GoPro, which has made a sizable business out of selling rugged digital cameras, is getting into the nascent consumer drone market late next year, according to The Wall Street Journal (paywall). It looks like a smart move.
GoPro’s video cameras, which are mountable just about anywhere, have surged in popularity in recent years. (GoPro’s sales for the first nine months of 2014 topped $760 million, up about 22% over the same time last year.) Some of the best GoPro footage has come from cameras mounted on drones, so it makes sense that the company, which is trying to build a media business, would be interested in the drone business, too.
The commercial drone market is in its early days, but has tons of potential. The broader unmanned aircraft industry is worth roughly $6 billion a year, although the vast majority of the current demand is from governments for large drones like these. But the market for smaller, hobbyist drones has been rapidly expanding. The main commercial drone manufacturers, DJI, 3D Robotics, and Parrot, sold roughly $200 million in drones this year. And early players are growing fast—Parrot’s sales were up 130% year over year, according to its most recent earnings report.
Aerospace analysts at the Teal Group predict the drone market will expand to about $11 billion over the next decade, with 14% of sales—about $1.5 billion—coming from commercial drones.
Why might GoPro do well in this new field? While it currently does not make anything that flies, it enjoys an established reputation among a large community of users who share videos shot on its cameras, and it has a global distribution network. GoPro cameras already are widely available at stores like at Amazon and Best Buy, both of which also sell consumer drones.
A GoPro rep wouldn’t confirm or deny the WSJ report, but did mention that the company had joined the Small UAV Coalition, a trade group in Washington, D.C., “to study the policy implications and to protect the rights of our users.”
The rep adds, “GoPro users continue to astonish us with their innovative use of our cameras and accessories. We’ve seen jaw-dropping GoPro footage recorded from quad-copters by hobbyists, professional film makers, scientists and businesses.”
But for now, that footage—like the video below—is coming from cameras mounted on drones made by somebody else.