Drone hype reached new levels this week when a fleet of 300 Intel Shooting Star UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) provided a dazzling light show during a pre-taped segment used in Sunday's Super Bowl Halftime Show. The hype may be warranted, suggests Gartner's projections for the near-term drone market.
In a new forecast, the analyst firm expects the global commercial drone market to reach just over $3.7 billion in 2017, compared to $2.8 billion last year. The market for personal drones will generate nearly $2.4 billion in revenue this year, up from $1.7 billion last year.
Collectively, the commercial and personal drone markets will jump 34 percent this year to cross the $6 billion mark. By 2020, that figure will reach $11.2 billion, said Gartner.
Nearly 2.8 million personal drones will be produced in 2017 compared to 2 million in 2016. Far fewer commercial drones, 174,000 in fact, will take to the skies this year.
According to Gartner senior analyst Gerald Van Hoy, the distinction between personal and commercial drones is blurring.
"The commercial and personal drone markets are increasingly overlapping, as lower-priced personal devices are being used for commercial ventures," he said in a statement. Lightweight personal drones are generally used to capture video footage and take pictures from lofty vantage points. They typically have sub-$5,000 price tags and can only travel short distances (up to 5,000 meters and an altitude of up to 500 meters) for an hour or less.
These limitations don't seem to be stopping drone makers from moving upmarket.
"Personal drone vendors are now aggressively trying to position themselves in the commercial market," stated Van Hoy. "Recent technological advances blur the lines, allowing personal drones to be used in many special-purpose applications such as surveillance, 3D mapping and modeling."
Although commercial drones generally offer longer flight times and higher payload limits, don't expect them to start dropping off Amazon packages any time soon. (Amazon delivery drones also made an appearance at the big game, courtesy of Super Bowl commercial.)
"Delivery drones will be mired in logistical issues like the time needed to return a drone to its origin point after delivery, and will amount to less than 1 percent of the commercial market by 2020," Van Hoy said. "We expect that delivery drones will begin finding a niche in business-to-business applications first, particularly for internal services within one company where logistics will not be such a big factor."
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.