What is Drone Culture?
According to Merriam-Webster, culture can be defined as “the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time”
In the past eight years, the drone industry/community has gone from a complete fringe industry and community, to an annual multi-billion dollar industry spanning every continent on Earth. Amidst this skyrocketing success and overall interest has been the emergence of a drone culture.
The most direct cultural comparisons to the drone industry/culture can be seen in skateboarding and surfing cultures. On the surface, all three of these cultures share the qualities of very passionate hobbyists, being an outside activity, and being historically male-dominated (participant wise).
However, in this article, I will answer “what is drone culture” by examining five components that you see in skateboarding and surfing, including Language, Community, Competition, Economy, and Criticisms.
UAV, 3 axis gimbal, AGL, Phantom, Part 107, FAA Waiver, Yaw, Pitch, FPV, etc. these are just a snapshot jargon utilized that only drone enthusiasts will understand. Culture begins with language, and the language in the community/industry is vast and has a learning curve.
Another signifier of culture (especially when it comes to a culture based on activities) is the display of enthusiasm among its participants. You rarely hear or know a drone pilot and them not be associated with words such as passionate, avid, or enthusiastic. I have had conversations with other pilots with nonpilots listening in. The nonpilots told me, it sounded like we were speaking another language!
The fact that the drone industry has produced a budding global community is further evidence of the growing culture. Similar to skateboarding and surfing this culture provides a group activity. I personally have flown drones with up to four pilots at one time, and of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and ages.
In an era of heavy digitization and the solitude that follows, this gives individuals a much-needed sense of purpose, belonging, and camaraderie. In addition, there are multiple online community forums that allow pilots to ask and answer questions. My favorite forums include UAV Coach and Drone U.
Like surfers and skaters, drone pilots are incredibly competitive. Especially because the industry is in its infancy (the first Phantom was released in 2013), pilots want to be the best, the first, and the most successful. I have friendly competitions with my drone friends on who has the best moves, the best footage, and the best pictures, I believe this helps us get better in our remote aviation skills.
This is light in comparison to the drone racing leagues! Communally known as FPV Racing (First-Person View), this sector in the industry allows drone racing pilots to earn up to six figures in certain leagues. Currently, The Drone Racing League (DRL) is the largest drone league in the world and has been aired on ESPN.
Like the skating and surfing industries, the drone industry has amassed a massive economy and infrastructure. The commercialization and aspects of drones are vast and steadily growing. Here are some of the commercial and industrial aspects: drone manufacturing, different cameras that can be attached, software, miscellaneous attachments, instructional classes, repairs, etc.
When it comes to numbers on the industry, commercial numbers have not been released for the 2017 consumer year, so right now we only have projections from 2016 going into 2017. The numbers came from Digital Marketing Rambles, a large statistic site that focuses on technology and consumer products, all numbers refer solely to the United States.
- Projected number of drones to be shipped: 3 million
- Projected number of drones to be in the US by 2020: 7 million
- Estimated number of commercial drones in the air by 2018: 600,000
- Increase in drone sales from 2014-2015: 63%
In addition, market leader DJI expected its 2017 revenues to reach $2.7 billion in the United States alone and $18 billion worldwide.
Like the aforementioned communities, the drone community has been mired in criticism. The criticism began before the commercial use of drones with the United States Air Force deploying predator and other armed drones in different warzones; many of these strikes killed countless unarmed citizens.
Today criticisms include the annoying buzz sound that drones make, invasion of privacy and property, the potential for terrorism and criminal activity, illegal surveillance, and the ability to disturb and disrupt manned aircraft. So as an industry and culture, Drone pilots need to hold themselves accountable as well other pilots in order to maintain a healthy environment for the community/industry as well as the public at large.
While it still has a way to go before catching up with skateboarding and surfing. The emergent drone culture is shaping out to be the 21st century’s fastest growing industry and community. The major difference between drone culture and skateboarding and surfing is that the drone industry has a much wider commercial use per capita and has a much wider background base, ranging from wedding photographers to oil producers.
In conclusion, if I had to answer “What is Drone Culture?” in one word, it would be “Lifestyle”, it is a lifestyle that I am grateful to be a part of each and every day.