Richard Branson tests out a 3D Robotics drone at his island in the Virgin Islands. Credit: Virgin
Chris Anderson, former top editor of Wired and now the head of drone maker 3D Robotics, thinks that practically every kind of business will have a need for drones. But he doesn't expect adoption to happen overnight.
Currently, the military drone market is worth around $20 billion a year and the consumer market is worth around $1 billion, he said. "We're about to see the launch of the commercial market which I think will be bigger than both of those combined," Anderson said, speaking at the Geekwire Summit in Seattle.
For now, 3D Robotics is selling primarily to consumers because the FAA currently only permits recreational use of drones. The FAA has said it expects to set rules for commercial use of drones next year, although many people expect the agency will be late in delivering the rules.
In the meantime, businesses can start trying out drones in an evaluation context and some may be able to get permission under a research and development exemption, Anderson said. His company, along with Amazon, Google, GoPro, and others launched the Small UAV Coalition to help shape the commercial regulatory environment and serve as an information resource to potential drone users.
Anderson envisions a wide variety of businesses that can benefit from the use of drones. Real estate agents, insurance companies, construction workers, and architects have obvious uses.
"You have the ability to see the world from a perspective and resolution you've never had before," he said. "You get any time access to the sky."
Drone delivery is also a possibility. Amazon and Google have both made headlines for their plans to use drones to deliver packages.
But commercial use will start out slowly, Anderson said. He compared the commercial use of drones to the development of autonomous cars. Before autonomous cars hit the road, we're first seeing the implementation of driver assist features.
In the world of drones, Anderson expects businesses might use drones to transport components or other goods between warehouses or from warehouses to distribution centers. "We'll start with drone zones, point to point areas often on private land," he said.
Or businesses may use drones to deliver items in hard to reach areas, he said. Just last week DHL said it would use drones to deliver medicine to people who live on a remote German island, when other transportation possibilities aren't available.
Such limited use cases will let businesses safely test out the concept. "It's a flying lawnmower. You don't want an autonomous drone dropping your lunch on the sidewalk next to you," he said.
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