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Commercial Uses of Drones, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Drones are unmanned aircraft that can navigate while controlled by humans on the ground, or via pre-programmed flight patterns managed from the ground.  Drones vary from full-scale aircraft used by the military to small, lightweight craft used by civilians for an ever-widening variety of uses.  Drones are sometimes called UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and may conduct real-time monitoring of conditions on the ground over wide distances.  Drones are often small devices, but UAVs can be quite large, including armed, military UAVs and even commercial aircraft.  Xwing ( is a pioneer introducing autonomous technology for regional air cargo planes, by pairing ground-based controllers with pilotless cargo aircraft.  With the goal of meeting growing demands on supply chains, Xwing’s human-operated software seamlessly integrates with existing aircraft (via on-board sensors, navigation and flight controls) to enable pilotless flight.  The company is headquartered in San Francisco, California.
In recent years, small drones equipped with cameras have been taking to the skies to assist a variety of industries such as agriculture, construction, oil and gas, mining, real estate, entertainment, transportation control, advertising, public safety and education, to name a few.  In the oil and gas industry, for example, drones can fly over pipelines and transmit images, allowing companies to watch for leaks or other problems.  Real estate agents utilize drones to take aerial pictures of properties they are trying to sell.  Film makers use drones to inexpensively shoot footage from above without having to hoist heavy cameras and their operators into the air.  The number of industries utilizing drones is multiplying exponentially.
The drone industry is evolving so quickly that numbers are hard to pin down, and estimates of the market vary widely.  The FAA reported that approximately 1.8 million non-military drone units were registered in U.S. airspace as of 2023.
The drone industry includes manufacturers, as well as such service providers as on-the-ground pilots and software companies.  Thales SA (, an electronics and aerospace firm based in France, is developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools to track drones and analyze the extraordinary amounts of data collected by them.  The firm operates Watchkeeper, a leading UAV program in Europe with over 100,000 hours of operational flying experience.

Drone Companies to Watch:

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