Drone solutions are becoming more professional, smaller and more operational. The industry is experiencing new growth year after year due to constant further development. The sensor fusion of RGB cameras and laser scanners in particular is creating new solutions. An interview with Kay Wackwitz from the market research and consulting company Drone Industry Insights (Droneii).

Mr Wackwitz, you have been closely monitoring the drone market since founding the market research and consulting company Drone Industry Insights (Droneii) in 2015. What innovations are there?

The solutions are becoming more and more professional. Image quality as well as accuracy are getting better and better. A fusion of different sensors on the unmanned aerial vehicles and surveying equipment can be observed. The sensor fusion of RGB cameras with simultaneous data acquisition by laser scanners brings together image information and point clouds. This results in 3D objects that can be optimally measured and inspected. It doesn't matter whether it's a bridge, a wind turbine or an open-cast mine. At the same time, however, the amount of data that has to be processed is also growing.

Laser scanners on drones are a novelty?

It is not the laser scanners that are new, but the combination of sensors consisting of RGB cameras and laser scanners. In fact, however, there are also innovations in laser scanners. With the so-called solid-state laser scanners, we can definitely speak of a new generation. They are small, light, compact and inexpensive - although not quite as powerful as their big "sisters". In the meantime, there are drones that can even navigate in real time via the laser scanners. The point cloud also guides the drones through difficult environments, for example through mines where there is no GPS reception. In addition, sensor fusion allows for a whole range of applications: From topographic surveying and the creation of digital elevation models, to the monitoring of building and civil engineering projects throughout their entire life cycle. In emergencies such as fires or rescue operations, the drones inspect the terrain in real time and provide vital information. For example, they support the search for missing persons in forested terrain, as the laser can penetrate vegetation. In agriculture and forestry, drones document growth progress, canopy cover or land use. Their use in the energy industry in the inspection of, for example, wind turbines or high-voltage power lines is made even more effective by sensor fusion; the photorealistic 3D models provide a perfect basis for this.

What other developments can be observed?

There are more and more requests from the industry that wants drones for very specific purposes with very specific features. The previous "solution-looking-for-a-problem" market is slowly turning into a more demand-oriented market. These are often small niches at first, but our reports show where there are similar requirements and manufacturers as well as operators can open up new sales markets.

How has the market developed in the Corona years?

Our studies show a growth trend. From 2018 to the end of 2020, we have identified 37 per cent growth in sales. However, there is a duality. While smaller companies have been hit hard by the extreme economic situation, many big players have been able to develop very positively. This can also be applied to the customers of drones: There are customer groups that can currently no longer afford to buy and use drones. On the other hand, the segment of services for drones is growing. Many users are increasingly leaving the flight and evaluation of data to external service providers. Here, too, we are seeing a consolidation of the market towards larger companies.

You spoke at the beginning about increasing amounts of data. How are the manufacturers dealing with this?

The large amounts of data are a problem for the end users. Customers would prefer to dock the collected data from the drone flight directly into their ERP, GIS, BIM or graphics and analysis programs. Today, this is often still associated with considerable effort. Manufacturers are working on workflows that are as simple as possible, but there are still many isolated solutions. We cannot be satisfied with that. In the long term, there must be industry standards that function 'plug and play' across all systems.

More on this and many other developments in the commercial drone market can be found in the annual

can be found in the annual, freely available report, the "Drone Industry Barometer". As in previous years, we will be presenting the report at Intergeo in Essen.

Box: Kay Wackwitz is Managing Director and founder of Drone Industry Insights, the independent market research and consulting company focusing on unmanned flight. The knowledge generated is provided in the form of reports and custom projects and is a central resource for anyone involved in drone technology and operations and legislation

Further information: www.droneii.com

The interview was conducted by Monika Rech-Heider