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Drones… what could be the future?

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At Innovate UK we have a saying: “We can’t stop thinking about the future”.

There is a lot of interest around at the moment relating to drones, from the introduction of a new A-level that teaches about drones, to major multinational companies like Amazon looking at drones to deliver goods.

So what could be the future for drones? And what part should or will the UK play in their development and use?

What is the potential market size?

I don’t think anybody really knows - some projections are modest in the single billions figures and some of the latest projects rise to as much as $127bn.

What is clear is that it is going to be significant and have a disruptive impact on many current sectors and incumbent technologies, as well creating completely new uses and opportunities.

The UK seems to be leading the way in Europe with 1,769 drones registered, for drones up to 7kg and 7-20kg, and we appear to be only second to Japan.

Potential applications of drones

The potential uses are endless from the well known infrastructure monitoring or use for crop management and spraying to more forward thinking uses like medical deliveries. Whether it’s an infrastructure company or a retail company the potential commercial impact is high.

Drone over agricultural land
Drone over agricultural land

Drones have the potential to cross multiple markets

One of the great things about working at Innovate UK is the breadth and depth of expertise. The breadth includes experts in each of the major markets, including:

  • infrastructure
  • agriculture
  • transport
  • security

but it’s the depth of knowledge across Innovate UK that is truly inspiring.

I bumped into our lead on Quantum technologies last week, Richard Murray. After a 101 lesson on Quantum technologies, the penny dropped: unlock some of the emerging technologies and couple them with drones and you have ultra-lightweight technology that out-performs anything that can be conceived on the market today. For example, a complete range of new very small, very accurate sensors.

The results would be truly disruptive to both exiting technologies and markets. The UK has to aim to be the world leader in this!

Will drones replace existing assets?

Drone over a city
Drone over a city

The short answer is yes.

That could be considered a disadvantage, but the reality is that this will happen anyway.

If a new technology comes along that is cheaper easier to use and better, then it will naturally replace what is out there.

A good example of this is the surveying of infrastructure assets by power companies. If a drone can be launched that can take a pre-mapped flight path and conduct the surveillance regularly, this may indeed represent a more effective surveying approach. The drone can get to and around power assets much more easily, at closer range and reach places that cannot be seen by incumbent technology. It’s really a no brainer.

If that is the future, where are we with the technology right now?

At Innovate UK, we are lucky to be part of this journey. We have over 100 projects, with hundreds of collaborating partners, looking at a wide range of technology and commercial opportunities.

There is the breadth and depth of skills, right across the country, to turn the UK into the centre of drone development, testing and deployment. These skills sit with:

If you would like to find out more or talk about the potential, I would encourage anyone at Farnborough International Airshow this year to come to the Innovate UK stand in the Innovation zone Hall 3 and see for yourself and talk to the team.

You can contact me on Linkedin

Or get in touch with Richard Murray on Twitter

You can follow Innovate UK on:

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