[Editor’s Note: Consumer drone companies like DJI and Yuneec included in the list, as well as, commercial drone companies like Kespry and Matternet.]
This post originally appeared on http://www.marketwatch.com/story/6-drone-companies-to-watch-in-2016-2016-09-01.
The drone market has rapidly grown in 2016, and it seems like the industry is only going up from here.
On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration legalized commercial drone use as its Part 107 rules went into effect, dramatically increasing the potential number of users. Anyone can legally operate a drone as part of their business after passing an aeronautical knowledge test and registering with the FAA. In the first two days after the test became available, 1338 people had completed the test, which as of then had a 88 percent pass rate.
The drone market is expected to exceed $60 billion by 2020, according to Macquarie analysts. Analysts said they expect 9 million consumer-grade drones and 6 million commercial-quality drones flying in the skies by 2020.
The FAA anticipates that 42 percent of commercial drones will be used for inspections, 22 percent for aerial photography and 19 percent for agriculture.
Here are some of the top drone contenders for the rest of 2016, ranging from toy drones to commercial drones used in inspections and agriculture.
Chinese drone manufacturer DJI exploded in popularity ever since it announced its Phantom line of drones, and it’s only growing bigger. The company, which was founded in 2006, has an $8 billion valuation, according to estimates from Fortune Magazine.
But the company is repositioning itself as not just a drone maker, but as a camera company of the future.
DJI on Thursday released a new product specifically for smartphones called the Osmo Mobile, a handheld camera mount that gives a silky-smooth, “drone-like” look to videos shot via smartphone camera.
The Osmo Mobile automatically takes time-lapse photos and long exposure shots with a phone, and can take both traditional or selfie videos while cancelling out movements from a shaky camera.
Think drone delivery is limited to either Amazon AMZN, +0.24% and Google GOOG, +0.35% , or marketing stunts like Domino’s pizza DPZ, +1.34% ? Think again. Silicon Valley startup Matternet has been working with Swiss Post since spring 2015 to perfect its drone-based delivery system. Its drones can transport items weighing up to 2.2 pounds and travel at about 12 miles at a time.
In August, Matternet raised about $9.5 million of a targeted $11.5 million round of funding that so far lists 36 investors, according to a regulatory filing. Time will tell what types of deliveries come out of this round of funding.
French drone manufacturer Parrot PARRO, +2.41% appears to be dominating the market for fixed-wing drones, which can cover larger distances and typically fly for a longer period of time than quadcopter-type drones.
On the “prosumer” end of things, Parrot’s $1,300 Disco drone can fly for up to 45 minutes, making it ideal for photographers who have to cover large distances to get a photo.
For enterprise customers, SenseFly, which Parrot acquired in 2012, this week launched its eBee SQ fixed-wing agricultural drone. The eBee SQ is intended for crop consultants, growers and researchers to be able to gather precise images of their land over a large area. The drones can cover up to 500 acres in a single flight, enabling users to gather crop data in what could otherwise cost thousands of dollars to get from a manned helicopter.
Parrot also manufactures a variety of toy drones, and this week announced a hybrid drone called the Swing. The $139 Swing takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter, and then once in the air transitions to a fixed-wing mode where it flies like an airplane.
China’s Autel had some enthusiasts skeptical with a drone that looked like a copycat of DJI’s ubiquitous Phantom. But Autel is quickly proving itself as a serious contender in the “prosumer” field with its X-Star Premium drone.
The company has taken an unprecedented stance as a serious player in the commercial drone market by offering to reimburse the $150 testing fee for its customers who take and pass the FAA’s aeronautical knowledge test, required for drone operators who fly for commercial purposes.
With a $60 million investment from Intel Corp. INTC, +0.17% in August 2015, Yuneec has exploded in popularity among drone enthusiasts and businesses. Shortly after that investment, the company was the first to emerge as a real competitor to DJI with its lineup of camera drones.
This year, Yuneec released its Typhoon H drone, which incorporates Intel RealSense Technology to sense and avoid obstacles. Specialized cameras and sensors on the drone allow Intel’s system to map and learn its environment in 3-D, recognize each obstacle and plan an alternative route to navigating around it.
Yuneec this week also made its first foray into the mass market by announcing a $500 “selfie” drone called the Yuneec Breeze, which is operated via smartphone.
Silicon Valley startup Kespry this week announced its Kespry Drone 2.0, intended for industrial applications such as roof inspections for insurance claims. The drone includes an on-board lidar sensor that automatically detects obstacles in front of it and can reroute itself to avoid them. The drone carries a customized Sony UMC-R10C industrial camera that can be used to create 3-D models from the aerial images it gathers.
The Kespry drone can fly for about 30 minutes and cover up to 150 acres.