The most popular word for them is now drones, giving a military connotation to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles UAVs. Certainly, most of the market value today lies in military applications, both for electric and – the big money – non-electric versions. Nonetheless, small UAVs are increasing in sales fastest and that is primarily down to non-military applications, according to a new IDTechEx report on electric drones and UAVs. From 2026, civil uses will greatly exceed military in market value so perhaps we should revert to calling them UAVs.
“The biggest market sub-sector will be small UAVs that are not toys or personal, with $2 billion in sales in 2025 generating over $20 billion in benefits in agriculture, border protection, parcel delivery, logistics such as warehousing, coastguard, customs, search and rescue, medical emergency, malaria research, mine detection, protection of rare species, movie production and so on,” says Dr Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx.
For example, Amazon recently reiterated that they are committed to delivering packages to customers via drones when they get the regulatory support needed. China’s biggest internet retailer Alibaba trialled drone deliveries in the country at the beginning of February. Google has also been testing drone deliveries in Australia, and DHL carried out deliveries by unmanned aircraft in Germany.
The list seems endless. We are finding new applications every month and the report particularly concentrates on what has happened in 2014-15 and what comes next in this ferment of change. That includes technological change, with bodywork becoming electric and electronics to save cost, volume and weight while increasing reliability and life. Such structural electronics as evaluated in the IDTechEx report. Lithium batteries of 142 manufacturers are compared in chemistry, format and sales success and prospective and actual motor advances evaluated. Other new components coming in include supercabatteries such as lithium-ion capacitors, silicon carbide and gallium nitride power semiconductors and multi-mode energy harvesting.
Adoption of cameras, cost reduction, types, alternatives, legal issues, latest news, new inventions from drones that walk or swim to ones proposed for garnering power – it is all here. Autonomy is addressed and the hype curve in the context of other relevant electric vehicles. Components and systems manufacturers will see the big picture with the full opportunity drone makers and deployers can benchmark. Beyond the UAV powertrain, with its radically changing motors and so on, there are the telematics, sensor platforms and optics all changing rapidly to become far more functional and lighter in weight.