10 years ago, the world was promised autonomous passenger vehicles that could navigate the real world without human input. The natural tendency of the tech sector to extrapolate to logical absurdity imagined rapid progression towards a changed world: one with drastically improved efficiency, safety, and use of resources.

The good news is that all these incredible accomplishments are indeed being realized at a grand scale. Not in driverless cars—which continue to fail to deliver on even modest value propositions—but instead through the unrivaled sophistication and innovation in enterprise adoption of drones.

The Skydio X10 drone.

Recent rounds of financing have established well over $5 billion in capitalization for U.S.-based drone startups alone, a far cry from the dark days of 2018 when the sector saw several high-profile failures.

So What’s Changed?

First, continued development of exquisite autonomy systems. There is no better example of this than Next47 portfolio company Skydio. Skydio’s systems have established new high-water marks in autonomous navigation and collision avoidance—even more remarkable given the limited power budget of a battery-powered aircraft. Skydio’s capabilities translate into many millions of non-expert users being able to do things formerly beyond reach of even expert pilots.

Second, companies have matured in their use of drones for critical work like inspection, troubleshooting, and security operations. As recently as five years ago, most enterprises had pockets of drone use, driven by bottom-up adoption in the field. That adoption then hit a tipping point, now resulting in top-down buying behavior and integration into more of the company’s operations.

Photo courtesy of Skydio.

Lastly, small drones have proven to be literal lifesavers for first responders: drones are already providing the kind of situational awareness needed to understand what is over the horizon or around the corner, finding a lost hiker, and improving fire rescues. These applications were always a logical extension of the power of autonomous drones but only recently have been proven in austere and dangerous environments.

Thermal imaging from a drone White County Public Safety used to rescue hikers.


The potential for the drone sector is huge. The leading companies are rewriting how the world works. And this is happening at a rate that rivals IT mega-trends like mobile or cloud computing. Over the next several years, just about everyone alive will see the positive impact of broad drone use and more innovative products will emerge to take advantage of these platforms’ capabilities.