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Is This the Year Drones Took Off?

Jim Barry, Consumer Technology Association
Years from now we may look back on 2014 as the year that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), aka drones, really began to – pardon the pun – "take off."

Years from now we may look back on 2014 as the year that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), aka drones, really began to – pardon the pun – “take off” as a genuine consumer product.

I’ve spent the past 20 years on the road as the Digital Answer Man, visiting local TV and radio stations showing off the latest tech, and in the past few years, I’ve watched these winged robots transform into a product category well beyond just toys and novelty items.

Four important advancements have begun to take place for drones to emerge as a significant product category:

  1. The marriage of the drone with action camcorders
  2. The ability to control the aircraft with a smartphone
  3. Consumers’ increasing penchant to chronicle and share everyday activities on social media
  4. More robust wireless connections

Anecdotal reports indicate that sales of recreational drones are up significantly this holiday season and we’ve all seen drones take national headlines as well. Retail-giant Amazon unveiled plans last year to deliver customers’ orders through squads of drones. Additionally, several stories and examples of UAVs used in farming, surveying, law enforcement, surveillance, news, film making and other commercial applications continue to emerge daily.

A major testament to the burgeoning category is this year, for the first time, the 2015 International CES will feature an Unmanned Systems Marketplace, located at CES Tech East in the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center (LVCC), South Hall 2. Major exhibitors located within the Unmanned Systems Marketplace include Air-Dog, Squadrone, Pelican Products and several other brands.

Drones also are infiltrating the 2015 CES conference programming including a session entitled, Drones: Consumer Technology Reaches New Height.” There, executives of  drone companies and a representative of the FAA will discuss issues of safety, privacy and security that currently surround the devices.

Speaking of the FAA, the agency announced in September that it would permit the use of camera-equipped drones on movie sets. CEA sees this as a good start to a sensible regulatory framework for the category. Also, this year came the announcement that the FAA is teaming with members of the UAV and model aircraft industry to launch to advise recreational and commercial operators of drones on how to fly safely. Safety will surely become more important in coming years.

Sales growth is strong for these devices. CEA’s U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales and Forecast report predicts that UAV sales will reach $130 million in revenue in 2015, a sharp increase of 55 percent from last year, with sales expected to reach 400,000 units.

All in all, there’s a lot of buzz for drones – on the gound and in the air.