Unmanned Systems Markets: Present & Future [TABLE]

Since I work for a company that sells to unmanned system developers, I am always on the lookout for information about market trends. Toward this end, I scanned a number of promotions for marketing reports, selected out bits of information, and summarized them in the table below.

Unmanned Systems Markets: Size and GrowthMarket table #1Sources include Markets and Markets (UGV & UGV, UUV, UAV), Report Buyer (UGV), Big Market Research (UAV), Reports n Reports (UUV), and Report Linker (UUV)

The two different CAGRs for UAV reflect opinions of two separate reports


Many marketing reports are often extremely optimistic, so projections of enormous growth are not unusual.  Still, Holey Moley, look at the predictions for Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs)!  Ten-fold growth in six years!

Like other unmanned systems, Defense applications will play a big role in UUVs expansion and development. However, utilization of UUVs for Oil & Gas inspection and construction are also significant.

I wonder if these incredible projections were made before the drop in oil prices.  Hard-to-reach oil beneath the sea may be too expensive to develop if petroleum prices remain depressed. That could affect the demand for UUVs.

UUVs can be divided into Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV). In fact, some reports consider them separate markets. See table below.

Market table #2

While the ROV market is currently the largest, AUV is expected to eventually dominate as autonomous capabilities improve. Other technological drivers include increased number of payloads, endurance, miniaturization, and AIP (Air Independent Propulsion).


While the UUV market growth is the most impressive, the Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) CAGR is nothing to sneeze at either. Certainly, we can expect demand for UGVs to be fueled by Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection and Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR), i.e. their traditional duties.  However, according to some reports, we can expect UGVs to be also used for civilian applications, such as material handling, transportation, social welfare (especially elder care), agriculture, and telepresence (especially medicine).

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The biggest surprise for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market was the demand for combat applications.  One report predicted that Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) would constitute the single largest segment with a share of 34%.

A grain of salt as big as Gibraltar

Overall, the reports that I surveyed were upbeat, predicting exponential growth for all unmanned vehicles. North America (and Europe to a lesser degree) is expected to remain the dominant market. However, I saw multiple predictions that most growth will happen in “emerging” markets, such as BRIC countries, and other parts of the developing world.

Obviously, unplanned events could seriously affect predictions. If a UAV collided with a manned airplane and killed someone famous, the FCC’s pace in approving UAVs for domestic airspace could remain glacial.  On the other hand, if a small, developed country successfully integrated UAVs into their air control system, the pressure on the FCC to speed up the approval process could increase.

As always, view these marketing reports with a scrupulous, but wary eye.


What is the economic impact of UAV integration?

Back in 2013, AUVSI raised some eyebrows with its bold predictions that when UAVs are integrated into the American airspace, the “… first three years of integration more than 70,000 jobs will be created in the United States with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion. This benefit will grow through 2025 when we foresee more than 100,000 jobs created and economic impact of $82 billion.”

Some folks have taken issue with the report’s rosy predictions. As far as I can tell, their major objections are that one) all the guesswork in the report is a bunch of guesswork, and two) the report uses UAV integration in Japan to estimate economic impact in the US, which is a bad idea, because Japan is, you know, a different country.

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I think of economic projections as belonging in the same category as old fashion analog compasses. They will point you vaguely in the correct direction (if you’re lucky and there’s no nearby magnetic interference), but it’s best not to regard them as being too precise. I hope anyone reading them has the same appreciation of their inherent limitations, so I think the criticism, while accurate, may be a little misplaced.

You can decide for yourself. Follow the links below for both the report and its critics.

AUVSI’s The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States
Five Reasons the AUVSI Got Its Drone Market Forecast Wrong

UAVs Fall Down & Go Boom [TABLE]

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) crash. A lot.

Consider the chart below, which is for “Class A” accidents, the most serious designation. As you can see, at all times, for all platforms, UAVs have a significantly higher crash rate than manned aircraft.

UAV Crash Table

Click to expand table

The Defense Department maintains that the UAVs are relatively new, and that as we learn how to fly them better, the rate of accidents goes down. This assertion appears to be true. However, the rate of UAVs falling from the sky is still frequent enough to give anyone pause when pondering their integration into domestic airspace.

Why are UAVs so prone to crashing? In a rare burst of actual journalism, the Washington Post has conducted an in-depth study of this issue (the article is worth reading in its entirety). They identify four major causes:

“•A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.

• Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.

• Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been ‘possessed’ and plagued by ‘demons.’

• Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.”

The problem of limited sight and sound is nothing to sneeze at. There was an incident of a $3.8 million Predator crashing, because the pilot did not realize the UAV was flying upside-down.

For this and other reasons, pilots do not like flying the UAVs. One pilot is quoted by the Washington Post as saying:

“The problem is that nobody is comfortable with Predator. Nobody,” the pilot said, according to an interview transcript. He called the malfunction-prone drone “the most back-assedward aircraft I ever flown.”

In addition to poorer visual acuity, Predators are also slower than manned aircraft. UAV operators have complained that aviation personnel, such as air traffic controllers, often fail to account for the UAV’s limited speed and visual capabilities.

Predators are lighter than manned aircraft and lack redundant systems, such as engines. This makes mechanical problems a lot more serious for UAVs.

As it is with manned aircraft, “pilot error” for UAVs is a complex issue. One of the main attractions for UAVs is that they can stay in the air longer than their manned counterparts. Ideally, the lengthy mission is shared between 2 or more pilots. However, a shortage of trained pilots has meant that UAV operators are putting in extended shifts. Of course, this increases the odds of pilot error.

Furthermore, UAVs are flown by teams, i.e. sensor operators as well as pilots. These teams may be responsible for more than one UAV at a time. The more people involved in a task, the more points of failure are possible.

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue rules for domestic integration of UAVs by September 2015. UAV promoters have accused the FAA of dragging its feet, but considering the poor adjustments that the Air Force and other institutions have made in switching from manned to unmanned vehicles, and the alarming crash rate, bureaucratic reluctance seems reasonable.

Some have argued that the integration of UAVs into domestic airspace should be easier than that of unmanned systems on the ground or in the water. Fewer obstacles, fewer people, and fewer competing manned vehicles. Developers of non-aerial unmanned vehicles should pay special attention to the legal and political challenges faced by UAVs for these may foreshadow the problems of integrating autonomous cars, remotely controlled ships, and even domestic robots.

Top Tech Trends in 2015 [VIDEOS]

I recently viewed a lot of “Top Tech Trends in 2015” videos and I am depressed.  Not because the videos lacked typical tech-evangelist optimism. No, I am dispirited, because of sad similarities that afflicted so many videos.

Most “Top Tech Trends” videos can be categorized into 2 types.  One type is blatantly self-serving. “Everybody will be doing cloud computing. Quick, buy my suite of cloud products or all the other Chief Information Officers will call you names and make fun of you.”

The second type of video is what I call “buzzword bingo.”  The goal is not to communicate, but rather to establish the speaker is cool and hip by cramming as many faddish words as possible into a single sentence. “When you buy a taco, facial recognition will establish your identity, derive your preferences from algorithms that data-mine your social media, download the appropriate taco template from cloud storage, fabricate it with a 3-D printer (which is connected to the Internet of Things), and pay for the food with New Field Communication(NFC) from your mobile.”

The following are not necessarily the best “Top Tech Trends in 2015” videos, but rather the ones that I found the most interesting.

In spite of erroneous predictions about the timing of the iPhone 6 release and the unverified claims about its display’s durability, I liked this video below from the folks at Epic Technology.  Unlike so many other videos, I got the impression that the producers actually put some thought in what they were saying, instead of just repeating empty phrases.

Trend Hunter’s video is less about technology than about how consumers’ behavior is changing due to adoption of innovations.  More fads than technology.  Still very interesting.

The next video got my attention not because of what is said, but rather who is saying it. Futurist Jack Uldrich gives 100 lectures a year, mostly to business groups seeking guidance on navigating the rapidly-changing tech environment.  I have no idea if his prediction of gas prices dropping by half will come true. What I do know is that a lot business people will take his prediction seriously and plan accordingly.

Of course, you can ditch the videos altogether and take a look at these written forecasts from IDC and Gartner.


The Public Wants & Fears Wearable Computers [VIDEO]

PwC summarized a ton of research about the public’s attitude toward wearable computers. The video below gives a nice overview:

For even more data, visit their consumer intelligence series webpage.

What military technology will disrupt future markets?

DB6_soldier_legRecently, someone asked a question on Quora about which military technology is more advanced than its commercial counterpart.  How would you have answered this question?  What military technology will disrupt future commercial markets? A modified form of my answer follows:

I think the question is based on a premise that may be outdated. Traditionally, the military has funded pioneering Research & Development (R&D). Eventually, these technological breakthroughs would be transferred to the civilian market. The Internet and personal computers are examples of this paradigm.

However, the explosive growth of civilian electronics has changed all that. The civilian market is way bigger, much more dynamic, and often more advanced than the military one.

During Desert Storm, officers noticed that combat personnel were ignoring government-issued electronic equipment, and bringing items bought on the civilian market into front-line combat areas. They also noticed that the consumer items were frequently superior to the military ones. An example that is often given is SIGINT troops using RadioShack scanners to gather intelligence on digital data, because their government collectors were designed for old-fashion analog signals. An ex-Marine told me that, during the 90s, he and his buddies bought their own walkie-talkies, because the government issued ones had overly large and clumsy batteries.

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This change in technological development is an especially serious problem for the American military, which relies on a hi-tech edge to maintain superiority. Why spend a fortune developing something when the enemy can buy the same or superior product at a local store?

The Department of Defense is desperately trying to adapt to this new situation. R&D is much more limited, and there is a greater emphasis on purchasing Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products.  However, this transition has not been without is challenges (See COTS – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly).

However, there are still some items used by the military that I have not seen in civilian markets, and that may be ripe for commercial use:

  1. Renewable energy solutions.  The American military, the largest user of oil in the world, has enthusiastically embraced renewable energy as a cost-saving measure and for logistical reasons. At tradeshows, I have seen “rucksack” solar panels, i.e. soft ones that roll up in a backpack. I have never seen anything like them in the camping stores I frequent. Some of the military’s mobile renewable energy solutions would be great for off-grid and poor communities.
  2. Rugged computers. These are tough computers that can withstand harsh, environmental conditions.  VDC Research determined that even though these computers initially cost more than conventional commercial models, they actually save money in the long run, because of fewer repairs, less downtime, and less lost data. Police officers, warehouse workers, oil workers, outdoorsmen, miners, farmers, field researchers, and others would benefit from using rugged computers. I recently talked to a geophysicist who dragged a rugged computer through miles of a wet underground cave system, and was thrilled with its reliability. Sadly, many are unaware of rugged computers’ financial and practical advantages. In theory, a clever entrepreneur, with very little start-up costs, could identify a needy market niche, and make money selling rugged computers to them.  To learn more about rugged computers, visit computers.amrel.com
  3. Robotics. I do not know which is the primary driving force in robotic development, civilian or military. I do know that the military is doing amazing things, especially through DARPA.  I would not be surprised to see some of the military’s pioneering work on autonomy used for self-driving cars and robots that assist the elderly or disabled.

What do you think?

Tell us about the next big military-to-civilian tech transfer by emailing editor@amrel.com

Why the Internet Explorer patch is a big deal

Explorer FixEmail in the draft folder of every IT person in the country

 “Dear IRS/HP/DOJ/GM/etc employee,

 As of April 23, 2014, it is this institution’s policy that employees are prohibited from using Internet Explorer (IE) while at work. You can still use IE at home for personal browsing, although we would have to reevaluate your basic intelligence if we discover you are doing so.

Read more

Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap: What does it mean?

roadmapAncient Romans looked at the remains of birds to decipher the future.  Modern people –specifically those in the unmanned industry – look at government roadmaps.  What does the latest Department of Defense (DoD) offering tell us about our upcoming prospects?

Read more

Cars are the new Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV)

I once read a quote from a futurist that many distinctions that we currently take forcar granted will be not be valid in the future. Things that seem as different as day and night will be indistinguishable. Day and night, for example. The proliferation of night vision and other sensor technologies will cause future generations to have radically different views about the level of privacy traditionally offered by the cloak of night. Another distinction that is already blurred is the one between manned and unmanned vehicles.  Read full article here.

The Future of Rugged Computers

What are the forces driving the technology of rugged computers? Where are rugged computers being used, and what are their future applications? How will the popularity of business tablets affect them?  We addressed these questions and others to Dr. Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, author of the Rugged PC Review as well as its blog. As one of the few independent voices in the world of rugged computing, he has a unique perspective. Here are his self-described “stream-of-consciousness” answers.  Read article here.