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Developing business ideas for drone technologies
Developing business ideas for drone technologies

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2 The drone industry and its growth

The civilian drone industry emerged in 2007, mainly because drones, originally developed for military purposes, started being used for aerial photography and video. Since that time, the civilian market has had tremendous growth. In 2018, the worldwide value of the civilian drone industry reached 2.9 billion USD and by 2023, had grown to 4 billion USD (Statista, 2023). According to Statista (Figure 5), the civilian drone industry alone is forecasted to reach 4.7 billion USD by 2028, without military drones. Nearly 1 million drones are expected to be in operation in the UK by 2030 (PwC, 2022).

Bar graph to show civilian drone revenues in billion USD (US$) from 2018 to 2028
Figure 5 Civilian drone revenues from 2018 to 2028 (estimates by Statista, 2023)

As the drone industry grows, new products and services continue to emerge. These innovations offer lots of different opportunities for businesses in industries spanning agriculture and photography to logistics. Market estimates suggest that the greatest growth for new business opportunities will come from geographical locations where currently restrictive regulations could be relaxed, namely the EU and the UK (MarketLine, 2022). Currently, the fastest growing drone market is in Asia, followed by the US, where the regulatory environments are more relaxed and the cost of drone technology is lower.

Within the drone market, one of the fastest growing industry segments is related to drones in agriculture. An industry segment is a specific category within an industry (Denoo et al., 2022), for instance the industry segment of agricultural drones or the industry segment of logistics drones.

Despite much of the drone market still being in its infancy, PwC forecasts that, in the UK, agricultural and logistics drones will see the largest gains from the adoption of drone applications by 2030, with other growing industry segments including defence, health, education, mining, and gas and electricity. The global value of the agricultural drones dedicated to spraying was estimated at 1.8 billion USD in 2020 and is expected to reach 3.2 million USD by 2031 (Fact.MR, 2021).

In this course, you will focus on how to develop business opportunities for the use of drones in different contexts. The examples from the ICAERUS project consider mainly the use of drones in agriculture, but these may apply to a wider range of applications to industrial and consumer uses. First, though, it is worth appreciating that drone applications are at different stages of development; for instance the use of drones for delivery is at a more advanced stage of development compared to drone use for livestock management.