Drone shipments seen doubling in 2020 as Covid-19 accelerates adoption

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Like many technologies, the future of robotics is being complicated by Covid-19. But more than any other technology, robotics developers have visibly demonstrated the value of more flexible automation to meet the enormous challenges being placed on businesses and governments.

While shipments in autonomous last-mile delivery and commercial cleaning robot shipments will be bolstered by the pandemic, drones for civil use-cases will see the most immediate and long-term growth.

Civil drone shipments will nearly double from 2020 pre-pandemic forecasts to reach 13,400 and nearly 80,000 shipments will take place in 2025, according to analyst firm ABI Research.

In its new whitepaper, ABI revealed how Covid-19 has been the catalyst for change in the robotics industry and explores how the industry is well-placed to accelerate its deployments by enabling both corporations and governments to tackle this crisis.

“Having over a quarter of the world under lockdown would have been a mad prediction the start of 2020,” said Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research. “Now, with a stay-at-home orders being relaxed, and gatherings limited, governments are turning to drones for emergency, health, and law enforcement.”

“Drones are essentially acting as a platform for various cameras for facial recognition and crowd control. Some are equipped with infrared cameras to measure temperature. In fact, we’ve seen some infrared camera manufacturers’ orders skyrocket because businesses want to check employee’s temperature before they come to work,” said Whitton.

Many drones are deployed with loudspeakers to enforce curfews and surveil areas for security purposes, which poses a big opportunity for aerospace and drone companies to increase sales to government agencies.

Delivery drones have also become more prominent during the crisis. In China, delivery drones have made more than 3,000 trips carrying 11 tons of supplies to Wuhan.

In early February, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began creating safety standards for specific delivery drone models, accelerating testing and eventual commercialization in the United States.  ABI Research expects the small drone delivery market will reach $10.4 billion by 2030.

Drone manufacturers received $281 million in investment in 2019 and drone services received $497 million.

“While the industry has been wracked by the commodification of consumer drones and major incidents affecting the presumed safety of large-scale drone operations, the value of commercial services is not in doubt, and the industry will receive significant increases in orders from law enforcement agencies as a result of Covid-19,” Whitton said.

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