No matter which reports you check out, the commercial drone industry is expected to be worth billions of dollars in a matter of years. And with applications ranging from precision agriculture to inspection and maintenance services, it's easy to see why.
But, as we've touched on in the past, the potential, and to an extent the necessity of commercial software, far outweighs hardware possibilities. Plenty of progress has already been made in this space, but there are five areas where further software innovation can be expected...
Smarter drones are needed
This may sound simplistic, but making drones smarter is in the interests of both the consumer and commercial sectors. By smarter drones we mean refining the software that controls them, whether that's perfecting the art of obstacle avoidance, or devising effective geo-fencing techniques.
Development in this area is vital for the commercial drone industry for two reasons. Firstly, it goes without saying that smarter, more efficient, less accident-prone drones are going to be a whole lot more cost effective than the current generation.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, smarter drones means less accidents, which means less negative press and bad publicity. The only thing that is going to ease restrictive commercial drone legislation is trust. For that, we need proof that drones are safe around people, and evidence that they can be trusted to carry out tasks without incident. Without smarter drone software, the industry will struggle to take off and reach its potential.
Introducing drones to the Internet of Things
This is perhaps another way that drones need to become smarter. But still, it warrants its own heading. If drones are to fit seamlessly and efficiently into existing systems, in agriculture, delivery or even inspection and maintenance, they need to be able to communicate easily with existing devices. This is a big challenge, whether it's continuing to develop smart software that can act as the middle man between user and drone, or developing more complex autonomous systems that can work without supervision.
Currently drones are being used in a number of sectors to collect detailed information about, among other things, farms, real estate and the environment. Armed with clever sensors and cameras, they are able to provide services from above that previously would have required an expensive, time-consuming plane or helicopter. There is plenty of room for development in the software that governs this data collection. From real-time aerial mapping to live 3D modelling, who knows what the future could hold. Bear in mind also that there will be ahuge demand for sector-specific software.
Data storage & analysis
There's little point in gathering mountains of useful information if it can't be sifted through, analysed and organized. This is a huge area of potential development for those in the business of commercial software. Although several companies are already leading the way, such as PrecisionHawk in the world of agriculture, developers with no previous drone experience still have a lot to offer. The essentials, from storage to inventories to connected social platforms, all offer areas of potential for SaaS providers. Again, there may well soon be a demand for software specific to each individual area of the industry.
A lack of industry-wide software standards
One of the biggest challenges facing developers in the drone industry at the moment is the lack of industry standards across the board. Drones are relatively new, and it shouldn't therefore be a surprise that there are still many ways of doing things and a lack of consensus. But this mishmash of approaches represents a barrier to developers looking to get involved in the industry.
Software developers looking to build applications for the drone have two choices. Either they develop an entire application from scratch, or they can go ahead and use a standard PaaS provider. However, it’s likely that they will struggle to find any that offer more than just the underlying infrastructure with generic software components embedded. If you’re building an app for your electrical goods marketplace or online dating site, this isn’t going to be a problem. But developers in the drone industry are working with complicated hardware and dealing with capabilities which still relatively young.
Because drone hardware, software and the industry in general remain in the early stages of adoption and development, there simply isn’t enough middleware to help boost the next generation of industry-specific drone software solutions. This is both a shame and an opportunity. On the one hand it slows down the progress of drone software innovation, but on the other it leaves a gap in the PaaS market for a drone-specific provider to step in.