As another long year comes to a close, we continue to ponder what we saw in the world of drones this year, and what we’ll see next year.
In 2021, we got a few solid new drones, but mostly the industry slowed way down. That was for two reasons, the pandemic and new drone laws.
The FAA enacted important new laws, including the need for all pilots to acquire a drone license before taking to the air, and the need for remote ID.
DJI Mavic 3
For those looking to step up their aerial photography game, the DJI Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Cine launched near the end of 2021. This new platform maintains much of the size, function and flight features that made all previous Mavic drones a pleasure to fly, then added a powerful Micro Four Thirds camera. The Cine version adds in a 1TB SSD, which enables higher-encoding rates, and is a great amount of storage to capture your awesome 5.1K video video from the sky.
While the Mavic 3 is pretty great, it also comes with a bit of a price tag, that’s a starting price of $2,199, and a $4,999 price for the Cine model.
Like it or not, there are some serious new rules you need to be aware of. The FAA began 2021 by releasing their Remote ID requirements. The industry is still trying to catch up with the tech required to handle Remote ID, which is the number one reason we believe the drone industry slowed to a halt in 2021 — all new drones sold after September 2022 must come equipped Remote ID transmitters. Many manufacturers are choosing to hold off on designing new machines until they know what they need to do to be compliant.
We, the pilots, have until September 2023 to equip all of our drones, new and old, for Remote ID. That’s a fair amount of time, but certainly makes us think twice about what we purchase today, whether or not we plan to fly it after the 2023 deadline.
Even tougher is the new FAA pilot licensing laws with the need for the new TRUST Certificate before a hobby pilot can take to the sky. Yes, that means even your five-year-old child needs a license before flying that new $20 toy drone.
2021 was pretty much all DJI. Both the DJI FPV and the DJI Air 2S raised the bar in their respective areas. The FPV successfully and enthusiastically merged a stable camera drone with a thrill of a racing drone, then the Air 2S offered a 1-inch camera with 5.4K video and 8x zoom.
2022 desires and expectations
1. More drones from brands we know
Some of our favorite brands have been pulling back through the pandemic, but other brands are gradually becoming stronger and more capable. Hubsan comes to mind, they were only building small toy drones a few years ago, but are now offering decent camera drones today. The Hubsan Zino Pro is a solid example, with stabilized 4K video and decent flight time, proving that Hubsan may be able to match the DJI Mini line of drones sometime soon.
It’s also already public knowledge that Autel Robotics has new drones on deck, we expect to learn more in early January.
2. New players in the camera drone market
As the world returns to normal, or at least a new normal, there is potential for new players in the market. We expect to see higher-caliber drones from toy-class manufacturers, and their success should inspire new brands to give it a shot.
3. More accessories
It will all begin with Remote ID modules. There’s no way around it, our existing unmodified drone fleets are set to be grounded in 2023, which means we’ll all be shopping for new machines, or we’ll be looking for after-market accessories to provide Remote ID transmission for our aircraft. Most attachments to drones are of a DIY nature, but in opening up ports and building mounts on our airframes, we’re making way for more accessories as well.
The FAA has also allowed night flight for certificated Part 107 pilots, which means that, at the very least, beacon lights are due for a resurgence in popularity.
4. Night flights
While Part 107 pilots can already access night flights, we expect that this courtesy may be extended to hobby pilots as well. Make no mistake, there would be extra training or certification required, but we do not see why a hobby pilot cannot follow the same rules as a commercial pilot.
5. Still no drone deliveries, sorry
Finally, despite the advancements in BVLOS regulation, we do not expect to see true BVLOS flights in 2022. Without which, there is little room for drone deliveries. As we’ve said before, if the delivery pilot must be within visual range of your front porch, it’s a rare case that it would be more efficient to fly versus simply walking the package over.
Bottom line: Few, but high quality new drones
All in all, we expect 2022 to be another slow year for the consumer drone market. However, we expect some amazing craft to hit store shelves. No longer can any brand slap together something that sort of works and make some cash, we’re a maturing consumer market, we want more from our aircraft, and we have expectations of the cameras attached to said craft.
More important, we know that the deadlines for Remote ID are coming up, we’re not going to invest in a flight platform that will be permanently grounded in a few months. The moment that compliant hardware is approved through the FAA, we will suggest that you do not even consider buying a non-compliant drone. Remote ID modules will be adequate, but nothing beats a clean and complete flight system.
We hope to see great things from drones in 2022, both in the consumer market, and in the commercial markets. For us, we think it all boils down to BVLOS. Once pilots are allowed to fly beyond visual line of sight, all the fun drone deliveries, security services, inspection tasks, and so much more may be possible. Here’s hoping we see some movement in 2022.