Well before Part 107 enabled the commercial drone industry in the U.S., open source drones were a significant part of the market. Now, Benowitz says, open source platforms are being boosted by the current political climate.
“There are two key elements driving the push for open-source drones, which are broadly fueled by geopolitical tensions between the US and China and the search for a true DJI competitor,” writes Benowitz. “These two elements are the rise of new (particularly American) hardware players and nationalistic procurement policies in the US.”
One result of the new U.S. government focus on supporting the domestic drone industry was the publication of the Blue sUAS list, a short list of “trusted” drone solutions developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense. The DoD’s Blue sUAS soliticitations have required solutions to be build with open source operating systems, as open source offers significant benefits:
It’s fascinating to see the US military move quickly on open-source technologies, and speaks to the influence of the Defense Innovation Unit in changing US DoD procurement culture. It also speaks to the benefits of Open-Source projects for large enterprise users. With strict enforcement of standards, large enterprises can test or deploy multiple systems nearly interchangeably. Vetting of cybersecurity risks can similarly be streamlined, as code is published and commonly tested before procurement.
It isn’t only government customers driving the market in open source drones. According to DroneAnalyst estimates, drones build around open source technologies account for 16% of all commercial drones sold – but more than 60% of all non-DJI drones sold. That’s a trend that Benowitz predicts will continue in the immediate future, as the next round of Blue sUAS hit the market:
Around the corner, we expect to see a surge in slightly larger, diverse, US-made and MAVLink compatible airframes in response to the Blue sUAS 2.0 solicitation. Most notably this will be seen in the “drone platform” category where DJI M300-equivalent airframes such as the FreeFly Astro, Ascent Aerosystems Spirit and Inspired Flight IF1200 exist. These platform-style airframes are perfect for leveraging open ecosystems and expansions of open standards to modular payloads. The more open nature of the 2.0 solicitation also spells for a more diverse set of these airframes.
Drone manufacturing is changing rapidly. In a few short years, major players like 3DR have left the drone manufacturing market, players like Skydio have raised record capital to develop the U.S. manufacturing capacity, and a multitude of new companies around the world are developing new products. Open source technologies offer drone manufacturers a faster path to market – one that allows them to focus more on their differentiators. The rise of open source drones means a greater variety of strong options for the commercial drone industry.
Get more details in the DroneAnalyst’s 2020 Drone Report, a survey of more than 900 drone buyers.