Like many technologies, says the firm, the future of robotics is being complicated in the wake of COVID-19, but more than with any other technology, robotics developers have visibly demonstrated the value of more flexible automation to meet the enormous challenges being placed on businesses and governments. In its report, the firm finds that while shipments in autonomous last-mile delivery and commercial cleaning robot shipments will be bolstered by the pandemic, drones for civil use-cases will see the most immediate and long-term growth.

Civil drone shipments, says the firm, are expected to nearly double from 2020 pre-pandemic forecasts to reach 13,400, and nearly 80,000 shipments will take place in 2025.

“Having over a quarter of the world under lockdown would have been a mad prediction the start of 2020,” says Rian Whitton, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. “Now, with stay-at-home orders being relaxed, and gatherings limited, governments are turning to drones for emergency, health, and law enforcement.”

“Drones are essentially acting as a platform for various cameras for facial recognition and crowd control,” says Whitton. “Some are equipped with infrared cameras to measure temperature. In fact, we’ve seen some infrared camera manufacturers’ orders skyrocket because businesses want to check employee’s temperature before they come to work.”

Many drones are deployed with loudspeakers to enforce curfews and surveil areas for security purposes, which, says the firm, poses a big opportunity for aerospace and drone companies to increase sales to government agencies. Delivery drones have also become more prominent during the crisis.

In China, delivery drones have made more than 3,000 trips carrying 11 tons of supplies to Wuhan. In early February, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began creating safety standards for specific delivery drone models, accelerating testing and eventual commercialization in the United States.

The firm says it expects the small drone delivery market will reach $10.4 billion by 2030. Drone manufacturers received $281 million in investment in 2019 and drone services received $497 million.

“While the industry has been wracked by the commodification of consumer drones and major incidents affecting the presumed safety of large-scale drone operations,” says Whitton, “the value of commercial services is not in doubt, and the industry will receive significant increases in orders from law enforcement agencies as a result of COVID-19.”

For more, see the whitepaper: “Robotics and COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities.”

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IEEE CS unveils its top 12 technology trends for 2020
COVID-19 white paper looks at impact on key technologies, end markets
AI robotics startup eyes expansion to new industries
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