Sky Elements drone light show Oakland A's Coliseum

The 11 biggest drone news stories of 2023

2023 was a huge year for drones, which have certainly matured away from chaotic robots that people fear will spy on them, into tools for light shows, mapping and even deliveries. In fact, it was a decade ago when then-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to TV to announce his company’s vision for drone delivery.

That was Black Friday of 2013, when Bezos joined the CBS television program “60 Minutes” and changed the world. Because while his company has yet to run wide-scale drone deliveries, he incited a vision of drones in the skies. Whether it’s Amazon competitors like Google spinoff Wing or Zipline running drone deliveries, or it’s drones doing something else entirely, 2023 has proven that drones are here to stay.

So with that, here’s a look at the 11 biggest drone news stories of 2023:

Remote ID rules go into effect — but enforcement of them does not

Remote ID is arguably the biggest of the drone news stories of 2023. Remote ID rules for drones went into effect on Sept. 16, 2023, bringing a mandate for a sort of electronic licensing plate system for drones with a built-in layer of location information.

But for a number of reasons — including Remote ID modules out of stock, making it impossible to be compliant — the FAA decided to offer a Remote ID extension. Drone pilots now have until March 16, 2024 to make their drones Remote ID compliant.

In an exclusive interview with The Drone Girl, the FAA shed light on some reasons why.

March 2024 isn’t that far away, so if your drone isn’t already equipped with a built-in Remote ID module, you’ll need one. Check out The Drone Girl’s guide to the best Remote ID modules, such as the U.S.- made Z-RID broadcast module from Zing.

Sally French, The Drone Girl, reviews the DJI Air 3 in July 2023.
Sally French, The Drone Girl, reviews the DJI Air 3 in July 2023.

DJI continues to release new drones…

Though DJI has far and away been the heavy-hitter in the drone space, in 2023 it did lose some market share. Still, it’s easily the biggest drone maker out there, and DJI has solidified that stance by new product launches in 2023.

Among its new drones for 2023 included the DJI Mini 4 Pro and the DJI Air 3, both excellent options for the consumer drone market. For commercial users (or wealthy prosumers), DJI launched the DJI Mavic 3 Pro, which is the world’s first three optical camera drone.

And then the biggest of the bunch is the DJI Inspire 3, which launched in April 2023 with all sorts of features including a full-frame 8K imaging system, Tilt Boost and 360° Pan dual configurations and dual-control for operators.

…and DJI releases non-drone recording gear, too

DJI Osmo Action 4 camera review

But DJI didn’t stop with the drone gear. It also has been leaning heavily into other products for audio and video recording. For action sports enthusiasts, 2023 gave us the DJI Osmo Action 4 as DJI’s competitor to the American-made GoPro’s HERO11 Black action camera. 

Filmmakers have turned to the DJI RS 3 Mini, which launched in January 2023 as a lightweight, handheld travel stabilizer developed specifically to support today’s mainstream brands of mirrorless cameras and lenses.

And for all sorts of video makers, whether TikTok influencers or pro videographers, the DJI Mic is a popular tool for mono and stereo recording at distances of up to 250 meters.

Skydio ends consumer drone division, yet leans in harder on enterprise

Skydio X10 drone
Photo courtesy of Skydio

While DJI has always dominated the consumer drone space, folks seeking out an American-made consumer drone had high hopes for California-based DJI. Those dreams were squashed this summer when Skydio announced it would shut down its consumer drone arm to instead focus on building drones and related products for enterprise and defense industries.

But that hardly meant Skydio got smaller. Shortly after, Skydio hosted a mega press event that included the launch of its Skydio X10 drone, an enterprise-range drone that stands out for its high-resolution cameras.

Sony also pivots its drone marketing strategy to enterprise users

Sony pilot Craig Coker flying the Sony Airpeak S1.

Skydio is not the only drone maker shying away from consumers or film use cases to instead look toward enterprise use cases like energy, public safety, transportation, construction and communications.

Sony, which first announced its Sony Airpeak S1 drone in 2021, has certainly seen adoption by filmmakers. But in 2023, it formally announced its emphasis on the industrial side by rolling out a range of enterprise-focused updates. That included a more powerful battery, a RTK kit and a better gimbal — all critical for use cases like photogrammetry.

Both Sony and Skydio’s pivots suggest that the drone industry is hardly shrinking, but rather the focus is on enterprise use cases (which is where the money is at, anyway).

Red Cat evolves and grows to secure stronghold in military drone space 

Mitt Romney Teal drone

Another compelling drone company is less so about enterprise use cases, but it’s certainly not about consumer use cases. Red Cat is going all in on military drones.

That was made clear in March 2023, when Red Cat launched the Teal 2, a drone designed to fly at night (which is critical for military operations). Teal 2 claims the title of the first drone to be equipped with Teledyne FLIR’s new Hadron 640R sensor

In June, the Teal 2 drone was added to the Blue UAS Cleared List, a highly-selective list of drones that the Department of Defense has approved. The company has drawn major interest, and it even received a visit from Republican Senator Mitt Romney who is co-sponsoring the American Security Drone Act of 2023.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that Red Cat expects major growth in 2024. We’ll be watching to see whether the latest Red Cat management shakeup was the right move for the company to achieve that.

Drone light shows get closer to ubiquitous 

Sky Elements drone light show Oakland A's Coliseum

2023 gave us an onslaught of companies that make light show drones. Having so many ready-to-fly drone light show options has made it easier for small businesses to launch their own light show companies — no robust manufacturing needed to actually build the light-up drones.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that we saw so many drone light shows in 2023, including Serena Williams’ baby gender reveal party, a Marvel drone show at Disneyland Paris and a show to inaugurate World of Frozen at Hong Kong Disneyland.

In fact, 2023 is the year that I saw my own, first in-person drone light show.

FAA names a new Administrator

Michael Whitaker
Michael Whitaker was named administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In October 2023, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Michael Whitaker to serve as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He’s set to serve a five year term.

Given his background (including an executive role at Supernal, which is a Hyundai Motor Group company designing an electric advanced air mobility vehicle), Whitaker should be a compelling figure for the drone industry.

Drone import, export bans upend industry

Garuda Kisan drone
The Garuda Kisan drone is designed for agricultural applications. Image courtesy of Garuda.

Concerns about national security and intellectual property theft have led to increased scrutiny of Chinese-made drones in 2023. The U.S. government has considered a ban on the use of Chinese drones by federal agencies, such as the American Security Drone Act. That bill was proposed in February 2023 by Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, and it would prohibit most federal agencies from using drones manufactured in China (which includes DJI drones).

That’s perhaps unsurprisingly particularly given the widespread, anti-drone sentiment that’s been stoked largely by politicians for years.

What was less likely to be on anyone’s 2023 bingo card, though, was the fact that China would impose its own restrictions on exports of certain drones. That move was in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, stemming from concern that its drones were being used for military purposes (and China has stated it wants to remain neutral in the war).

Of course, China and the U.S. aren’t the only ones playing with bans on drones from certain countries. The Indian government has also banned imported drones in an effort to prop up homegrown drone makers.

Drone delivery companies overhaul operations

Wing’s autoloader (Photo courtesy of Wing)

While drone delivery is still in its early stages (yes, even a decade past Bezos’ 2013 announcement), 2023 saw significant progress in drone delivery technology and infrastructure. Companies are working on long-range drones, autonomous landing systems, and secure delivery hubs.

Some of the major drone delivery companies also launched significant overhauls to the way they executed drone deliveries. It started with Wing (the sister company of Google), which in March 2023 launched a new piece of hardware called Autoloader, which supports the Wing Delivery Network. With the new, more advanced Wing Delivery Network, drones linked through the Wing Delivery Network will be able pick up, drop off, travel, and charge in whatever pattern makes the most sense for the entire system.

That same month, Zipline launched an all new drone delivery platform called Platform 2 (P2), which makes the drones easier to load, and keeps them farther away from people (also allowing them to be quieter).

And not to be outdone, Flytrex in September 2023 launched ‘Autonomous Pickup,’ a new capability designed to allow drones to pick up orders from restaurants and retailers via dropdown wire. That’s a pivot from its old system where orders were loaded onto the drone by the drone’s operator.

All those new systems have made retailers more in tune with drone delivery. For example, Wing in August added Walmart to its list of clients. And drone delivery has gotten so easy, some people use it on a practically daily basis. That includes 84-year-old Susie Sensmeier, who is believed to hold the record for most drone deliveries ordered. Within four years, she had placed more than 1,200 orders for drone delivery through Wing.

And ready-to fly-delivery drones became more readily available

FlyCart 30 DJI Delivery drone
Photo courtesy of DJI

Those three companies use their own, in-house drones to make the delivery. But in 2023, there’s been an uptick in companies manufacturing delivery drones with the sole purpose of being purchased by others (perhaps retailers themselves) to conduct drone deliveries.

Most notably is DJI, which in August launched its ready-to-fly FlyCart 30 delivery drone. Though, it’s only available in China. U.S. customers might instead consider the RDSX Pelican, which is a new, flagship product from California-based A2Z Drone Delivery.

So what’s next for the drone industry? You’ll have to tune in to Drone Girl’s predictions, hopes and visions for 2024. Check back with Drone Girl next week (or enter your email in the right side of this website to subscribe to email alerts) to see what I’m looking forward to and expecting most of all from drones in 2024.

What were your top drone news stories of 2023? Post them in the comments below!

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