Which industry relies most heavily on drones? The answer may surprise you. Many observers might pick agriculture – and there’s good reason for thinking so. The drone market in agriculture is expected to expand rapidly over the next 5 years – from roughly $1 billion now to over $7 billion in 2027. That’s a combined aggregate growth rate of more than 35% – a phenomenal expansion. Drones are expanding most heavily into activities like aerial seeding and fertilizer and pesticide spraying – all part of a big emphasis on “precision agriculture” – the calibrated use of various farm inputs to reduce costs and improve yields.
Another obvious contender for #1 is the construction industry. Drones can not only map a construction site but also inventory supplies. The same is true of the mining industry, with the added advantage of being able to fly into mine shafts to identify structural weaknesses and to reduce the risk of collapse. But mines, like large construction sites, are relatively few in number compared to farm properties. And many are under pressure to shut down due to environmental concerns. With an ever-expanding global population, more food will always be needed.
Another big growth drone industry is law enforcement and public safety. More and more police agencies are acquiring drones for search and rescue and criminal pursuit operations. But law enforcement also operates under legal and operational constraints not found in the private sector. Flying over private property is generally restricted, except in emergencies. And a deeply ingrained culture remains within many law enforcement agencies that currently rely heavily on helicopters for aerial surveillance and pursuit. These kinds of operations aren’t that frequent, in fact. While interest is clearly growing, many law enforcement agencies still view drones as an expensive and exotic gadget fad.
There are several other industries that one might consider contenders for the drone throne. One is logistics, which includes remote package and medical supply delivery, which seem to have gotten lots of media attention of late. It could be that the determination of large companies like Walmart and Amazon to expand these services, and the role of companies like Zipline in medical supply and rescue missions that are saving lives throughout Africa may be responsible for this heightened attention.
In fact, there’s still an enormous amount of push back against remote drone delivery operations. Rightly or wrongly, concerns about threats to citizen privacy and the risk of drone crashes have caused controversy in this sector. Despite the hype, the actual roll-out of remote aerial drone delivery thus far has been exceedingly slow and limited to pilot operations in fairly isolated rural areas located far from major urban centers.
What sector actually relies most heavily on drones? It turns out to be real estate photography. To be sure, it’s not the sexiest of the group, but it’s the one where drones are consistently most useful, day in and day out. Buying and selling real estate relies heavily on the marketing and promotion of properties, and compelling visual images shot from different altitudes and angles have the potential to showcase properties in ways that ground photography can’t possibly match. And numbers don’t lie. The global drone industry for real estate is expected to grow 12 times its current size by 2030 – far and away the largest growth expansion of any of the leading drone markets.