Global drone spending will hit $8.4 billion by 2018, research firm predicts

A Chinese manufacturer is developing a large drone that can carry a human passenger

Americans will spend $953 million on consumer drones next year, the Consumer Technology Association predicts.

And ABI Research thinks the global drone market will hit $8.4 billion by 2018, with everyone from the military and oil companies to journalists, farmers and backyard tinkerers aboard.

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As drone capabilities continue to grow, drones may become a mass-market product for average consumers in about three years, says Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst of research firm Moor Insights & Strategy.

“You should be able to get a drone that can effectively follow you, not run into things, and find things on its own,” he says. “That’s pretty cool.”

That’s assuming, of course, that you’re not commuting to work in one. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Chinese manufacturer Ehang Inc. unveiled a large drone that it said can carry a human passenger at up to 60 miles an hour. The four-armed quadcopter has been on more than 100 flights, mostly in wooded areas of Guangzhou, according to Chief Marketing Officer Derrick Xiong. Some–he didn’t say how many–have carried a human passenger.

Federal aviation regulators declined to comment on Ehang’s human-carrying drone, saying the company hasn’t submitted any proposal to authorities. The Federal Aviation Administration advised an Ehang representative at the show to contact its unmanned aircraft system office.

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On the small drone front, Kickstarter-funded Fleye envisions its camera-bearing flying sphere as a kind of personal videographer that follows you around street corners; you’ll be able to switch between settings such as “selfie,” ”panorama” and ”virtual tripod.” And because it’s encased in what looks like a lightweight football helmet, its propellers pose less risk to bystanders.

“Instead of doing collision detection and avoidance, we just make sure if it collides, it won’t hurt,” says CEO Laurent Eschenauer.

 

With the potential for millions of new flying objects buzzing around the country in coming years, the FAA is working on new drone-safety rules. By this spring, the agency plans to unveil regulations to allow streamlined approval of commercial drone uses, instead of the case-by-case system it uses now. Last month, the FAA began requiring registration for drones weighing between about half a pound and 55 pounds.

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Even as they come up with new rules, regulators don’t know exactly where the technology is headed, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta acknowledged in a speech to CES attendees.

“his is not going to be a finite process, where one day we sit back and say OK, we’re done,” Huerta said in a speech Wednesday. “Maintaining the highest levels of safety requires us to constantly evolve in our approach.”

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.