The 20 biggest drone news stories of 2020

Happy New Year, dronies! It’s been quite a year, for the drone industry, and well, every industry. Pretty much everyone’s world was rocked in 2020, and the drone world was rocked too — and not just because of the COVID-19 impacts.

A lot happened across all aspects of the drone industry. And because so much of it sets up what we can expect for the coming year, I figured we set up 2021 by looking back at the biggest moments of 2020.

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20. President-elect Joe Biden’s celebration involves a drone light show: President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory speech was historic for many reasons, but there’s one big one: an epic drone light show.

19. FAA establishes more formal college drone training: The Federal Aviation Administration by August 2020 had named 26 schools to participate in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Collegiate Training Initiative (UAS-CTI), a program to designed to better allow schools to partner with the FAA.

18. Schools are allowed to teach drones — without needing to adhere to Part 107 licensing requirements: The National Defense Authorization Act included a welcome educational provision that permits drone operations as part of an educational program that is chartered by a recognized community-based organization (such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics) or as an established JROTC program, for education or research purposes.

drone emoji
A possible drone emoji?

17. A drone emoji takes shape: DroneUp in March submitted an official proposal to the Unicode Consortium for the inclusion of a drone emoji in the release of Emoji 14.0.

16. DJI releases its Mavic Air 2: For $799, the DJI Mavic Air 2 offers a high-quality camera via a 1/2″ CMOS Quad Bayer sensor mounted on a 3-axis stabilized gimbal that can capture up to 48 MP resolution (well, sort of).

15. DJI releases a refreshed Mavic 2 Enterprise drone: DJI in December launched the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced, which emphasizes thermal an RGB sensors — a crucial component for use-cases like using drones for thermal inspections.

DJI Mavic Mini review

14. DJI releases a new consumer drone: The DJI product launches just don’t stop. The DJI Mini 2 launched on Nov. 4 as an ultra-light (249 grams, to be exact), portable drone that’s capable of recording 4K video — particularly impressive given the drone’s small size and low price point. And that small size is especially notable. Weighing in at 249 grams, DJI’s Mavic Mini doesn’t fall under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration in terms of registration or Remote ID.

Skydio 2 review

13. Skydio releases the Skydio 2: But not every drone to launch in 2020 came from DJI. American drone company Skydio released Skydio 2, an incredibly smart, follow-me drone. Equipped with six, 200-degree color cameras, Skydio 2 can see everything in every direction so it theoretically never crashes. It costs $999.

12. Cakes gone wild: Not all news has to be serious. People loved this post I put together of the best drone birthday cakes I’ve seen.

11. Strong VC funding closes out 2020: This year was a weird one for the economy, but investment in the drone industry is still going strong, as evidenced by solid, end-of-year funding rounds.

10. FLIR acquires Altavian: In December, FLIR acquired Altavian, a manufacturer of drones for defense and public safety customers, signaling that FLIR has its sights set on becoming a heavyweight leader in the drone industry.

9. Drones ‘help fight’ coronavirus: Beyond perhaps the most obvious use case of drone delivery, drones were used in many ways to help stop the spread of coronavirus, including actually bringing COVID-19 test kits from Walmart to people’s homes.

8. Drone industry advocates (including DJI) call for drones to stop trying to help fight coronavirus: Yet many plans to use “drones for good” might not be all that good. DJI released a memo acknowledging that — while there are a number of ways drones can aid in containment efforts — not all coronavirus drone projects are as valuable as some might think.

7. But coronavirus still calls for delightful drone use cases: Because when you’re stuck at home and can’t see extended family, what’s not to love about a grandpa delivering Dunkin’ Donuts to his grandkids via drone.

6. Some of DJI’s strongest leadership leaves the company: Many in the drone industry were shocked to learn Romeo Durscher, who was DJI’s Senior Director of Public Safety Integration, left after six years with the company. That happened shortly after DJI Director Of Business Development Cynthia Huang left DJI after nearly three years in the job to take on a new role as Vice President of Enterprise Business Development at Auterion. 

5. No more recurrent Part 107 test: You won’t need to take an in-person Part 107 recurrent test anymore. A new FAA rule, announced in December 2020 replaces the requirement to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months. Instead, remote pilots need to complete online recurrent training.

4. Trump explores banning Chinese drones: The Trump Administration in early 2020 explored an executive order that would ban all federal departments and agencies from buying or using foreign-made drones.

3. And DJI fights back: DJI took 2020 to really turn up the heat in the battle to fight regulations that could ban U.S. government agencies from using Chinese-made drones amid drone security concerns.

2. DJI ends up on U.S. government blacklist:  The U.S. government put DJI on a restricted trade list in December, alongside dozens of Chinese companies. including China’s top chipmaker, SMIC. DJI is a Chinese drone manufacturer, and government officials have been weary of the companies potential Chinese government ties — feelings that have been exacerbated by the Trump administration.

1. Remote ID requirements: This one barely made it onto this list, as it was announced in the final week of December 2020.  Soon, all drones weighing 250 grams or more will have to be capable of being remotely identified in order to fly. The Remote ID rule has been (okay, who are we kidding, still is) highly contested (and the Remote ID proposal released last year was met with much vitriol). Some love it, and some hated it. Most though, have at least tepidly accepted it.

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