Among the highlights of wearable tech, televisions, cars, ‘smart’ sports gear and 3D printing, a lot of attention has landed on consumer-level drones – especially with the news of Amazon testing them to deliver purchases. Will consumer drones become mass market anytime soon? I don’t think so.
Armed with high-definition cameras and smartphone capabilities, drones have gathered a lot of attention. But the move for production of consumer drones carries a lot of market uncertainties. Think about the applications – an inexpensive alternative for aerial photography for enthusiasts, snapping geographical layouts and building plans, and keeping track of fast-moving athletes. There’s also similar application with surveillance: keeping track of hikers, helping hunters, and search and rescue teams. But the market for drones is still blocked from early adopters by its limited applicable usage. Specific situations where you can use your drones are just too limited. Drones are stuck between being too conspicuous, inapplicable, or invasive in urban environments.
To clarify, consumer drone application will have to focus on overcoming two key barriers: developing a relevant value proposition beyond surveillance and the power and performance trade off, which is tricky – drones can carry only a small amount of weight before performance/handling is significantly impacted. Drones aren’t designed to carry loads, and any load will reduce the battery life. Don’t expect it to deliver your coffee and sandwich. And there are issues around theft, security, traffic control, insurance for probable accidents, and getting support of the FAA.
With the technology we have available now, drone usage is impossible in urban centers. Urban center drones will have to develop powerful enough sensors to detect the thousands of obstacles in a city. On top of mounting usability issues concerning power, speed, and load capacity, it seems difficult to find a use for drones that early adopters can pick up.
In rural and non-urban areas, a user wouldn’t have to worry about hiding a conspicuous surveillance device in public, but they would have to worry about its endurance and value. What value does this product have? How does a drone beat conventional outdoor wilderness aids, like a smartphone and a map? Are there power or load weight issues? What happens if it flies off and gets stuck in a tree?
Although the concept of drone application seems overwhelmingly cool, there needs to be a very distinct and easy-to-follow value proposition that consumers can understand. Designers and developers need to work together to find a feasible design that is possible from an engineering perspective. It requires easy-to-use functions that conventional users cannot find from other simpler-to-use products. Many companies overestimate the power of accessibility. Otherwise, a $1200 drone is just a very cool and very expensive RC helicopter.