UAVs are tackling everything from disease control to vacuuming up ocean waste to delivering pizza, and more. Drone technology has been used by defense organizations and tech-savvy consumers for quite some time. However, the benefits of this technology extends well beyond just these sectors. With the rising accessibility of drones, many of the most dangerous and high-paying jobs within the commercial sector are ripe for displacement by drone technology. The use cases for safe, cost-effective solutions range from data collection to delivery. And as autonomy and collision-avoidance technologies improve, so too will drones' ability to perform increasingly complex tasks. According to forecasts, the emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at over $127B. As more companies look to capitalize on these commercial opportunities, investment into the drone space continues to grow. A drone or a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) typically refers to a pilotless aircraft that operates through a combination of technologies, including computer vision, artificial intelligence, object avoidance tech, and others. But drones can also be ground or sea vehicles that operate autonomously.
Drone companies saw a record number of deals last year. On a quarterly basis, Q1'17 was the most active quarter historically for deals, reaching 32 investments worth $113M. Within the space, terrestrial imagery, infrastructure inspection, and delivery have emerged as some of the primary use cases for drone technology. Using CB Insights data, we identified over 70 leading private companies in the drones space and categorized them into the twelve main categories in which they operate. We define drones broadly to include software and hardware companies developing technologies related to unmanned aerial, marine, and/or land vehicles designed for unstructured environments.
Security and surveillance are one of the biggest growth areas in the ever-expanding UAV sector. While it's a relatively recent addition to enterprise toolkits in many industries, the use of drones to provide aerial assessments of activities on the ground is actually a return to form for the technology, which has seen some of its most ambitious development in defense applications. A lineup of aerial hardware stacks to fit a variety of enterprise photography and video use cases. Aerial vehicles can cover vastly more terrain than slower, clumsier ground-based surveillance systems -- which is why they've been a key component of military and law enforcement applications for decades. But drones, which are smaller, cheaper, and more efficient than manned-aircraft like helicopters, have very quickly democratized access to aerial security and surveillance and opened up the skies to companies of all sizes across sectors.
In June, Amazon announced it was close to being able to offer for package deliveries by drone for its Prime Air service. That same month, Uber said it plans to test food delivery by aerial drone in crowded cities. And drone delivery company Flytrex already touts the ability to deliver drinks via unmanned vehicle on the golf course. Despite such announcements, drones are not crowding the skies over major cities and population centers just yet. But that may be about to change.