Around 300 000 civil unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will be sold this year, bringing the total number of units above $200 to more than a million, according to Deloitte.
The company said that although UAVs have a tremendous number of potential applications, particularly for enterprise and government, it does not expect 2015 to be a breakthrough year for UAVs.
Deloitte predicts that in 2015 the active base of non-military UAVs costing $200 or more should exceed one million units for the first time. Sales of non-military UAVs will be about 300 000 units in 2015, with the majority being bought by consumers or prosumers. Deloitte expects total industry revenues to be $200-$400 million in 2015 (equivalent to the list price of a single, mid-sized passenger jet).
Deloitte identified three key factors that are likely to limit UAV adoption in the short and medium term. Firstly, UAVs require significant skill to fly and are prone to crashes, which can be both expensive and potentially dangerous.
Secondly, in some markets, regulation is imminent, while in others, UAVs come under the same rules as apply to remote controlled aircraft. Also, the legality of flying UAVs has already been the subject of litigation, and this may continue through 2015 and beyond.
Thirdly, enterprises will deploy UAVs by the dozens, not the thousands. UAVs are cheaper than helicopters, but more expensive than conventional terrestrial vehicles for many enterprise tasks. Thus, Deloitte does not expect UAVs to be deployed on a massive scale to replace existing vehicles.
“This is not to say that UAVs are not useful or compelling,” Deloitte said, adding that it expected UAVs will have multiple industrial and civil government applications, building upon the diverse uses they are already being put to. Any task requiring aerial inspection could be undertaken by a camera equipped UAV, transmitting footage to ground staff in real time. The company recommended enterprises examine every potential application of aerial UAVs while recognizing their limitations: these are lightweight, battery-powered devices, many with modest payloads and short ranges.
Regulators considering how best to incorporate UAVs into existing air space will need to balance the many positive contributions they can make, as well as the obvious negative externalities they can inflict. An irresponsibly piloted semi-professional two kilogram UAV, whose battery expires in mid-flight above a crowd, may cause serious injury. Conversely, a UAV deployed on search and rescue missions may save lives, Deloitte pointed out.