We attended the first European Commercial UAV Expo held in Amsterdam last week, which brought together key industry leaders and stakeholders. The outlook for the European Commercial Drone market looks strong and, according to Statista, is expected to more than triple to $838 million in 2021 from $250 million this year.

Here are our key takeaways:

  • Although restriction on flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) remains one of the biggest hurdles in unlocking the value of commercial drone applications, policy makers view the integration of drone a priority and target a European UTM by 2019.
  • Most European commercial drone manufacturers and operators have moved up the value chain by providing applications and analytics or just focusing on software/applications targeting specific industry verticals. Looking ahead, new technologies that could further enhance their capabilities include on-board processing, smaller and smarter chips and sensors and AI for navigation/autonomy and data analytics.
  • Aerospace giant Airbus shared their vision of Smart Cities of the future where drones ferry people, goods and equipment around, reducing an hour commute down to minutes. They see the fusion of different data sources together on a cloud-based AI-driven analytics platform delivering answers to solve business problems. Drone is just one of many tools other than satellite, aerial, IoT etc. Could high altitude unmanned aircraft be the major game changer for aerial data collection in the next 5 years, as Airbus believes?
  • Chip companies like Intel and NXP Semiconductors see big opportunities to become technology suppliers to the emerging drone industry. Their technology could be used to give drones computer vision and enable sense-avoid capabilities. Intel’s long-term vision is automation and drone operation at scale. i.e. 500-1,000 drones flying autonomously for power line inspection with one operator. Intel also talked about indoor drone applications and sees huge potential for using drones in warehouses to solve logistics problems. The challenge is navigation in a satellite denied environment.