Sales of drones—or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as people in the industry like to call them—are soaring.
Forecasts by market annalists vary, but all are bullish. A 2015 estimate by the Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia, has the value of global UAV production rising from $4 billion annually to $14 billion in 2025. Kick in R&D, procurement and software development and you are looking at a business ballooning towards $100 billion in accumulated revenues over the next decade.
The commercial drone industry is still in its infancy yet is maturing as fast as the zippy little products it produces are flying off the shelves. China’s SZ DJI Technology is already scooping up the high end of the market for itself, while France’s Parrot is cornering off the low end. And with literally hundreds of other manufacturers around the globe filling the skies with their UAVs, it would seem late in the day to be entering the business now.
Not if you have an innovative business plan, says Aerosense Inc., a Tokyo-based joint venture between Sony and robot maker ZMP, which began commercial activities this month. By combining Sony’s strengths in battery, image sensors and manufacturing, with ZMP’s facility in autonomous driving and systems integration, the start-up believes it has something new to offer.
Established last August, Aerosense is making its own autonomous drones but isn’t selling them. Rather, it is pioneering new B2B data collection and data analysis services by means of its flying products: a multicopter model and a vertical take-off and landing drone.
Besides GPS, the multicopter is equipped with an inertia navigation system that uses motion sensors and gyroscopes to calculate (via dead reckoning) its position. It also employs a Sony QX30 lens-style camera originally designed to attach to mobile phones. The camera sports a 30x optical zoom and a fat 20-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor that can produce the equivalent picture quality of a mid-range digital single-lens reflex camera.