UAV technology has quickly moved from a far-off futuristic idea to a mainstream, widely recognized product used around the world. In the past few years alone, drones have gone from being seen as a tool simply used for aerial photography and videography, to a powerful technology capable of conducting serious commercial and enterprise work such as mapping and surveying, search and rescue missions, and more. Now, what was before seen as primarily a recreational hobby is now regarded as a technology with almost limitless potential to improve and optimize the operations of sectors around the world from construction, to law enforcement, agriculture, and energy.
In a report released by Skylogic Research, a few key trends were highlighted for the year of 2018. First, fleet sizes for commercial users were lower than what was once traditionally thought. Despite the mainstream perception that thousands of drones were flying through the air at a time, it was found that the average commercial user had just two drones in their fleet. Another noteworthy trend discovered in the report was that one-third of drone purchases in 2018 were for aircraft costing over $2,000, indicating that the drone market was slowly shifting to more expensive drone aircraft.
Finally, as expected, DJI continued to dominate the market in 2018 with a 74% global market share in sales at all price points. The China-based drone company was also found to have made significant growth this year in all UAV categories including price ranges, add-on payloads, and software. By releasing a consistent stream of new, innovative products throughout the year their competitors yet again struggled to keep up to the UAV giant.
In 2018 alone, DJI has released six new drones catering to both the recreational and commercial markets. The company has also continued to aggressively expand their reach into other markets with the release of three groundbreaking and innovative handheld stabilized gimbal systems this year, including a first of its kind ultra-compact camera and gimbal system named the DJI Osmo Pocket released at the end of 2018.
With their enormous success in the drone sector, at the beginning of the year DJI released their most refined and affordable handheld gimbal stabilizer up until that point named the DJI Osmo Mobile 2. The DJI Osmo Mobile 2 was designed to give users an easy-to-use way to capture cinematic, smooth handheld footage at DJI's most affordable price ever. With new improvements to design including a significantly longer battery life, lightweight build, and intelligent shooting modes, the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 became the world's most popular handheld Smartphone stabilization system.
The Osmo Mobile 2 was built with high-strength nylon weighing in at just 485 grams, making it ideal for all-day usage. The unit was also designed to be as user-friendly as possible, with only a few controls and buttons. Additionally, the Osmo Mobile 2 featured innovative shooting modes like Portrait Mode, making the device perfect for vlogging and live-streaming. Other intelligent modes included ActiveTrack, Timelapse, and Panorama Mode so that users can capture creative and dynamic footage with the simple tap of a button.
Overall, the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 was a huge step above its competition in every way including price point, battery life, design, and intelligent performance further proving that DJI could successfully deliver innovative products outside of the drone sector. With the price of only $169 CAN upon release, the Osmo Mobile 2 was also the most affordable and high-quality product in its niche giving users an affordable handheld stabilizer to unleash their creativity.
Segwaying from the handheld gimbal systems announced at the beginning of the year, at the end of January 2018 DJI announced the groundbreaking DJI Mavic Air drone that has today become one of the most popular consumer drones in the market.
The Mavic Air was designed to be as portable, and compact as possible without sacrificing any of DJI's most popular features. Weighing just 430 grams, the Mavic Air was designed to be extremely compact, roughly the size of a Smartphone when completely folded down. It was the first drone of its size to feature a full 3-axis stabilized gimbal system with a 4K 12-megapixel camera. The drone also featured all new flight modes including new SmartCapture and Quickshot mode and was the first DJI drone to come equipped with 8GB of internal storage, and front, back and bottom obstacle avoidance sensors for added safety in the air.
Once again, with the creation of the Mavic Air, DJI pushed the limits of what a consumer drone could be capable of. The Mavic Air was the smallest drone ever released that was able to capture 4K footage at a 100 mbps bitrate. In addition to its low cost, brand new internal storage feature, and front, back, and bottom facing obstacle avoidance system, the Mavic Air today is today the Best Value Drone of the Year.
In the Spring of May 2018, DJI announced the upgraded version of their Iconic Phantom 4 Pro drone named the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. The original Phantom 4 Pro had already made a huge impact in the consumer drone industry, becoming the go-to drone for beginners and professionals alike due to its easy-to-use user experience and a stunning 4K 20-megapixel camera with a 1-inch sensor. With the release of the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, DJI made slight improvements to further improve the Phantom's overall user experience.
The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 featured 2 new upgrades including 60% propeller noise reduction, as well as an upgraded DJI OcuSync Transmission system wherein the drone could wirelessly connect to the DJI Goggles for an even more immersive flight experience.
With the release of the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, DJI simply made slight improvements to an already well-performing drone. By switching to the OcuSync Transmission system the drone was able to have a 1080p video downlink, a feature that was before limited to only 720p. Latency was also reduced and with low-noise propellers, users could experience the fun of flight with less disturbance on the surrounding environment. With the Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, DJI made a good drone that much better that was suitable for beginners and professional users alike.
In the summer of 2018 DJI announced not one, but two of their most groundbreaking drones of the year, name the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom. With the Mavic 2 Series DJI once again created a drone series that was a full step ahead of any other drone on the market. The Mavic 2 Pro was the first and smallest drone to feature a camera by iconic Swedish camera company Hasselblad, that featured a 4K 20-megapixel camera with a 1-inch sensor. The Mavic 2 Zoom was also the first drone of its size to feature a 4K 12-megapixel camera capable of shooting 2x optical zoom and 3x digital zoom.
The Mavic 2 Series was the first drone series ever to have omnidirectional obstacle avoidance and advanced intelligent flight modes like Hyperlapse and Super Resolution. The drones also featured 8GB of internal storage for added convenience and featured an incredible extended range of 8km with a flight time of approximately 31 minutes.
Both the Mavic 2 Pro and the Mavic 2 Zoom gave pilots the most advanced camera options ever available for an aircraft of its size. With all-around obstacle avoidance, better range and battery life, and even the ability to shoot HDR video, the Mavic 2 series once again became the best drone in the market while also being to steps ahead of the competition. While the Mavic Air was the Best Value Drone of the Year, the Mavic 2 Series was by far the Best Consumer Drone of the Year.
With the enormous growth of drone usage in the commercial sector, in October 2018 DJI announced the DJI Phantom 4 RTK, a high-precision aerial survey drone that combined centimetre-level positioning and navigation with a high-performance imaging system to ultimately give users the most efficient, cost-effective, and easy-to-use drone mapping system possible.
The Phantom 4 RTK was specifically designed to meet the needs of users who needed an easy-to-use tool for surveying, inspections, and mapping. With the Phantom 4 RTK's new innovative RTK module, users could achieve positioning accuracy of 1 cm+ 1ppm (horizontal) and 1.5 cm +1 ppm (vertical). The Phantom 4 RTk could also be integrated into any workflow, with the ability to connect its positioning system to the D-RTK 2 Mobile Station using a 4G dongle or a WiFi hotspot.
The DJI Phantom 4 RTk was the first ever small sized drone to have an RTK setup and was additionally the first ever DJI Drone to support PPK. It was also the most affordable and user-friendly aerial mapping option ever released to market, cementing UAV technology as a more mainstream tool in the Enterprise sector than ever before.
Hot off the heals of the Phantom 4 RTK release, DJI announced two other incredibly innovative additions to their commercial UAV lineup named the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise and DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual. The Mavic 2 Enterprise featured zoom imaging capabilities with 2x optical zoom and 3x digital zoom, while the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual was the smallest drone ever to feature a camera with both a thermal and visual sensor. Both drones also featured the ability to be equipped with modular accessories and had airspace protection for usage in professional sectors.
The drones were the first systems of their size capable of carrying out critical commercial work such as search and rescue and emergency response. Both drones featured an extended range of 8 km, 31 minutes of flight time and an omni-directional obstacle avoidance. Additionally, each drone could be equipped with three unique modular accessories including a Spotlight, a Speaker, and a Beacon.
Ultimately, the Mavic 2 Enterprise proved to be in a class of its own, with nothing like it ever before seen on the market. Until this point, a drone that featured accessories like a Speaker and Spotlight, that could be mass produced, and that was geared towards first response usage was never previously available. Before the Mavic 2 Enterprise, first responders and law enforcement would have to rely on drones that were much larger in size and that were double the price. The Mavic 2 Enterprise was the first compact drone platform geared towards Enterprise usage, that was more affordable than any other drone like it and proved to be a reliable tool that was able to perform critical operations.
Finally at the end of 2018 DJI capped the year off with a revolutionary product named the DJI Osmo Pocket, a highly compact three-axis stabilized camera. The unique Osmo Pocket was made to be as easy to use as possible while offering a host of intelligent features to help users capture creative videos and photos in one portable unit.
At only 4-inches tall the Osmo Pocket was DJI's smallest three-axis stabilized camera. Featuring a 1/2.3-inch sensor, the Osmo Pocket's camera was capable of recording 12-megapixel photos and stunning 4K video up to 60 fps at 100 Mbps. The Osmo Pocket also utilized built-in dual microphones and advanced noise-canceling algorithms to ensure that users capture the highest quality audio possible. Additionally, the Osmo Pocket featured up to two hours of battery life shooting 4K video at 30fps and came equipped with intelligent flight features including ActiveTrack, FaceTrack, Timelapse, and Motion Lapse to provide users with smooth, cinematic and dynamic footage.
Upon its launch, the Osmo Pocket was the smallest all-in-one gimbal and camera unit and was in a niche of its own. Before the release of the Osmo Pocket, for its price range and size users would be limited to a fixed action camera like the GoPro. Now, users had a mechanical gimbal and camera unit that was compact, and more affordable than any other option on the market. With its intelligent shooting modes and capabilities, the Osmo Pocket was once again another highly innovative product on DJI's roster.
Thanks to major advancements in intelligence, safety, and ease-of-use drone technology has continued to become more accessible, more user-friendly, and more mainstream. With the commercial sector continuing to grow in 2019 we may see more focus in higher-end drone systems, with DJI catering towards users in the professional market who are willing to pay for top-of-the-line, quality products. Although we predict that DJI will be releasing more high-end products, with more advancement and investment in software, consumer drones should also get more affordable in the years to come.
It is safe to say that in 2019 drone technology will continue to advance and be further incorporated into our daily lives. Looking at the fast pace of advancement of the Smartphone and Personal Computer, we should similarly see drones continue to advance at the same speed of innovation in 2019 - and onward into the future.