Drone Rodeo Returns To CES – And The Drones Are Smaller

By Amy Pollard
BU News Service

BOULDER CITY, Nevada – The drones are coming – and they’re getting smaller, according to industry insiders at the annual drone rodeo that takes place during CES.

Held at the Eldorado Droneport, the rodeo showcases the latest in consumer drone technology. Exhibitors included drone makers Uvify, Teal Drones and Drone Art, hardware manufacturer Fat Shark and drone consulting firm SkyFire.

The consumer drone market is in an early stage. It’s smaller than markets for other high-end consumer tech products and lags behind the market for military drones – but it’s expected to grow. By 2020, there could be as many as 7.8 million consumer drones on the market, bringing in $3.3 billion in revenue, according to Goldman Sachs.

“I think there’s just a lot more interest in drones now,” said Thom Tyler, a support engineer at Uvify. “A few years ago we were looking very much at a hobbyist market, but now it’s consumer so there’s a lot more eyes on the market.”

The drones are getting smaller. They can analyze your golf swing, track you while hiking or provide games through augmented reality. They can take photos, race around your living room or locate you during a search and rescue operation.

Whether you can afford the latest arrivals in the consumer drone market is another matter. Uvify’s micro drone Oori costs $289. Teal’s sport racer is selling for $799. But companies are banking on future growth.

The drones are not only getting smarter – they’re getting smaller. Uvify’s Oori can fit in the palm of your hand. Drone Art also showcased an array of micro drones.

Some industry insiders chalked it up to the demands of technology and consumers.

“As we progress with technology, miniaturaization does occur,” said Tyler. “It’s a natural evolution, but also the way the market’s going…it makes sense that the developers are trying to make their products smaller.”

“I think it’s largely because smaller drones are a lot easier to fly. They’re a lot more approachable,” said Grant Martin, vice president of marketing at Fat Shark. “So you can fly smaller drones inside, for example.”

But others pointed to regulations.

“Because of regulations, drones are getting smaller,” said Christian Listl, managing director of Drone Art. “Regulations very much concern the size of the drone.”

Drones that weigh more than 250 grams – about the weight of two sticks of butter – have to be registered as unmanned aerial vehicles with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The maximum drone weight allowed by the FAA is 55 pounds. Drones can’t fly higher than 400 feet. They must stay within the pilot’s line of sight. They can’t fly over groups of people, including at public events and stadiums.

Regulations may ease for some drones, such as first person view (FPV) drones, which are small and fly at a lower altitude than drones that do aerial photography, for example.

“I don’t think that we need aggressive regulation around these [drones] right now,” said Martin. “I could see a little bit more loosening coming down the line, because these things are really harmless.”

With easing regulations that could boost the industry’s growth, could there eventually be drones in every household? Probably not, according to Martin.

“I don’t think they’re going to be as widespread as smartphones,” he said. “But I think that there’s a big growth opportunity right now for smaller, gentler drones.”

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