LIKE THE AERIAL VEHICLES themselves, projections for drone-related solutions are flying high.
In fact, Goldman Sachs is forecasting a $100 billion market opportunity for drones by 2020, propelled by growth in the commercial and civil government sectors. The projections at Frost & Sullivan are similarly positive, with aerospace analyst and research director Michael Blades expecting sales of commercial drones to soar 30 to 40 percent in 2017 from the previous year.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad: Many of the most lucrative commercial drone use cases won’t be legal in the U.S. until the FAA relaxes its current flight restrictions. Absent special exemption, drone owners are only permitted to fly within line of sight and as high as 400 feet off the ground. Other constraints include operating over people and performing operations at night. Experts doubt that more permissive rules will be forthcoming until unmanned flight control systems can keep drones from colliding with humans, other devices, and piloted aircraft.
The Trump administration issued a directive in October to accelerate the creation of such systems. Local governments and technology companies were asked to recommend pilot program concepts for testing expanded drone deployments. Those approved by the FAA will be exempt from some flight restrictions, and the resulting data will be used by the Department of Transportation and NASA to help develop traffic control systems.
In the meantime, channel pros can still make money on drones, provided they look beyond today’s commonly offered services. After all, as Blades notes, taking pictures of properties from above for real estate agents at $50 a shoot isn’t exactly a quit-the-day-job business plan. Aspiring drone service providers should be aiming to deliver more specialized information payloads rather than shooting simple aerial images.
“Any 10-year-old can fly a drone over a farm,” says blogger Sally French, aka The Drone Girl. What farmers need and are willing to pay a premium for is agriculture experts who can study the collected data and show which part of a field requires more water or fertilizer. That’s just one example. “The more we can automate that, the cheaper and more efficient it is for clients,” French notes.
Many companies—including DroneDeploy and PrecisionHawk—now process, graphically present, and store drone information in the cloud. “That’s the touchpoint of this market,” Blades says. It’s also a point of intersection between drone services, managed services, and the Internet of Things. For example, channel pros could leverage infrared data collected via drone-mounted sensors to pinpoint hot or cold air leaks for facilities managers.
The bottom line for MSPs? Those looking to incorporate drones into their service portfolios should investigate how clients can make use of all that data they collect from above.
Opening Image: Pixabay