2030, some drone industry predictions for the next 10 years.

2030, some drone industry predictions for the next 10 years.

Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge. “

–Lao Tzu, 6th Century BC Chinese Poet

When sUAS News started being turned into a thing, Patrick and I, batted back and forth, mostly on RC Groups USAF predictions for 2047, the road map to ubiquitous UAS, or UAVs as they were still called back then

It is astonishing that the FAA still seem to be using the same plan!

sUAS News was founded to focus on the small stuff because before I bought the domain you could already see that the money was going to be made with low weight, low-risk machines. It was also what all my friends were building and flying.

Just as the motor and oil industry deliberately killed high-speed rail in the USA after the second world war the sUAS world has powerful enemies in the manned aviation world. Manufacturers, pilots, and air traffic control. All of them are manipulating regulators for their own ends and some in regulation are looking for their off-ramps.

My first prediction for the next 10 years.

They will all get out of the way or stop being a thing.

Legacy manufacturers of large platforms that benefited from sandy wars are not agile enough to move with grassroots innovation.

By the time the required meetings with snacks and focus groups are over at Big Co, the drone developer gang has moved on to better things and Big Co is out of date before launch.

Look at separate lift thrust and tail sitter advances in the last five years. All the innovation and testing came from the community not legacy vendors. 

AeroVironment, Airbus, Boeing, Bell, and Rolls Royce, NASA, and many more have all leveraged open-source flight controllers and software in the last three years for some very big projects. None of those companies have teams of autopilot developers operating 24 hours a day around the world. Once they get a thing flying they can close it off and bring it in house.

Every AAM/UAM offering uses Opensource controllers in their development.

I didn’t think Opensource, even Ardupilot would be as competitive or useful ten years ago. I didn’t have the vision. 

Pilot groups are facing a world of hurt from the current Covid situation and try as they might pushing an ATPL into an RPAS position is a square peg into a round hole. Pilots do not have the extra skills required for successful sUAS operations. 

Those never spoken of skills are being a qualified inspector or surveyor. Anybody regardless of the number of bars on their shoulder is just taking pretty pictures, not making actionable data without the right qualifications.

No delivery or real estate company will pay an ATPL salary.

There is room for a few hundred ATPLs overseeing large multi day flying HAPs but there are plenty of experienced ex forces folks that command half the wages of an ATPL that will keep the pay scale in that range.

HAPs make no sense unless they are cheaper than Elon Musk’s Starlink by a huge margin or you are collecting data you don’t want routed through Starlink.

The last threat from manned aviation is Air Traffic Navigation Services, they are really beginning to show their age. They should have no place in the UAS world, their systems and procedures are just breaking out of the paper age. The vintage digital ADS-B standard points to legacy thinking as just one example.

I am not going to get started on the snake oil that is Counter UAS (CUAS) being sold to ATNS as a solution everywhere.

So traditional aviation has to move with us or move out the way.

That quickly outlines the problem folks. Now where I see opportunity.

Mass manned AAM/UAM will not be a thing by 2030, forget it, it’s VC BS.

Delivery drones, are here and working and will scale quickly. I can see 100kg being the largest day to day payload by 2030, with much bigger stuff happening but not routine. This will be part of a more unified traffic system that even talks to delivery bikes and any other way of moving stuff. Dots will be joined. The money won’t be in the drones, it will be in how frictionless the entire service it.

Swarms of small cheap RPAS will complete complex tasks that currently take hours.

As a team, they will fly different sensors filling in all the gaps, photogrammetry, LiDAR, smell, and taste, all of the things that can be routinely sensed with whatever sensors are a 2030 thing.

The data collected will be huge and the people that can turn it into a very complete Building Information Models (BIM) or critical infrastructure study and present it to the client will be earning ten or twenty times more money than the person that took 30 drones out of the box and hit go.

My drone of 2020 is the DJI Mini 2, it’s the future. It is a glimpse of what will be possible under 250g.

My shortest career path of 2020 pick would be commercial drone pilot. Robots don’t need people.

Have a very Happy New year dear readers, you have self-selected yourself as somebody who is truly watching the UAS Industry and not just shiny things by commenting on our Youtube videos and social media posts, for this, I am very grateful.


Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.