This report, one of our most popular, has been updated. Click here to read our February 2015 in-depth report on the commercial drone industry. 

KEY POINTS

  • The regulatory and technical hurdles for widespread commercial drone applications are numerous, but not insurmountable. American regulators plan to phase in commercial drone flights beginning in 2015, starting with limited flights of small drones weighing 55 pounds or less.
  • Retail and e-commerce — along with the related logistics and shipping industries — arguably have the most at stake in the wide deployment of civilian and commercial unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Drones might be the missing link in the shipping chain that allows for nearly immediate e-commerce deliveries. Amazon's “Prime Air” drone delivery research program aims at deliveries 30 minutes after a customer order is placed.
  • Currently, military applications dominate the global UAV market, but commercial applications will quickly ramp up over the next 10 years, particularly after 2020. We estimate that 12% of an estimated $98 billion in cumulative spending on aerial drones over the next decade will be for commercial purposes.
  • Privacy and safety concerns still pose the risk of chilling commercial drone flights in many markets, but if UAVs are rolled out gradually we believe the benefits of drone-powered commercial applications such as environmental monitoring and shipping will ultimately win public opinion over.

INTRODUCTION

Not too long ago, when most people heard the word “drones,” they thought of unmanned military aircraft engaged in highly controversial clandestine operations. Now, a lot of those same people think of Amazon package deliveries.

When Jeff Bezos announced on the TV news program “60 Minutes” that Amazon was testing the idea of delivering packages via drones, he not only kick-started a good bit of media attention for Amazon, he also made the idea of drones with popular commercial application suddenly seem like a viable proposition — one that might be right around the corner.

Drones are unlikely to become a part of our daily lives in the immediate future. But they will soon begin taking on much larger roles for businesses and some individual consumers, from delivering groceries to revolutionizing private security, to changing the way farmers manage their crops — perhaps even aerial advertising.

There is a strong intersection between drones and “The Internet of Things,” [...]