The commercial drone industry is consolidating ahead of regulatory easing and is on the cusp of widespread global adoption across industries. Latest example comes as commercial drone company American Robotics, Inc. and his parent Ondas Holdings Inc. have agreed to acquire Israeli drone company AIROBOTICS Ltd. in a big deal that consolidates the technologies of each company.
This is a story of bigger industry trends. The commercial drone industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 57% from 2021 to 2028 due to 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 operate safely and successfully under the guidelines of the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) and the FAA. Anticipation of the FAA’s adoption of commercial drones beyond visual line of sight has driven space overdrive, driving investment and consolidation.
“Airrobotics’ Optimus system is an advanced automated drone platform designed for high-value use cases in industry, homeland security and smart city services,” said Eric Brock, Ondas chairman and CEO. “The proposed Airobotics acquisition will provide both American Robotics and Ondas Networks with strategic technology, regulatory and business capabilities, open new geographies and end markets, and further strengthen our ability to deliver complete end-to-end solutions for customers on a global scale. This opportunity demonstrates the leading role that Ondas Networks and American Robotics currently play in defining mission-critical next-generation industrial data solutions and signals a new growth phase for the commercial drone sector.”
Airobotics has raised more than $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 other international markets.
Ondas and American Robotics, which sells its Scout system to similar customers, believe that combining technical resources and regulatory knowledge will give them a competitive advantage. Thanks to the partnership with the FAA, American robotics recently became the first company to be approved to operate automated drones without people on site. Back then, CEO Reese Mozer told me about the importance to the future of drone delivery and other BVLOS applications.
“True” BVLOS, i.e. where no pilot or visual observers (VO) are needed, is critical to unlocking the full potential of the commercial drone market. The economic rationale for paying for a VO or pilot on the ground to continuously monitor a drone flight just doesn’t make sense and has significantly hindered commercial users’ ability to justify building a drone program. It is important to remember that flying a drone once or twice a year has little to no value for the vast majority of commercial applications. To see the benefits of drone-based data collection, flights typically need to be performed multiple times a day, every day, and indefinitely. This frequency allows drones to cover enough area, investigate at the right resolution, and detect problems when they arise. Today, the average hourly rate for hiring a drone pilot in the US is about $150 and can go up to $500 per hour. Thus, overcoming the human costs associated with commercial drone use has been one of the biggest barriers to the market and has impacted the viability and implementation of this technology on a large scale.
American Robotics and Airobotics each participated in the recent FAA-sponsored Aviation Rulemaking Committee on the Operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles BVLOS (known as the BVLOS ARC).