Drone Year in Review: 2017

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Like each of the five years since the Center for the Study was founded, 2017 was a busy one in the world of drones. In both the military and civilian spheres, this year saw remarkable technological advances, major deals, expanded regulations, and new debates that will have a profound impact for many years to come. This report documents the most important events and trends that we observed this year, and offers insights into what to expect in 2018 and beyond. The report is divided into two broad sections: one addresses developments in the military sphere while the other considers the civilian sector.

In the military realm, this year saw an uptick in drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia and a possible loosening of Obama-era targeting guidelines. The global trend in military drone proliferation continued to accelerate, with an ever greater number of shootdowns in conflict zones across the globe. Military research organizations both in the U.S. and abroad made significant new breakthroughs in the fields of swarming, long-endurance drones, and jet-powered unmanned systems, and the defense drone industry saw sustained growth and a number of consolidations while it awaits a number of major Pentagon decisions in 2018.

On the civilian side, the Federal Aviation Administration continues to open U.S. skies to drone use, while a range of new countries adopted regulations for small unmanned aircraft. Research groups everywhere, from Switzerland to Singapore, unveiled technological breakthroughs that could have profound implications for future commercial drone technology, including small batlike drones, giant cargo drones, and kits that turn any manned aircraft into a remote control airplane. The consumer drone industry struggled with challenges ranging from stiff competition to privacy and security concerns, though that did not appear to dim the interest of the many venture capital groups that led multi-million funding rounds aimed at launching the next generation of civilian drone systems and applications.

For our part, in 2017 we published a diverse range of publications exploring everything from Amazon’s delivery drone patents to the coming year’s defense budget. These studies are highlighted throughout this report. We would like to thank our readers for their continued support, and look forward to the challenges, opportunities, and surprises in store for us all in 2018.

Download the report (PDF)

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