Happy New Year!
As we prepare for a visit to the Consumer Electronic Show (CES, Las Vegas), it might be instructional to look back at the top consumer drone stories of 2015. Here, in no particular order, are the subjects we think have shaped – and are continuing to shape – this industry.
1. Regulation – and lack of it – the FAA, local governments and the media have all been caught off guard by the meteoric rise in the sales, use and capabilities of unmanned aircraft (drones). The scenario played out in an unfortunate manner as many new pilots exercised a lack of disgression on how and where to fly – causing a firestorm of complaints and concerns. As a result the government and industry are moving quickly – perhaps TOO quickly – to assure the safety of the public and the skies.
We believe this will moderate at some time in the future as drone programming and education puts a dent in the PDIs (Public Displays of Idiocy), however the result for now is an unstable market where potential buyers and pilots are unsure of how the future will play out. This could speed the “dot-drone” bust that we and others are predicting…such a bust can end up being a good thing as the market will be cleaned from some of the snake oil and false promises that have marked many of the drone startup efforts.
2. The DJI Phantom 3 – In every industry there are groundbreaking or harbinger product – those which both foretell the future and also are arguably the first common examples of a new breed. Examples include the Apple II, the Commodore 64 and even the iPhone/iPad.
The Phantom 3 line from DJI is likely the first true consumer camera drone which will approach sales of one million units – a number which allows greater economy of scale (more for your money!). Its power – both in terms of hardware and software – has attracted legions of new photographers into the field and, most importantly of all, the actual “art” in the form of videos and photos coming from the platform are spectacular.
While DJI still has a ways to go to have a true consumer-friendly machine (easier upgrades, more intelligence, etc.) the P3 is good enough to satisfy those ready to spend the time and effort to master the subtleties of the platform. From the lower end Phantom 3 Standard at 1/2 the price – and greater capabilities – of former models to the Phantom 3 Pro which has astounding range and clarity, DJI set a new standard…and a barrier that other consumer drone companies are going to have to jump if they desire a piece of the market.
3. Unkept Promises and Over-Hyping – 2015 saw the failure and/or pending failure of many of the crowdsourced (kickstarter/indiegogo) drone efforts, some of which have collected many millions of dollars. Zano Drone famously went bankrupt soon after they shipped their first, and faulty, machines. It is our opinion that large crowdsourcing recipients like PlexiDrone will also not deliver. Some others have delivered inferior products. A few, like Hexo+ and Airdog, have graduated to VC funding and are starting (or will soon) to deliver in quantity – but the jury is still out on whether the delivered machines will match the promises.
Even some of the long term industry players have proven guilty in this year of overhype and underdeliver. Parrot, probably the 2nd largest consumer drone company (after DJI), delivered their BeBop and Rolling Spider to very poor reviews (including ours).
3D Robotics, which garnered the largest funding in history for a consumer drone startup, promised the world with their Solo Drone – and also failed to deliver in a timely manner as per their marketing and promises..
While consumers are likely to forgive their $25 toy grade model not meeting a high expectation, it remains to be seen whether those spending larger amounts will be satisfied with the deficient software and hardware which has plagued this industry in its maturation phase.
4. The Drone Fad may have Peaked – and that, as previously mentioned, may be a good thing! I knew we had entered fad stage when Bed, Bath and Beyond featured large “Star Wars Drone” displays before Christmas. Gas stations, convenience stores, catalog and big-box retailers are all caught up in the drone craze…selling mostly toy models which the buyers are likely to fly once or twice and crash. I knew the jig was up when on Christmas morning I looked out the window to see a toy drone bouncing up my street followed by a dad and his son. Apparently the toy wasn’t self leveling – and they only had the included battery, which had run low, so I was unable to get them flying correctly. I did give them a paperback copy of my beginners book, so maybe there is some hope for that neighbor!
Still, it seems like dozens of chinese vendors are crafting hundreds of models – many of them very similar. How this will all shake out is hard to predict…I think that a few quality vendors will emerge, especially those who pioneer new features as opposed to just copying an existing model. 2015 may be remembered as the “year of the drone under every tree” as well as the first year consumers were able to find many models selling for less than $20.
2016 should be an interesting year. We already gave our predictions and will update that article and also write some new ones based on what we see and hear at CES. While it undoubtedly will be a great year for pundits and writers like myself, those in the actual business end will likely see a bumpier ride. Despite these burps the future looks very bright – AI (artificial intelligence) as well as VR (Virtual Reality) are accelerating quickly and these technologies enable other facets of aerial robotics. No doubt there will be a LOT of future applications for drone technology – but which of them will apply to consumers is still an open question. Which will be the next “killer apps” after photography and video? Give us your thoughts in the facebook comments, on twitter @bestquads or using any of our site contact forms.
Happy New Year!
Craig Issod, Founder