Looking back at our 2018 drone industry predictions

At the start of 2018, we made a few drone industry predictions for the coming year. They weren’t overly specific. The aim was more to point out the trends that we thought would emerge or continue throughout 2018.

There were three main trends that we pinpointed back in January. So let’s take a look and see whether our predictions have come to fruition or not.

DJI Will Continue to Dominate

Back in January, we predicted that DJI would continue to dominate the drone hardware market. Admittedly that was a pretty safe bet: DJI’s market share isn’t something that’s going to go away over the course of eight months.

But our prediction was about the continuation of that dominance.

Barely a fortnight after we published our predictions post, DJI unveiled the Mavic Air – yet another foldable drone that offers the portability of the Spark with camera quality and features to rival the Mavic Pro. A week later it was being shipped to pre-orderers.

Despite releases from Parrot and Yuneec later in the year, neither the Anafi or the Mantis Q can quite match DJI’s mid-level product, particularly in terms of computer vision and safety features.

We also suggested that a new iteration of the Mavic Pro would be on the way this year. In fact, it looks like there are going to be two new Mavic models launched at a DJI event in New York this week.

Aside from all of that, DJI has put a lot of focus on supporting lifesaving drone applications this year, working with EENA to develop standards for drone technology and releasing a new thermal camera and SDK to support first responders.

It’s fair to say that our prediction is on course to be correct.

Drone Technology Will Become More Affordable

Another of our predictions was that drone technology would become increasingly affordable in 2018.

To an extent that has been true, providing you are a DJI customer. With the launch of the Mavic Air, DJI brought a 4K-shooting, obstacle-avoiding drone packed with autonomous features to market – for just $799.

Rival models targeting the same market have been released by Parrot and Yuneec, not to mention the hugely impressive (but rather expensive) Skydio R1. But finding the balance between price and functionality has been a challenge for any company looking to compete with DJI.

For example, Parrot and Yuneec appear to have chosen to forego obstacle avoidance tech in favor of hitting the right price point. Skydio has made arguably the most advanced drone on the market, but because of that, the price is way beyond the aerial photography enthusiasts it has targeted to date.

The result has been that the Mavic Air is an easy choice for pilots looking to purchase in the $600-$900 range.

The price point of the new Mavic 2 will be interesting, as we already know that it will have omnidirectional obstacle avoidance and a new camera.

Issues Over Public Sentiment Will Remain

There are two reasons that drones have had a bad reputation among the general public. The first is that a small minority of pilots continue to fly where they shouldn’t or in ways that they shouldn’t.

The second is the media-fuelled perception that this behavior is representative of the majority of pilots, and that our skies are full of dangerous, (drunken?) operators putting lives in danger on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, fear and dramatic headlines drive clicks and sell papers. So rather than rely on media neutrality, it’s up to the pilot community to do more to protect an industry still in its infancy.

But some of the fear and negative public sentiment is well placed. Earlier this month the president of Venezuela was the target of an apparent drone-enabled bomb attack, with explosives attaches to a multi-rotor and detonated above an official ceremony in Caracas.

Scenarios such as this are the industry’s worst nightmare, and it’s not exactly clear how they can be stopped or how all possible threats can be averted. This is something that security services and the industry will have to work together to combat in the coming months and years.

But it’s not all bad news. 2018 has also been packed with positive drone uses, including search and rescue success stories, conservation projects, life-saving medical deliveries, and more.

Ultimately these applications need to get the attention they deserve to help improve public sentiment.

Want to find out more about the positive use cases of drone technology? Check out our post on How drone technology is supporting conservation efforts.

Malek Murison

Malek Murison is a freelance tech journalist working closely with clients in the drone industry.

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