterprise customers, and is a reason why they will remain a threat to commercial players,” according to the Drone Analyst note.

The data and charts cited here are a snippet from the DroneAnalyst 2020 Drone Market Sector Report, which was based on an online survey that garnered over 1,300 respondents, representing 39 industries across 110 countries. You can view the entire report (as well as a number of other Drone Analyst reports) here.

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