Here’s an unintentional benefit of an otherwise brutal pandemic: drone hardware sales saw a huge surge in the past year. That’s according to the first-ever Drone Hardware Sector Report (2021 – 2026), released by longtime drone research firm DroneAnalyst. DroneAnalyst has for years been releasing drone industry reports, but this is the first report to hone in on hardware specifically.
And the new Drone Hardware Sector Report comes at a fascinating time, given how significantly the sector grew due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, hardware sales rose across every sub-sector of the drone industry except for one: creative professionals (to no surprise, fewer weddings means reduced need for drone wedding photographers).
The largest jump occurred in the field of agriculture spraying, where hardware sales rose 135% — and much of that growth was in Asia. Recent data from DroneDeploy, which serves many agriculture-focused clients, corroborates that data. A DroneDeploy survey of 600 of its users across 40 countries found that 88% of respondents said they expect to increase or maintain their spend on drone operations in 2021. DroneDeploy also said they saw a 33% increase in drone takeoffs among U.S. agricultural clients from mid-March to mid-April 2020.
Other sectors also rapidly adopted drones — notably logistics — as people’s new, socially-distanced lifestyles prompted landmark opportunities for drone delivery.
Sense and avoid hardware has also seen huge growth thanks to the success of companies like indoor industrial inspections company Flyability, and collision avoidance tech maker Iris Automation. In fact, 15% of all drone industry companies say that they saw growth due to coronavirus.
What’s up with drone hardware in the consumer space?
This hardware growth is also good news for the drone industry as it struggles to capture hobbyists and other casual consumers. Sales had been dropping in the consumer space, where DJI has seen revenues steadily decrease since 2018.
Alas, COVID-19 also brought a small resurgence to consumer drones. With the increased gravitation toward road trips, drones are easier to pack — and they provide excellent pit-stop entertainment on an otherwise long stretch of road. Throw in the fact that drones are inherently something you do alone and away from people, and it’s a perfect hobby for social distancing.
DJI also pulled through this year with appealing innovations. New models launched with lower prices. For example, the Mavic Air 2 costs less than $800. The Mavic Mini costs half that, at less than $400.
And the launch of drones under 250 grams (starting with the DJI Mavic Mini in early 2020 and the improve Mini 2 by the end of 2020) means fewer Federal Aviation Administration restrictions — which is especially important for hobbyists who might otherwise be afraid to get into the hobby for fear of unintentionally breaking a rule.
More importantly, hardware growth in the enterprise space — and 2020’s over-performance at that — is an encouraging sign that reverses a larger downward trend.
Even still though, the Drone Analyst report provides a much more tempered view of the drone industry. While some arguably far-from-accurate estimates speculate that the drone industry is already as large as $20 billion USD, this report takes a more conservative approach to its data analysis, showing that the market has yet to pass the $4 billion mark.
Why is Drone Analyst reporting on drone hardware for the first time now?
The drone industry has been around for years, but in the scheme of things, it’s fairly new. And it’s because of that, that many projects or analysis based on maturing data is easily inaccurate. Throw in the fact that DJI — the biggest player in drone hardware — has not commented on its revenues since 2017, and it’s tough to get a full picture of the drone hardware industry.
It’s only been recently that DroneAnalyst has been able to cull together its existing datasets and customs data to provide an accurate and detailed report.
“Put simply, we believe this report to be more accurate and detailed than anything available,” according to a prepared statement from a Drone Analyst news release.