Your drone will give you perfect images, every time, for pennies on the dollar. It’s perfectly safe with few regulatory barriers. It will increase your mine’s expected return on investment. It will improve your safety record. It will also cook you breakfast and find you a date for Saturday night!
Hype. The explosion of commercial drone services may be lowering costs for imaging and opening up new use cases every day, but it has also flooded the market with hyperbolic claims.
John Rankin, long a photogrammetry industry professional, took to LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago with a manifesto, arguing that the drone industry will damage itself in the long term by making claims of value that the product can’t deliver. “It seems that every other month someone purchases a DJI Phantom and is starting up a UAV company within our service region offering surveying or mapping services,” Rankin wrote. “I am constantly defending my company’s services and costs against pop-ups which potential customers perceive as our competition. I perceive these pop-ups as nothing more than a nuisance muddying the industry and confusing potential customers of quality photogrammetric data. Owning a drone does not make anyone a surveyor or photogrammetrist and it does not give one the ability to produce survey grade products.”
Strong words buoyed by technical arguments about the accuracy and utility of software-generated survey data, Rankin’s manifesto suggests that DJI and other dominant drone manufacturers – along with photogrammatic software developers – are overhyping the capabilities of their products to unsuspecting entrepreneurs, simply to achieve growth regardless of cost. Small new companies then aggressively pursue survey business at cut-rate prices, promising results that they can’t actually deliver.
“Software companies making false claims and pop-ups offering poor products are destroying the reputation and validity of the fledgling drone industry before it really gets off the ground,” Rankin wrote.
Rankin’s rant raises a fundamental question worth answering. Are customers – like mining firms – becoming disenchanted?
The consulting firm Gartner Group developed a rubric for measuring technology adoption called the “hype cycle.” It starts with prototypes making the news, then early adopters rushing into new innovations, rising through the peak of inflated expectations before crashing hard into the “trough of disillusionment.” Virtual and augmented reality is in this trough right now. Gartner is arguing that blockchain technology is there, too, and self-driving cars are beginning to slide into it.
Gartner believes the hype for drones peaked last year, and that the trough is upon us. The trough creates an industry shake-out with weaker players failing. Surviving providers draw investment only if they can improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
The industry appears to be adding more firms than it is losing. Analysts from DroneII note that about 70 companies it listed in its 2016 industry map have disappeared, but 360 new entries have been added. And yet, GoPro is exiting the drone business and may be sold to a Chinese camera firm. The general dominance of DJI appears to be spurring consolidation among manufacturers, even as software firms proliferate.
Rankin argues that software firms pushed drone surveying into the trough of disillusionment. But the anxiety of the displaced resonates underneath his commentary.
But here is the reality check, sometimes, the introduction of a less functional, less useful product that is dirt cheap can effectively displace a premium product, because it’s good enough for the purposes needed. Suddenly, difficult skills providing a lucrative professional career – skills that can take a decade to master, as his have – become “artisanal.” So the question is, is that what’s happening to photographic survey work?
The mechanical loom turned weavers into paupers over a generation, even as they cried about the superior artistic quality of the hand-made cloth and rugs they produced. Traditional encyclopedias had vetted experts writing authoritative descriptions of events, objects and ideas. None still exist — Wikipedia is cheap, and it works for 80 percent of the reasons one would consult an encyclopedia.
Disruptive innovation is bottom feeding. It looks for ways to create new markets by lowering prices. What profitable uses can a drone be put to if a drone can produce a photo survey – a bad one by professional standards today — at a fifth, or a tenth or a hundredth the cost? What are those use cases? Do they apply to modern mining?
Mining firms might be happy with a product that gives 75 percent of the quality at 5 percent of the cost? Is this what’s actually happening?
If software firms are, indeed, chattering away in a rush to gain as much market share as possible before consolidation befalls the industry, enterprises will need expert advice to separate the wheat from the chaff. There’s a place for experts at the table as drones slide down the hype cycle. That is where we come in, contact us today info@skymineUAV.com
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