Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window. - Peter Drucker

While the man some have called the founder of modern management might have been overstating what it means to try and figure out what the future holds, that quote accurately summarizes the difficulty in prognostication. The fact that we’re living in an age where technology changes the paradigm faster than most people can adapt makes such looks into the future even more difficult.

Nonetheless, looking at where you are and where things are headed is a useful exercise in any industry, but the utility of that endeavor is especially apparent when it comes to drones and commercial UAV applications. FAA regulation has restricted development of these tools in many different segments, which has created uncertainty on all sides. When you take that issue and mix it in with concerns about safety and precisely how these tools are going to impact the bottom line, you’re left with more questions than answers.

Discovering those answers is a big part of what many people are working through in 2016, and I was able to connect with professionals across various sectors to find out what they think the year has in store for all of us. People like Greg McNeal, Dyan Gibbens, Baptiste Tripard and Greg S. Walden were kind enough to share their insights about 2016, but they were just a few of the experts that helped us complete our free 6 Predictions for 2016 report.

All of those predictions and insights are available in the download, but I thought it would be useful to talk through and expand upon some of those details here.


Prediction #1: The Final Ruling from the FAA Will Not be Completely Final

Regardless of the sector someone is working in or what they want to do with their drone, far and away the biggest topic on everyone’s mind is around how regulation has and will continue to impact flying UAVs for commercial purposes. It’s impossible to overstate how big of a factor that is for the largest companies in the same way it is for service providers in the same way it is for individual users. The FAA’s narrow definition of “commercial” means farmers who fly a drone over their own field and use the info they gather to impact their work need to have a 333 Exemption to do so legally.

Part 107 from the FAA is scheduled to come out in 2016, and it’s set to redefine the restrictions around the commercial use of drones. Dave Henderson from Topcon talked through the sorts of impact we’ll see in various industries when these rules are redefined, and it’s clear that countless opportunities are going to be opened up. Instead of being worried about being in violation, operators will be able to get a better grasp of what is and isn’t permitted while also being able to figure out how drones can work for them.

All of that will undoubtedly be a step forward, but details like beyond visual line of sight flying, night operation and training standards aren’t set to be in Part 107, which means this won’t be the last we hear about FAA regulation. Operators will need to ensure they’re aware of the new regulations, but they’ll also need to make as much of an effort to keep close tabs on what still needs to be changed.


Prediction #2: ROI and Drone Services Will Take Center Stage

Outside of regulation, the biggest concern UAV operators have is around figuring out precisely how utilizing a drone will impact their bottom line. Most operators are excited about the potential that drones possess in terms of allowing them to capture more and better info, but how will that info impact the way they conduct their business? How will the costs associated with operating a UAV be offset? What kind of an ROI are they looking at?

These are questions service providers are hoping they’ll be able to answer in precision agriculture, construction, mining and plenty of other segments, but those service providers are going to find a very competitive marketplace when FAA regulations are eased. Colin Snow mentioned that service providers will need to figure out a way to differentiate their services if they’re set to compete with so many others in this new marketplace, and that’s going to impact pricing.

Questions around whether it makes sense to handle drone logistics internally or outsource them to a service provider will come to the forefront in 2016, but answers will depend on a myriad of factors that are far too numerous to list here. The fact that such things are being considered in 2016 represents a major shift, and it’s one professionals on both sides of this discussion need to recognize.


Prediction #3: New Sensor Technology Will Change the Paradigm

I mentioned that the age we live in means technology moves faster than ever, and a quick look at what UAVs are and will soon be able to do makes that reality especially apparent. Drones are far more powerful and capable than they were even a few years ago, and those capabilities have changed the ways companies operate.

New sensors that are being developed are able to literally keep human beings from having to deal with or even enter dangerous environments. I talked with an oil & gas representative to learn how they’re using UAVs to keep people out of harm’s way. Removing people from harsh environments represents a paradigm shift in terms of safety, and as an added bonus users are able to see and quantify a real increase in productivity.

Iain Allen from Barrick Gold explained how and why thermal scanning was going to have such a big impact on his company’s approach. Thermal is just one of the new capabilities that drones have begun to utilize, and the sort of info they’re able to capture has completely changed what many companies can and want to be doing in terms of how they operate.


2016 is the Year of the Commercial Drone

Many publications declared 2015 to be the “year of the drone,” and with so many consumers embracing the technology, it’s no wonder the phrase stuck. However, with Part 107 from the FAA set to debut in 2016 along with a number of other advances, it wouldn’t a stretch to say that 2016 will be the year of the commercial drone. That’s why operators of all sizes need to recognize and understand what this year just might have in store for them.

There are more predictions and plenty of further detail in the full report, which you can download for free right here. You can also tell us what you think the future has in store by getting in touch via Twitter or Facebook.