Drone Industry Enjoyed Another Banner Investment Year in 2022

Investments in the drone industry are continuing to surge at record-high rates. A study by the research form Drone Industry insights found that investments totaled $4.8 billion in 2022, more than twice the level in 2020, and exceeding the level reported for the entire three-year period of 2017-2020.  Especially noteworthy was the growth in drone investments in Asia, where the continent’s share of the global market has nearly doubled – from 14% to 27%.  China is still leading the way but Japan, South Korea and India – the world’s most populous nation, and a relative laggard until recently – are witnessing a huge growth in investment, especially in farm management and defense and border security applications.

Two other regions — Latin America and the Middle East Near Africa (MENA) – are also increasing their presence on the global drone stage.  Dubai has emerged as a major hub in the MENA region.  And numerous countries from Greece to Japan to South Africa are beginning to establish their own drone industries, decreasing their reliance on imported drones and attracting major sources of domestic and global venture capital.  The era in which a handful of companies in just a few countries in the US, Europe and Asia could dominate the entire drone industry is rapidly drawing to a close.

Another phenomenon in the investment market is the growth of partnerships, especially partnerships between drone technology firms and those outside the drone market.  Many firms offering advanced visual imaging, communications, artificial intelligence and data storage and analytics capabilities are in position to enhance drone design and performance, making drones even more efficient and cost-effective than conventional manned aircraft, road vehicles and human field operators.  These state-of-the art technology enhancements may not show up on corporate balance sheets as drone industry investments in the short term but, in fact, are critical to drone industry growth over the long haul.

Likewise, regulatory frameworks, while still lagging in many countries, are becoming more open to expanded drone use, as drones continue to prove themselves in more niches and safety risks and liability concerns begin to subside.  More countries are granting Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) authority, which is allowing drones to fly at greater distances for longer periods, increasing the scalability – and potential profitability – of drone operations, in the process attracting larger investment opportunities.

And not only larger – but also more stable and reliable.  In the past, venture capitalists in search of a hot new drone start-up completely dominated the investment market.  But in 2022, more established drone companies are becoming publicly traded.  Just 12% of the total in 2021, IPOs and PIP investments  jumped to 25% last year.  Investors can buy shares of tried and true companies or make large lump-sum purchases of stock, knowing that they will likely receive steady long-term returns.

The upshot?  The highly aggressive but unstable investments that characterized the drone industry’s pioneering and early adoption phases – resulting in a remarkable spike in the investment volume in 2021 – is giving way to an era of long-term investment growth befitting a more stable and maturing industry.  UAVs of all kinds – traditional aerial, but also surface and underwater drones – are spreading across more industries, more countries and more continents, equipped with increasingly advanced technologies to support a dazzling new array of roles and missions.  Many one-time start-ups are full-grown now, deepening their roots while spreading seeds to spur industry growth elsewhere.  2022 was a banner investment year for drones, but 2023 could be even bigger.

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