By Mary-Lou Smulders, Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone
2024 has officially arrived. Already tired of election coverage? We’ve still got 11 months to go. But an election year always means greater scrutiny on anything and everything that the presidential administration is even perceived to have some level of control over. When it comes to drones, the Biden administration has taken some concrete steps like issuing a Counter-Drone National Action Plan, and the FAA is actively testing drone detection and mitigation systems. But unfortunately, a slow Congress has meant that more concrete improvements still have to wait.
Despite that, 2024 has potential to speed up the incorporation of drones into our everyday lives – perhaps finally making good on Jeff Bezos’ 2013 reveal of Amazon delivery by drone in more than just a few test sites. As you plan for your 2024, watch for these five trends in the industry.
Remote ID comes into full force, but falls short
Remote ID (RID) will finally be fully enforced and effective come March of this year after a last-minute delay in enforcement in September 2023. While RID is a great first step for accommodating the growing number of drones in the sky, a great first step is not never the final step.
RID relies on drones to broadcast their specific information. In theory, this works– drones made today all have broadcasting capabilities built in by the manufacturer, so there is no extra step for pilots to take. In practice, this means that older drones need to be retro-fitted with broadcast modules and criminals have every reason to make sure their drones do not broadcast Remote ID. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy to tamper with a properly functioning drone through one of two methods: disabling the RID broadcast signal (like taking a license plate off a car) or spoofing it (changing the characters).
With these easy methods, bad actors can work around RID requirements to continue contraband drops to prisons, disrupting sports events, or other common criminal activities involving drones – all without being detected by RID.
Critical infrastructure invests in airspace
As mentioned, a presidential election brings polarization to its peak. That has the side effect of riling up bad actors. Critical infrastructure sites know this; the FBI issued a bulletin in 2021 confirming that an electric substation in Pennsylvania was probably the target for disruption via drone. As we get closer to November – and perhaps even after Election Day itself – critical infrastructure sites should be looking to harden their security, including airspace security.
For example, the fence around an electrical substation protects that facility from ground-based intruders. If there were a hole in the fence, then the security team would consider this an issue and work quickly to close that hole. The same is true of the airspace above the electrical substation: it’s a massive, unprotected hole that any drone could enter without interference if there are no protections in place..
Critical infrastructure needs to think beyond first steps and look at their airspace security from a layered perspective – before it’s too late.
DJI drones continue to lose market share in the USA
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2024, passed in December and expected to get a signature from the president, has a number of different components, including pay raises for service members. But most relevant to the drone industry is that the bill would ban federal agencies or programs from purchasing drones manufactured in Russia and China. Notably, it doesn’t stop hobbyist purchases or imports, as of yet.
While other countries have not yet followed suit, the ongoing concern about security of all kinds in a tense world will likely see the western world deciding that now is the time to prioritize tech made from clear allies rather than countries with whom they have complicated or outright hostile relationships. This trend will contribute to the decreasing DJI market share in the US.
…And drone innovation in the US and abroad accelerates as a result
It is no secret that government contracts can be lucrative, and if these entities can no longer buy from DJI this will likely steer funds into US drone manufacturers like Skydio or BRINC, for example, thus enabling them to speed up their R&D cycles to offer the best to the federal government.
But the pace of innovation won’t just be sped up here at home. As drones continue playing major roles in conflicts like Ukraine and Israel, more money will be spent by governments globally, racing to get their hands on the best tech. And with accelerated feedback coming in from users in the conflict zones, companies can then further speed up their development cycles to meet current needs and future projected challenges.
Expect a quantum leap in terms of drone and counterdrone capabilities in 2024.
Drone as first responder (DFR) without visual observer (VO) takes flight
As drones have become more capable, users like law enforcement and retail delivery companies will demand the ability to fly their drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). To date, the FAA has not permitted many applicants to pilot BVLOS without visual observers, but this may be shifting as the technology improves. (For example, Wing secured an exemption to pilot delivery drones BVLOS without observers late last year.)
Consequently, more police departments and other first responders can begin seriously considering whether or not to deploy Drone as First Responder (DFR) programs. Drones can easily arrive on the scene faster than humans in a vehicle and begin providing information about a situation before any responders even arrive – or even before they need to leave the station or hospital.
By helping first responders assess situations more efficiently, resources can be used more effectively, and first responders themselves can likely be safer when they do go into a situation. Forewarned is forearmed in these cases.
Regardless of the election results, 2024 will be a big year, and the drone industry won’t be exempt from that. There are several seismic shifts coming. Are you prepared?