The commercial drone industry is consolidating in advance of loosening regulations and is on the precipice of widespread global adoption in a variety of sectors. The latest example comes as commercial drone company American Robotics, Inc. and its parent Ondas Holdings Inc. have agreed to acquire Israeli drone company AIROBOTICS Ltd. in a major deal that consolidates each company's technologies.
This is a story of larger trends in the sector. The commercial drone industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 57% from 2021 to 2028 as a result of the need for better data and analytics that only drones provide. American Robotics has prioritized working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to manufacture devices that can safely and successfully operate under the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) and FAA guidelines. Anticipation of the FAA's acceptance of commercial drones beyond visual line of sight has sent the space into overdrive while spurring investment and consolidation.
"Airobotics' Optimus System is a sophisticated automated drone platform designed for high-value use cases in industrial, homeland security and smart city services markets," said Eric Brock, Chairman and CEO of Ondas. "The proposed acquisition of Airobotics will provide strategic technology, regulatory, and business capabilities to both American Robotics and Ondas Networks, opening new geographies and end markets and further strengthening our ability to deliver complete end-to-end solutions for customers on a global scale. This opportunity demonstrates the leadership role Ondas Networks and American Robotics currently have in defining next-generation, mission-critical industrial data solutions and signals a new growth phase for the commercial drone sector."
Airobotics has raised over $130 million to develop and commercialize its Optimus System, a robust autonomous platform with an active customer pipeline in the United States, Israel, Singapore, and the UAE, as well as the potential to expand into additional international markets.
Ondas and American Robotics, which sells its Scout System to similar kinds of customers, believe combining engineering resources and regulatory know-how will give them a competitive advantage. As a result of its cooperation with the FAA, American Robotics recently became the first company approved to operate automated drones without humans on-site. At the time, CEO Reese Mozer told me about the significance for the future of drone delivery and other BVLOS applications.
"True" BVLOS, i.e. that where neither pilot nor visual observers (VO) are required, is critical to unlocking the full potential of the commercial drone market. The economics behind paying for a VO or pilot on the ground to continuously monitor a drone flight simply does not make sense and have significantly hampered commercial users' ability to justify building out a drone program. It's important to remember that flying a drone once or twice a year has little to no value for the vast majority of commercial use cases. Typically, to see the benefits of drone-based data collection, flights need to be conducted multiple times per day, everyday, indefinitely. This frequency allows drones to cover enough area, survey at the proper resolution, and detect problems when they occur. Today, the average hourly rate of hiring a drone pilot in the U.S. is about $150 and can get as high as $500/hour. Thus, overcoming the human costs associated with commercial drone use has been one of the biggest hindrances to the market and has impacted the viability and implementation of this technology on a mass scale.
American Robotics and Airobotics each participated in the recent FAA-sponsored Aviation Rulemaking Committee on the operation of unmanned aircraft BVLOS (known as the BVLOS ARC).