2018 was a huge year for the drone industry. There were ups and downs, highs and lows. Some companies shut down, evidence of the industry consolidating and the hype bubble bursting. But many new companies, particularly in the enterprise space, are popping up, raising more money and hiring. New drones, both consumer and enterprise, hit the market (primarily from DJI — no surprise!). There was no shortage of big news from the FAA, ranging from leadership changes to policy updates. I also had lots of exciting personal news (you’ll get to read all about that tomorrow!).
With so many big changes, it was tough to narrow it down, but we settled on the 8 biggest drone news stories of 2018:
1. A slew of new products from DJI
DJI launched so many new products. While they deserve their own bullet point, that would probably fill up this entire list! DJI’s products run the gamut from tiny, $99 kid-focused Tello drone made in partnership with Ryze Tech to my all-time favorite drone that targets more adventurous hobbyists and photographers, the DJI Mavic Air, to the DJI Mavic 2 with Hasselblad camera for serious photographers, to enterprise products like the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. DJI also launched non-drone products, like the miniature Osmo Pocket.
2. The FAA launched its UAS Integration Pilot Program
In May, the FAA announced the 10 state, local and tribal governments and related companies it has selected to be a part of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, including high-profile companies such as Google and Uber. The drone pilot program pairs governments up with private companies to test types of drone flights that are currently banned in the U.S., including flying drones at night, flying over people and package delivery.
There was one company notably absent from the announcement — Amazon.
3. Intel broke multiple records with its drone light shows
Intel’s famous light show drones flew over many prominent events, including the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. At the time, Intel set a new record for most drones flown simultaneously with 1,218 drones participating. Then in July, Intel marked its 50th anniversary as a company, and to celebrate, launched 2,018 of its Shooting Star light show drones into the air above its campus in Folsom, Calif. — a new record.
4. Some companies struggled and shut down
2018 wasn’t all good news for the drone industry. Airware, a San Francisco-based drone startup working on operating systems, unexpectedly ceased operations in September after having raised $118 million from big investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Google’s GV, and Kleiner Perkins.
GoPro laid off around 200-300 employees in January, largely concentrated in the company’s drone team.
5. The FAA’s LAANC program made big headway
While the LAANC program technically launched in November 2017, the most significant progress was made in 2018. The LAANC program allows drone operators to use an interface from one of the providers listed below to request approval to fly in restricted airspace. Operators then receive approval almost instantly. The program launched with just a handful of facilities participating in 2017, but has since expanded to air traffic facilities across the U.S.
Nine new service providers joined the program in October of 2018, and the FAA said it anticipates even more companies joining as participants in 2019.
6. Some dangerous drone flights cast a dark shadow on the drone world
Hundreds of thousands of airline passengers have had their holiday travel plans thrown into chaos due to an unprecedented drone disruption in London’s Gatwick Airport in mid-December. The event called into question how airports are handling rogue drones flying near commercial airlines.
In the U.S., a video that spread through the Internet shook viewers as it showed a drone flying dangerously close to a Frontier airlines plane.
The rogue drone flights have created opportunities for anti-drone detection companies to spring up, such as Dedrone. Dedrone has consistently shared reports with The Drone Girl of illegal drone flights, such as three dozen “drone intrusions” in the PGA Tour area over Arizona in February.
7. The FAA saw some leadership changes
The FAA announced in December that Jay Merkle will now be the new head of UAS Integration. It’s still unclear who will be named to the currently vacant position of FAA Chief Administrator. Former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta left in January after 7 years in the role.
8. A bunch of people’s Remote Pilot Certificates expired
Regulations surrounding the FAA’s drone pilot certification for commercial pilots went into effect at the end of August 2016. Upon passing, pilots receive a license, which is good for two years. Those two years came to an end for thousands of drone pilots in 2018, prompting the FAA to announce details on the recertification process, which is imperative for drone pilots looking to legally operate commercially.
Come back to The Drone Girl tomorrow, and we’ll highlight the 8 biggest drone events in the life of Drone Girl for 2018!
What were your top drone news stories this year? Leave a comment below!