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Photo by Jonas Weckschmied (Pilot and Operator) CC by 2.0 via Flickr

UAV Insurance, Regulations and Licensing for New Drone Service Providers

Give your commercial drone business a catchy name. Design a memorable logo. Network to find a solid base of customers. These are the fun parts of starting a drone service business. But along with this comes a few other tasks related to operations, like obtaining a business license, following regulations and purchasing drone insurance.

As a new DSP, it’s important to take a break from marketing to follow through with these nuts and bolts. After all, building a solid foundation will help set your business up for long-term success.

So how do you start a new commercial drone business? In an earlier post, we outlined tips for marketing, pricing and finding customers. Now it’s time to dive into the nitty gritty. Here are the basics to get you started with UAV insurance, commercial drone regulations, Part 107 Certification and more.

Get Legit: Certifications, Licenses and Forming Your Drone Business

If you are going to do this, and do it right, you first need to get legit. In almost any country, before you fly a drone commercially you must first get permission from the government. While jurisdictions like Canada and the EU are currently grappling with how to regulate the UAV industry within their borders, in the US it’s relatively straightforward to get certified and licensed as a commercial drone operator.

To remain above board, there are three essential actions you must take: obtain Part 107 Certifications for you and all pilots you employ, decide on your business structure and file for a business license.

FAA Part 107 Certification

Unless you spent the past year living under a log, you’ve probably heard about Part 107. This rule, passed in August 2016, made a clear path of certification for anyone in the US to operate a drone commercially. Unlike the old, cumbersome process, drone operators now need only to follow these steps:

Not sure if you will be flying commercially? Consider the advice of commercial helicopter pilot and UAV specialist Ian Smith. He points out that, in the eyes of the law, compensation is compensation is compensation. If you accept anything — no matter how small — in return for your drone services, you are considered to be operating commercially.

“By accepting that beer, or bus ticket, or few bucks of gas — you’ve been given compensation for operating your drone,� cautions Ian. “And if you accept compensation, then you’re operating commercially.� Likewise, anyone who uses a drone for their own commercial purposes, like a farmer who flies a drone as part of his agricultural operation, is considered a commercial drone pilot and as such, needs a Part 107 Certified to remain on the right side of the law. So if you are even thinking about operating your drone for commercial purposes, getting Part 107 certified is well worth your time.


DARTdrones offers a comprehensive online test prep course for the Part 107 knowledge exam

Ready to study for the Part 107 knowledge test? DARTdrones offers a comprehensive online prep course.

Business Structure

If you’ve done any research into starting your own business, you’ve probably heard of the various business structures that exist. As a new business, you’ll need to spend some time deciding on your legal structure. Each country has its own regulations and series of business structures to choose from. As a starting point, Global Business Culture offers a straightforward explanation of each country’s business structure.

If you decide to operate as a sole proprietor in the US, you don’t need to take any special action other than filing for state and local business licences (and of course, your Part 107.) Although this may be the simplest route to take, it does have its drawbacks. As a sole proprietor, there is no legal distinction between you and your business. As such, your drone business’ liabilities are your liabilities, and its debts are your debts.

As a way to shield yourself and your family from financial and civil liabilities, you may want to form an LLC or a Corporation instead. This requires additional paperwork and filing fees, but it is well worth the extra legwork. Many drone businesses chose this option because of the extra protection it affords them.

You can form an LLC or Corporation on your own by contacting your Secretary of State, but most people choose to get a little help. Speaking during a recent webinar about building a drone business, Ed Schmalfeld of Dragonfly AeroSolutions recommends starting with a concierge legal service.

“Are you going to be a partnership, an LLC, a corporation? Are you going to need funding?� Ed asks. “There’s a lot to figure out, but there’s help and online resources out there.� For his part, Ed started with Legal Zoom, which provides affordable, online legal services for everything from formation documents to trademark registrations.

Register Your Business

Once you’ve settled on a legal structure for your drone business, it’s time to register your business. This starts at the state level, so the website for your Secretary of State will have instructions, and most likely an option to file online. Filing fees tend to be nominal, usually less than a hundred dollars, and all told the process is pretty simple.

Depending on where you operate, you might also need to register your business with the city or county. Your Secretary of State’s website can probably point you in the right direction. If not, contact your city or county clerk’s office for help.

Educate Yourself About Regulations and Compliance

Odds are you’ll go your entire career without anyone taking notice of how and where you fly your drone. But why take that chance? As Justin Moore of Airborne Aerial Photography told a group of DSPs during our recent drone business webinar, your business’ reputation — and the reputation of the industry as a whole — depends on everyone doing their part to remain safe and compliant. “All it takes is someone in the local area flying into a building…and your business model is threatened,� says Justin. With so much at stake, it pays to stay in the know about local, state and federal regulations surrounding UAVs.

In its Part 107 rules, the FAA lists a number of circumstances under which drones can’t be flown, including at night, directly over people, from a moving vehicle and in controlled airspace. The good news is that it’s possible to apply for a waiver to operate your drone under special conditions. This can be done through the FAA’s website.

Likewise, make sure to research any local and state regulations that apply to your area. And never be afraid to ask pilot networks and communities for advice on practicing safely and legally. There is a wealth of knowledge out there, and many veteran drone operators are happy to help newcomers.


January 31, 2017 FAA Drone Advisory Committee Update — Drone Waiver Requests

Not sure where to turn for advice? Check out DroneLife’s guide to the top drone forums.

All of this being said, never assume local law enforcement knows the rules about drones as well as you do. Chris Courtney, VP of Flight Operations at Measure, suggests carrying documentation along to every jobsite.

“Our guys show up with a binder that shows their certification requirements, insurance and any other necessary documentation so that they can show any law enforcement that they are legally authorized to be there.� — Chris Courtney, VP Flight Operations at Measure

Obtain Drone Hull and Liability Insurance

Insurance is another aspect of drone business not to be ignored. Having too little, or none at all, leaves you open to risk and can be enough to tank your business should an accident occur. There are two basic types of insurance that apply to drone service businesses:

Hull insurance: Hull insurance covers damage to the drone itself. It’s generally separate from liability policies. The cost to replace many standard drones doesn’t justify buying hull insurance, but it’s not a bad idea if you plan to operate an expensive system, like an I2 with an X5s or Z30, or a pricey XT camera.

Liability insurance: Liability insurance covers damage caused to a third party by your drone operations, including bodily injury and property damage. Most clients, especially larger businesses, require proof of liability insurance before ever letting a drone take off at their site.

So how much liability insurance should you carry? This is going to depend largely on the types of jobs you take on. Based on data from the DroneDeploy Mapping Directory, the average drone service provider carries a $1M liability insurance policy.


The typical insurance coverage for a drone service provider. Read more in our recent post.

Learn more in our recent post, where we discuss pricing and insurance trends for the typical drone service provider.

If this sounds like a lot of insurance to carry, especially as you are just starting out, you might consider Verifly’s on-demand drone liability insurance, which is now available directly through the DroneDeploy App Market.

Level Up Your Drone Business with Additional Training

Training is an important aspect for any drone business, new or old. A well-trained fleet (or a fleet of one, in many cases) is less likely to make costly mistakes that can open up a whole host of liability concerns. This is especially important as you scale your operations and bring additional pilots on board. You will want a standard way to make sure everyone on your team is as well-trained as you.

Building your skill set will also help set your services apart from the growing crowd of commercial drone businesses. Take your services the next level up by regularly engaging in training and consultation services through companies like DARTdrones.


Remote pilots participating in a DARTdrones training course

We are also excited to announce the launch of a national training program, made possible by a partnership with DroneDeploy and DARTdrones. This program aims to create a community of professionally trained drone pilots to meet the growing demand for quality drone mapping services. It launches in the fall with the first workshop, Aerial Mapping and Modeling with DroneDeploy.

Where to Learn More

Now that you’ve tackled the nuts and bolts, it’s time to start marketing your services. Read our blog post for pro tips on surviving and thriving as a commercial drone business. If you missed our webinar on building a drone business, you can watch it here.

If you are new to drones, and especially drone mapping, our Zero to Hero video series is a good place to start. Here, you’ll get advice on everything from unboxing your drone, to engaging in advanced flight planning.

For information on obtaining your Part 107 certification, check out commercial helicopter and drone pilot Ian Smith’s post outlining the process.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Commercial Drone Business was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Improved sharing, 90% reduction in crop maps with holes, support for SLANTRANGE and Sentera sensors and more

The summer is heating up, and we’re thrilled to share a few exciting product updates we’ve been working on here at DroneDeploy — including an important processing improvement ready just in time to address the challenge of mapping late-stage crops. But that’s not all — read on to learn about a commonly-requested change to sharing, support for near-infrared and multi-spectral sensors and much more.

Stitching Improvements Remove 90% of Holes in Crop Maps

If you’ve used drones for mapping late-stage crops in seasons past, you might have received maps with holes, warped areas, or you may have had maps fail to process at all. This happens because photogrammetry — the technology used to process photos into a map — relies upon identifying unique points that appear in several different images. And when you’re mapping a large field of mature crops where everything looks the same, that’s a tall order.

“It’s an issue we’ve been having in the last couple of years, especially in corn crops,� said Robbie Weathers, an agronomist in South Carolina. “Trying to stitch together a corn field late in the season is like trying to stitch the ocean — it’s really hard.�

After analyzing data from over 10 million acres mapped and hearing feedback from hundreds of users, we’re thrilled to share that we’ve successfully improved our proprietary processing algorithm to render better late-stage field maps. We tested the new algorithm by reprocessing thousands of incomplete maps and found that the new approach generated a complete map 90% of the time and often improved the accuracy and sharpness of the map.


Before and after images of just a few of the maps reprocessed using the new method.

One of the reprocessed maps belongs to Kevin Wright, a corn and soybean grower and commercial drone pilot in Illinois.

“Being able to close a hole as big as that,� said Kevin, referring to the difference between his original map, and the reprocessed complete map, “it’s very impressive — especially for a map flown in windy conditions. It just proves that DroneDeploy is headed in the right direction to solve these particular problems.�

The processing improvement is available for all DroneDeploy users in agriculture and will run automatically for at-risk crop maps. Have questions or suggestions? Let us know on the forum.

To learn more about how to successfully map late-stage crops, check out our Best Practices for Flying and Stitching Crop Imagery or check out our Guide to Crop Scouting with Drones.

Give Map Feedback to Help Improve Map Quality

Your feedback is vital to us, especially as we roll out processing changes like the one to reduce holes in crop maps. It helps us understand the problems you’re trying to solve using DroneDeploy, and it also shows whether the changes we make actually improve your experience. Now it’s easier than ever to give feedback on any map.

If you’re happy with your map or 3D model quality, give it a thumbs up or “good� rating. If the map has issues our you aren’t satisfied with the quality, give it a thumbs up or “bad� rating and briefly describe what’s wrong. Your quick feedback will help us diagnose your issue and provide helpful tips, and it will also help us continue to improve the overall quality of our map processing.

Have questions or suggestions about the new map rating feature? Join the discussion on our forum.

Give Clients View-only Map Access to Clients That Don’t Have a DroneDeploy Account

You’ve asked for it, and now it’s here. Now you can share a complete view-only map with a client or someone else who does not have a DroneDeploy account. Simply click the “Share� button, copy the link and share it with whomever you choose.

Before, a client that clicked a link to view a shared map would see only the specific map layer shared with them. To see the complete map, the client would need to create and login to a DroneDeploy account.

Now sharing a map via link will give the viewer complete view-only access to the map, including the ability to:

  • See the satellite base layer
  • Explore all layers of the map, including the 2D orthomosaic, 3D model, elevation map, and plant health
  • View any annotations or measurements on the map
  • View and toggle any overlays attached to the map
  • View and export any existing exports that the map owner has already generated

Please note: Map share links generated previously will still show only the individual layer shared, so don’t worry — there won’t be any surprises when your client clicks a link you already shared with them.

Did you know that you can include your company’s logo on any map you share with a client? Check out our support center to learn more about this and other sharing options or give us feedback on the forum.

Use DroneDeploy with SLANTRANGE or Sentera Sensors

Drone pilots mapping for agriculture have many different hardware options to choose from — and now they have more freedom than ever to use the camera or sensor of their choice with DroneDeploy. While most begin with the visible spectrum cameras that come standard on drones like the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, many turn to sensors designed specifically for agriculture in order to perform more accurate, scientific analysis of plant health.

Now DroneDeploy customers can fly and capture imagery and process and interpret maps using sensors from Sentera and SLANTRANGE, all compatible with the latest DJI drones. To create a DroneDeploy map with these sensors, just install the free SLANTRANGE or Sentera application within DroneDeploy, fly using the DroneDeploy mobile app, and upload imagery to DroneDeploy for processing. Once the map is complete, you’ll be able to view, analyze and share plant health data specific to the sensor used.


Sentera Double 4K, one of three Sentera sensors now supported by DroneDeploy

The supported near-infrared sensors from Sentera, including the High-Precision NDVI Single sensor and the Sentera Double 4K, allow growers to create NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) maps to accurately detect crop stress.

“Sentera is excited to bring our most popular and most affordable high-precision NDVI sensor to the DroneDeploy platform. We’re committed to supporting our customers’ preferred workflows and enabling an open and accessible set of downstream analytics based on genuine NDVI and other index products,â€� said Eric Taipale, Sentera’s CEO. “Our partnership with DroneDeploy does just that, providing DroneDeploy users a seamless integration with Sentera’s high-quality sensors.â€�


NDVI map from Sentera imagery, processed on DroneDeploy. Click to explore.

The SLANTRANGE 3p sensor captures high-resolution, calibrated, multi-spectral imagery data using patented sunlight calibration algorithms so that growers and agronomists can accurately compare crop data over time.


SLANTRANGE 3p calibrated multispectral sensor

“SLANTRANGE is committed to promoting an open ecosystem that allows customers to collect and process their data using a combination of tools that work best for their business,� said Matthew Barre, Director of Strategic Development at SLANTRANGE. “This partnership gives DroneDeploy customers access to the accuracy and specificity of SLANTRANGE’s true multi-spectral imagery.�


NDVI map from SLANTRANGE imagery, processed on DroneDeploy. Click to explore.

Check out our support documentation to learn more about how to capture and process imagery from Sentera or SLANTRANGE sensors.

To learn more about how to use drone mapping to monitor plant health, join our upcoming webinar with SLANTRANGE, Quantifying Crop Trends with NDVI. To learn more about different drone and camera options for agriculture, read DroneDeploy’s recent Drone Buyer’s Guide.

Discover New Apps in the App Market

Now it’s easier than ever to see what’s new in the App Market and get help with an app if you need it. When there are new apps in the App Market, there will be a blue dot on the App Market icon.

Within the App Market itself, new apps will appear at the top of the list, labeled as “New�. And of course, you can still filter apps by category.

Recently added apps include an integration with MapTasks to manage your map projects, an app to apply correct flight settings for Sentera sensors, a tool to export annotations and one to optimize overlap settings for hilly terrain.

If you need support using an app or have suggestions, you can contact the developer directly from the App Market.

Have any suggestions or an idea for a new app? Let us know on our forum.

Start Mapping with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Product Release Wrap-up July 2017 was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



Example of an aerial photo taken with a FLIR thermal camera

Architecture and Construction Company Uses Drone Mapping Software to Identify Structural Issues on Aging UT Dallas Building

Roof inspections are dangerous and time-consuming. Inspectors must scale tall buildings to check for the smallest issues, such as cracks, leaks and weak spots that can compromise a building’s infrastructure. What’s worse, many inspections must be completed at night in order to spot temperature anomalies that signal the presence of a leak. Drones are changing the game when it comes to roof inspections, making them safer and more efficient for construction companies around the world. Here’s the story of one architecture and construction firm that transformed their inspection process through the use of drones and thermal imagery.

Founded in 1912, The Beck Group is a Dallas-based commercial architecture and construction company that specializes in construction, design and architecture for many of the largest commercial facilities in the US and Mexico. Some of their notable clients include the Tampa International Airport, Salvador Dali Museum and Duke University. In 2014, the firm began incorporating drones into its workflows, using aerial maps and models to improve site documentation, collaboration and design.


Grant Hagen is a virtual design and construction manager at The Beck Group

Grant Hagen is a virtual design and construction manager at The Beck Group. As he puts it, his team knew it was time to start using drones, “when practicality met technology.�

Grant led the charge to integrate thermal mapping into The Beck Group’s inspection workflow, and so far he’s seen success using DroneDeploy to produce high-resolution thermal maps and 3D models. We recently spoke to him about how drones and drone mapping software improved safety and increased efficiency during a thermal roof inspection of a building on the UT Dallas campus.

University Seeks Thermal Inspection to Document Structural Issues

The Naveen Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas, the largest of the university’s seven schools, is comprised of two main buildings. The newer of the two structures was built by The Beck Group. The older structure, built by a different firm, has started to experience a variety of exterior skin issues, including a roof in dire need of repair.

In 2016, UT Dallas Facilities Management decided to apply for internal funding to cover the cost of repairs. This process included submitting a strategic proposal to highlight the building’s exterior issues and outline a plan for improvement. To document the extent of the roof damage, the university initially hired an outside company to perform a thermal inspection of the building.


The Naveen Jindal School of Management at UT Dallas

Thermal cameras are a powerful tool for conducting roof inspections. Wet areas on a roof retain heat longer than dry areas. After the sun goes down and a roof begins to cool, thermal imagery detects these temperature differences and helps inspectors pinpoint areas of concern that warrant a closer look.

Typically, a thermal roof scan is done either on foot or by helicopter. In this case, UT Dallas Facilities Management hired a company to capture thermal imagery via helicopter. The university has used this method of aerial thermal capture in the past. In this case, they hoped that the imagery gathered for the management building would not only provide important data for the inspection process, but also be included in the improvement plan documentation as a way to illustrate the building’s exterior issues.

But as with any tool, thermal cameras are only as effective as the methods that are used to administer them. As the university soon learned, obtaining thermal imagery via manned aircraft has its drawbacks.

Manned Aircraft Fails to Generate High-Resolution Thermal Imagery


Red and green areas in the picture denote the areas of the roof and facade that needed to be inspected using thermal imagery.

One of the biggest drawbacks to gathering thermal imagery via manned aircraft is the quality of data that can be gathered. Out of necessity, the helicopter that flew over the UT Dallas building did so at between 2,000 and 2,500 feet. Images taken from this height are relatively low resolution, especially compared to images taken from a drone at a few hundred feet. And when it comes to thermal temperature measurement, low resolution translates into low accuracy.

The Facilities Management team also worried that the imagery they acquired via helicopter would do little to bolster their funding application. They were left with a series of individual images, each representing a single section of roof. But it’s difficult to contextualize a group of individual thermal images, especially when you are trying to get a sense of the integrity of the roof as a whole.

“They only got about 20% of what they asked for,� Grant says of the thermal imagery the school obtained via helicopter. So when The Beck Group shared with them the possibility of using a drone instead, they took notice.


Thermal 2D map of main UT Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management building. The map helped validate the presence of exterior issues. Explore the map

Drones Save Valuable Time, Making Inspectors More Effective

Eventually, UT Dallas Facilities Management hired The Beck Group to complete a new thermal inspection of the roof, this time using a drone and aerial mapping software. Grant and his team gathered the images with a DJI Inspire 1 equipped with a Zenmuse XT 640 and a 13mm lens. They flew the 3–4 story building at a height ranging between 180–200 feet and gathered a total of 90 images manually.

Because The Beck Group had only just begun to integrate drone-based thermal imaging into their workflows at the time they did this project, they decided to process the Radiometric JPGs through multiple aerial mapping software programs. Grant was most impressed with the accuracy of the map he generated in DroneDeploy.

“We ran the thermal imaging data with almost every software,� says Grant. “DroneDeploy was the only one that worked. And it was easy!� [click to tweet]

Not only was the quality of the thermal drone map a vast improvement over helicopter imagery, but the entire process proved to Grant and his team what they had suspected for some time: drone-generated thermal maps are a powerful inspection tool.

By remotely identifying problem areas, in real-time and in a matter of minutes, inspectors can focus their work and limit on-the-roof time to only those areas of concern. “Rather than searching for a needle in a haystack,� says Grant, “you have a map to tell you right where to look.� This ultimately reduces inspection time, in some cases by as much four hours.

Grant also points out the quality of data that can be acquired with drone mapping. With a thermal drone map, his team is able to dig more deeply into temperature anomalies, ultimately providing a more thorough inspection.

“The work input to value output with drone-based thermal imagery is game changing,� says Grant. “It’s unlike anything else in construction technology right now.�

In the case of UT Dallas, the 3D thermal models that are automatically created as part of DroneDeploy’s stitching process were an added bonus. These models gave the university yet another valuable tool by which to point out the building’s exterior issues. Ultimately, they leveraged this entire package of thermal data in their funding application and were granted the money they needed to repair the roof.


Grant Hagen flying on a jobsite with the DJI Inspire 1

Drone Mapping Improves Safety of Commercial Roof Inspections

As any site manager knows all too well, slips, trips and falls are the biggest risk facing workers today. In fact, falls are the leading cause of death on industrial jobsites and were responsible for eight hundred OSHA-reported fatalities in 2015. By allowing inspectors to perform remote inspections with real-time information, drone mapping reduces the amount of time workers spend in dangerous areas. If an inspector can reduce the time spent on a roof by 3–4 hours, that’s 3–4 hours he is on the ground and out of harm’s way.

Learn more about how drones are increasing jobsite safety on industrial worksites.

When it comes to thermal roof inspections, the possibility of gathering data remotely is especially enticing. Most thermal inspections must be done at night, because this is the time when a building has begun to cool and temperature anomalies are the most evident.

“Being on a roof at any time can be dangerous. But this is especially true at night,� Grant points out. “Any time you can limit putting your staff in a dangerous situation, it’s a win.�

Looking Ahead to the Future of Drones and Roof Inspection

The roof inspection at UT Dallas was one of the first times The Beck Group used drones for thermal imaging. After the success of the project, they have continued integrating thermal maps into their inspections workflow.

Grant sees great possibilities. “We should be doing this more often,� says Grant. Gathering thermal images with a helicopter is expensive. But with drones, he notes that they could inspect more regularly for little added cost. “We could perform proactive inspections on demand, without limitations.�

“Believe the hype that you are hearing,� Grant says to colleagues thinking of taking the plunge into drone technology. “Don’t turn a blind eye to it; the value is there. If you don’t get involved soon, you’ll have a hard time keeping up. Drones are going to change the industry — it’s already happening.�

Where to Learn More

From roofs, to elevated cell towers, to landfills, drones make jobsite safer. Read more about the many ways drones improve safety on industrial sites.

DroneDeploy recently launched two news tools specifically for the construction industry. Be sure to check them out:

If you’re interested in learning more about making accurate maps and 3D models, read our latest resources:

Learn more about the many ways to get started with drones in construction:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

Disclaimer

Although it is possible to process thermal imagery into maps using DroneDeploy, this is experimental technology and not recommended for those just getting started with drone mapping. Customers interested in processing thermal maps should contact support@dronedeploy.com to learn more about best practices and tips for making successful maps with thermal imagery.



Drone-Generated Thermal Maps are a Game Changer for Roof Inspections was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


DroneDeploy and DARTdrones Partner to Educate and Expand a Network of Drone Mapping Experts

In the last year, the drone industry has exploded. This has resulted in thousands of certified commercial pilots entering the industry, and hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on drone services.

Learn more in our 2017 Commercial Drone Industry Trends Report

The need for drone mapping services for contractors, farmers, miners, and building inspectors is increasing each day. As major industries continue to turn to drones for aerial data, it’s imperative that there be a network of drone mapping experts ready to meet the demands of this new market.

That’s why we’re excited to announce our partnership with DARTdrones, the industry leader in drone training and consulting. You may have seen them get their start on Shark Tank when they pitched on episode highlighting the $100 millionth dollars invested in the tank. Together, we’re launching a national training program to create a community of professionally trained drone pilots to meet the rising demand for drone mapping services. The program will begin this fall with its first workshop, Aerial Mapping and Modeling with DroneDeploy.

A Training Course Designed to Meet The Growing Needs of Our Industry

The flagship course is a two-day intensive workshop designed to teach drone pilots how to collect, analyze and export high-quality drone mapping and modeling data. Topics include: aerial mapping use cases, fundamentals of drone image capture, techniques for capturing aerial data for mapping, use of the DroneDeploy platform, and ways to improve map accuracy.

“Our goal is to provide commercial pilots with the training and tools to expand drone mapping into every industry.� — Mike Winn, CEO and Co-Founder of DroneDeploy

The Workshop will be offered three times in 2017:

  • September 9th and 10th in Las Vegas, Nevada
  • September 30th and October 1st in San Francisco, California
  • November 2nd and 3rd in Ashburn, Virginia

A look at the course curriculum designed to jumpstart your career in aerial mapping and modeling.

Learn more by visiting the registration page.

Learn From Commercial Drone Industry Veterans

The two-day course has been designed by DARTdrones and DroneDeploy. We’re providing the opportunity to learn from drone pros with the industry experience to help you get your start in aerial mapping and modeling. Attendees will walk away with the skills you need to effectively gather, analyze and export mapping data to meet the standards of the construction, agriculture, surveying and mining industries.


Meet the course instructors

Jump-start Your Career in Drone Mapping and Modeling

Drone mapping specialization is generating immense value for companies across industries, and in the coming year we expect larger companies in construction, agriculture, mining, and surveying to heavily invest in these services. High quality maps can be produced more quickly and cheaply than with traditional methods, and the demand for drone mapping services is growing rapidly.

“Mapping can be confusing and complex to get into. We are excited that our Workshop will increase the number of qualified aerial mappers in the market.� — Abby Speicher, CEO and Co-founder of DARTdrones

If you’ve been seeking the professional training to get your drone mapping career off the ground, look no further. This workshop is designed to teach you how to use current drone mapping technology to collect, analyze and export high-quality mapping and modeling data for commercial use.

Where to Learn More

Learn more about the nation’s leader in drone training and consultations by visiting the DARTdrones website.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Training the Next Generation of Drone Mapping Experts was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Webinar Recap: Advanced Crop Scouting and Field Management with DroneDeploy and Other Leading Agriculture Software

“The sword is only as powerful as its master.�

Like any other tool at your disposal around the farm, a drone is only going to be as useful as you make it. We often talk a lot about using drones to detect stress and spot variability in your crops. But drones are capable of providing more advanced insights to help you manage your fields during the growing season.

Last week, we held the third edition of our agriculture drone clinic series, “Advanced Crop Scouting and Field Management�. In the webinar, we broke down some of the ways that you can use DroneDeploy and other leading precision agriculture software to move beyond basic crop scouting and use your drone as a tool for greater field management.

If you missed the webinar, don’t worry. You can watch the full recording to ensure you’re getting the most out of your drone this season.

Comparing Field Data Over Time

Understanding what’s happening in your fields throughout the season is critical to success. Drones make it possible to compare and track field progress, evaluate test results, and eliminate areas of crop stress over time, whether it’s the course of one growing season or year to year. DroneDeploy has the ability to compare maps over time and help you spot areas of concern so that you can act quickly to address them.

“By tracking crop data over time, you’re able to compare maps and eliminate problem areas in your fields — whether it’s due to soil type, fertilizer, or even drainage issues.� — Kyle Miller, DroneDeploy

Comparing your field maps side-by-side makes it possible to see the effects of fertilizer on crops, track performance, and understand when problems occur. This can help you generate prescriptions to maximize yield come harvest time.

Interested in learning how you can track field data over time with DroneDeploy? Watch the full webinar recording here.

Counting Plants and Determining Stand Count

Drone-based stand counts offer accurate, cost-effective alternatives to ground sampling. In the webinar, we dug into best practices for flying fields when conducting stand counts including: flight altitude, speed, and overlap. We also covered some of the software solutions available on the DroneDeploy App Market that you can use to count plants in your drone maps.

“Over the past few years, we have discovered the best practices for conducting stand counts, as well as partnered with some of the best companies that are able to provide stand count solutions in our App Market.� — Kyle Miller, DroneDeploy

Tools like Agremo (formerly Agrisens) and Aglytix turn your drone maps into actionable data. In a matter of hours, you can generate a detailed report with information on plant counts and sowing quality. These apps can help you pinpoint areas of loss and evaluate economic impact quickly.


Agremo and Aglytix provide stand count tools via the DroneDeploy App Market

When faced with a field showing poor plant emergence, you have to take action quickly. Within a short window of time, you must evaluate whether in-season course corrections are worth the cost, or if it’s best to let the remaining plants run their course. But traditional ground sampling methods offer very little information by which to make these crucial decisions. They involve taking a sample and extrapolating it across an entire field, which often results in a high margin of error. At best, they offer a rough estimate of crop emergence.


Aglytix Stand Analysis uses aerial RGB imagery to determine the number of gaps in a field

Learn more about counting plants and conducting stand counts by watching the full webinar recording.

Optimizing Irrigation Systems Using Drone Data

Irrigation is an important part of the growing process, especially in agricultural states within the Midwest region of the US. But did you know you can use drone data to optimize irrigation systems?

There are two different types of irrigation that can benefit from the use of drone data: Subsurface drainage (below soil) and pivot irrigation (above the soil). Drones make it possible to view drainage tiles and determine if the irrigation systems are functioning correctly. Using RGB imagery along with DroneDeploy’s plant health and elevation tools, you can identify problem areas that aren’t visible on the ground — making it possible to manage your fields more effectively. In the webinar, we discuss the relative and absolute accuracy of plant health and elevation data, and how you can use these tools to optimize your irrigation and drainage plans.

Watch the full webinar recording to learn more about using drone data to optimize your irrigation systems.

If you’re considering the use of drones this season or seeking a more advanced understanding of the many ways you can turn drone maps into actionable data, look no further. This webinar covered a lot of information you can put to use right away on the farm. If you weren’t able to attend, make sure you check out the recording and review our additional resources below.

Where to Learn More

If you’re looking for more information about putting your drone to work this season, we recommend that you check out some of our other agricultural resources, including the other drone clinics in this series.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Drones in Agriculture: Getting the Most Out of Your UAV This Growing Season was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Understand the Different Types of Drone Cameras and Imagery Available for Your Business

Drones make it possible to capture various types of imagery across the light spectrum. But that doesn’t mean every drone comes ready to meet the challenges of your business off the shelf.

In order to capture the right types of data you may need to purchase additional sensors, cameras, or hardware components. If you’ve read part one of this series and still have questions about aerial imagery and cameras, then this post is for you.

In this post, we’ll walk through the various types of imagery you’re able to capture using a drone, and help you understand the types of cameras you should purchase to meet your business needs. Let’s get started.

Want to read the full breakdown? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Imaging

Using cameras and sensors attached to a drone, you can capture different types of light across the electromagnetic spectrum. From visible light, to thermal infrared imagery, it’s important to understand the different types of imagery and their industry uses. While construction or surveying users may only require a standard camera, an Ag user may require a near infrared (NIR) camera to evaluate crop health. The illustration below explains where the different types of imagery fall on the electromagnetic spectrum.


See the difference in wavelength capture between standard and modified cameras. Source: By Victor Blacus (SVG version of File:Electromagnetic-Spectrum.png) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Visible Spectrum (RGB)

This is the most common type of imagery captured. RGB images are generally used in surveying, mapping and GIS missions where a high-definition surface model or 3D point cloud are required. This type of image is produced using the digital camera sensor that comes with most drones available on the market today, and is the color spectrum people are most used to viewing in standard photographs.


An orthomosaic drone map made an RGB camera using DroneDeploy.

Near Infrared (NIR)

NIR imagery is most frequently used in precision agriculture in order to calculate plant vegetation health. NIR has the highest level of reflectance of the light bands. NIR-capable cameras make it possible to identify the reflectance of light from vegetation, which strongly correlates with the level of chlorophyll present in the plant. Plants with more chlorophyll reflect a higher amount of NIR light than unhealthy plants, making it possible to identify plants in poor health.


An example of a near infrared image taken of a crop field.

Thermal

Thermal imagery is used across a variety of industries and use cases ranging from agriculture, to construction, to inspection, and surveying. This type of imagery detects heat signatures from the environment to identify the range of temperature present in an image. This can help identify “hot spots� in images in order to inspect roofs, roadways, and even identify wet spots from irrigation in crop fields.


An example of a thermal image taken of a building during inspection.

Still have questions about the use of aerial imagery and drones? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Cameras

Cameras make it possible to capture imagery across the electromagnetic spectrum. Now that you have an understanding of the various types of imagery at your disposal, let’s discuss the different cameras that make it possible to capture image data. Most drone models come with a camera off the shelf, but you may need to invest in additional camera accessories to support your business use case. Let’s explore the different types of cameras on the market.

RGB

RGB — or standard — cameras capture Red, Green, and Blue light. This is the camera type that comes stock with most drone models. These are multipurpose photo and video cameras that can be used to make high-definition 2D orthomosaic maps as well as 3D models for any industry. Additionally, they can be paired with plant health algorithms such as the Visible Atmospherically Resistant Index (VARI) to assess plant health and crop stress in precision agriculture use cases.


Several DJI drone models that come with built-in RGB cameras. Pictured Phantom 4 Pro (top left), Mavic Pro (top right), and Inspire 2 (bottom).

When considering the right RGB camera for mapping we recommend the following best practices:

Buy the highest quality camera you can afford

Higher quality camera sensors produce higher resolution photos with greater pixel density, which means you get more accurate maps. What exactly does resolution have to do with map accuracy? Put simply, increasing the resolution of an image decreases its ground sampling distance (GSD), or in other words, it reduces the space between individual pixels in an image. Because drone mapping software like DroneDeploy processes maps by taking a series of individual images and matching the common points between them, the more common points that can be matched, the higher the accuracy of the map. An image with a more pixels contains more information, which means there is a greater probability of matching common points. We recommend purchasing a drone with a 12.3-megapixel camera or higher for drone mapping projects.

Buy a camera with a mechanical shutter

Many out-of-the-box drone cameras use a rolling shutter. This means that the camera records each frame line-by-line from top to bottom. When taking videos or photographs, this helps reduce motion blur. However, it can also sometimes cause what’s known as “rolling shutter effect,� where surfaces in a photograph appear warped because the camera-object relation changed before the full image was recorded. An image that is warped in this way makes it difficult for drone mapping software to match points on a map, which negatively affects the map’s accuracy. Purchasing a drone camera with a mechanical shutter helps solve this problem, because the sensor records all of the lines of the frame nearly simultaneously, rather than line-by-line.

Learn more about producing accurate drone maps with RGB cameras in our recent blog post.

Near Infrared (NIR) Cameras

There are two main types of NIR cameras: Modified RGB cameras for Near Infrared and Multispectral Cameras. These cameras are generally used in precision agriculture to determine crop variability using plant health algorithms such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). They tend to be more expensive than RGB models because they are able to capture additional bands of light, but there are a wide variety of options available on the market to choose from. Let’s take a closer look.

RGB Cameras Modified for Near Infrared (NIR)

Modified cameras are fitted with a filter to capture some combination of Near Infrared, Red, Green, and Blue light depending on the model.


An example of an RGB camera modified for Near Infrared available from MaxMax

Multispectral Cameras

Multispectral cameras capture Red, Green, and Near Infrared light.


An example of a multispectral camera available from Slantrange

RGB cameras modified with NIR filters and multispectral cameras deliver high performance and accurate (absolute) NDVI imagery, but they require substantially higher investment than standard RGB cameras. Quality NIR-capable cameras can cost anywhere from $1,200 on the lower end, to $7,000 on the high end.

When considering the right modified RGB or Multispectral camera for mapping we recommend the following best practices:

While many aftermarket camera conversions for DJI cameras are available, image quality is inconsistent across manufacturers, meaning some may lead to poor map quality (see our documentation for a full explanation). We recommend getting quality control samples and a warranty from your hardware vendor prior to any purchase.

Learn more about using modified RGB and Multispectral cameras for precision agriculture in our online guide to identifying crop variability with drones.


An example of a thermal camera available from FLIR.

Thermal

Thermal, or thermographic cameras, usually detect radiation in the long-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum and produce images of that radiation, called thermograms. These cameras are most commonly used in inspection across industries ranging from construction to transportation, to public safety.

Want to learn more about the use of aerial imagery to make drone maps and 3D models for your business? Download our complete 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Conclusion: Pick the Right Camera for the Job

You want to be sure you choose the right camera for the job. Before purchasing a drone, camera, or any other hardware accessories, make sure you have a clear understanding of your business needs.

If you’re in agriculture, we recommend you start simple with an RGB camera and move up from there to more expensive NIR-capable cameras if you need it. Many of our Ag customers report that RGB cameras deliver the capabilities to help them around the farm. But you may need an RGB camera modified for NIR or a multispectral camera, it depends on what type of data you’re looking for — especially if you’re an agronomist. Read more in our online guide to detecting crop variability.

If you’re in construction, surveying, oil & gas, or mining, you’ll most likely want to purchase an RGB camera. Though, certain use cases may require a thermal camera for inspections of buildings, roadways, or pipelines. Know your requirements and purchase a camera that can deliver the results you’re looking for.

Before we sign off, here are a few more pieces of parting wisdom to help you make a solid choice on your next drone — and camera — for aerial mapping.

It’s Not Always About the Megapixels

If you’re familiar with any one camera spec, it’s probably the megapixel rating. A higher amount of megapixels is often associated with a better camera. But this isn’t always the case — especially when it comes to drone mapping. While having a decent amount of megapixels is important (we recommend 12.3 MP or higher), it’s only one piece of the puzzle. You’ll also want to consider the size of the camera sensor, which can make a big difference in the outcome of your photos. And ultimately your drone maps and 3D models.

Sensors: Bigger is Better

When it comes to choosing a mapping camera for your drone, pick the one with a larger sensor size. Choosing a larger sensor (e.g. 1� CMOS sensor) will result in a higher quality map when processing images on the DroneDeploy platform.

You Don’t Have to Spend a Fortune

If you’re new to the world of drone mapping, it’s easy to get sticker shock when you see the price of some newer drone models. Have no fear. You don’t need to break the bank to get a good mapping drone or camera. Consider the DJI Phantom 4 Pro, for example. It’s an affordable drone model that packs a punch. Coming in at just $1,500, this bird will allow you to produce beautiful maps and models to meet the needs of many industries such as construction, agriculture, and surveying.

Learn more about the use of drones and aerial imaging to produce drone maps and 3D models for your business by downloading our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide.

Where to Learn More

If you haven’t already, read part one of this series and learn the factors to consider when choosing a drone model for your business. We break down the pros and cons of both multi-rotor and fixed wing drones.

We spoke about leveraging drones in precision agriculture to assess crop health using both RGB and NIR cameras. Read more about using these cameras to detect variability in your fields by reading our full guide.

Still have questions? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today to get a complete perspective on the factors that are important to choosing the right mapping drone for your business.


Download DroneDeploy’s 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Choosing the Right Mapping Drone for Your Business Part II: Aerial Imaging and Cameras was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Hydrogeologist Uses Drone-Generated Maps and Models as Water Management Tool at Ontario Quarry

In the aggregate industry, water management and extraction from below the water table go hand in hand. If it isn’t managed well, surface water and groundwater can collect in the quarry and affect day to day operations. The aggregate industry usually relies on time-consuming ground surveys to gather the elevation data needed to make water-management decisions. Drone maps improve the development of the water management plans for quarries. By using drones to survey an Ontario aggregate quarry, Tecia White of Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd. not only improved jobsite safety and gathered a richer set of data, but she did it all twenty times faster than a traditional ground survey.


Tecia White, President at Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd.

Tecia White has over nineteen years of experience as a geologist and hydrogeologist. She spends most days solving hydrogeological challenges through her environmental consulting firm, Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd. The firm primarily works with aggregate operators in southern Ontario to help them understand the influence of existing and proposed operations on the groundwater and surface water regimes. A little over a year ago, Tecia began offering a new service to Nelson Aggregate Co. and began incorporating drones into her work as a way to analyze stockpile volumes. But it wasn’t long before she discovered that drone maps and models could give her far more than just volumetric data. She tells the story of how she used drone-generated maps and 3D models as a tool for gathering elevation data and creating water management plans at Nelson Aggregate’s Uhthoff Quarry. Nelson Aggregate has also taken the use of the drone one step further by using it to inspect the operating condition of large production equipment.

Drone-Based Stockpile Analysis is “Miles Ahead of Standard Surveying�

As Tecia puts it, “Everyone should be using drones for stockpile analysis. It’s miles ahead of standard surveying.� Tecia would know. Over the past year, she has fired up her drone nearly a dozen times at six of Nelson Aggregate’s gravel pits and limestone quarries. What began as a way to inventory stockpile materials has quickly become a key tool in her everyday workflow.

Tecia spoke with us about the maps and models she created at the Uhthoff Quarry, which is owned and operated by Nelson Aggregate. The 1400 acre aggregate quarry supplies various limestone products to the construction industry. Over the past year, Tecia used her DJI Phantom 4 several times each season to map major stockpiles, then used DroneDeploy’s stockpile analysis app to inventory the materials. In a matter of minutes, she was able to measure the cut, fill and volume of any stockpile she mapped.

She also used DroneDeploy to conduct a complete aerial survey of the quarry multiple times throughout the year. From creating drainage and discharge plans, to estimating the volumes of overburden material that must be removed, Tecia used drone-generated data in nearly every aspect of her work at the quarry.


Hydrogeologist Tecia White used DroneDeploy’s stockpile analysis tool during her work at a southern Ontario aggregate quarry.

Aerial Surveys are Twenty Times Faster than Ground-Based Methods

Continual changes across the landscape of the quarry makes water management an ongoing process. At a site like the Uhthoff quarry, elevation data is usually gathered twice a year. But before drones entered the picture, this information could only be gathered by ground survey. It takes upwards of twenty man hours to survey and process data for a 1400 acre quarry. And even then, the survey would only gather the elevations of individual stockpiles, and occasionally spot elevations for the quarry floor.

An aerial survey of the Ontario site, on the other hand, takes Tecia just two hours to complete, including both flight time and data extraction. Tecia’s drone not only gathered accurate elevation data for the entire 1,400 acre site, but it did so twenty times faster than a ground-based survey of just individual stockpiles. This represents a far greater data set and a ninety-five percent reduction in man hours.

A ninety ninety-five percent man hour reduction is impressive enough, but the biggest return-on-investment can be seen by looking at time and money savings over all six of Nelson Aggregate sites. A bi-annual survey of six quarry sites represents about 240 man hours. Compare that to just twelve hours needed to complete twice-yearly aerial surveys at all six sites. That’s a savings of 228 man hours.

In terms of money savings, the results are no less impressive. Nelson Aggregate spends about $3,000 to subcontract out a single ground survey. Bi-annual ground surveys of all six quarries cost around $36,000 total per year. Factoring in drone equipment and software subscriptions, the same amount of aerial surveys cost just $7,500 — $28,500 less than a ground survey. This represents nearly 80% in costs savings.

By replacing ground-based surveys with bi-annual aerial surveys, Nelson Aggregate saved at total of 228 man hours and $28,500 across six quarry sites.


Elevation map of the Ontario aggregate quarry.

Drones Improve Worker Safety at Aggregate Operations

With steep slopes, unstable rock faces and lots of heavy machinery, rock quarries can be dangerous places to work. Aggregate operators are always looking at field methods to improve the safety of the work environment. As Tecia sees it, one of the greatest benefits of drones is their ability to improve worker safety by removing the requirement to have men on the ground in and around the operation areas (stockpiles, equipment).

“Anytime you can reduce the number of workers in a quarry it is going to reduce the chance of injury and improve overall safety,� — Tecia White, Whitewater Hydrogeology Ltd.

Instead of spending twenty hours navigating stockpiles and quarry terrain to complete a ground survey, flights are launched outside of the operating quarry and pit working areas. All of the elevation data needed for the Ontario site is now gathered without ever setting foot within the operation. This improvement alone is worth the investment in drone technology.

“Anytime you can reduce the number of workers in a quarry it is going to reduce the chance of injury and improve overall safety,� says Tecia. “Drones allow us to do that.�


3D model of the Ontario quarry site. Drones allow Tecia to gather additional information she would not get with traditional survey methods. Explore the model.

Drone Maps and Models Give Hydrogeologist a Rich Data Set

Although Tecia first set out to gather elevation data and stockpile information, she soon discovered that her drone provides a rich set of data that is useful in many other aspects of quarry management. “With a surveyor you’re just getting the data,� says Tecia. “There are no maps or models.�

Now, with the help of DroneDeploy, Tecia uses her drone maps for far more than elevation data and stockpile analysis. With accurate drone maps, DroneDeploy’s built-in volume tool is used to estimate the amount of overburden material that must be removed prior to the extraction of aggregate. High-resolution 3D models allow her to remotely assess progressive and final rehabilitation work. She also uses the models to conduct aerial circle checks of heavy machinery, searching for issues that would not be visible from the ground.

Speaking to others who work in hydrogeology and quarry management, Tecia has these words of encouragement about using drones: “Embrace the change and move forward. This technology is working.�

Where to Learn More

If you want to hear more about how drones are being used for surveying, be sure to read about how Landpoint, a surveying company in Louisiana, used a drone map to survey an 85-acre real estate development site.

Another recent case study shares the story of how Wohnrade Civil Engineers used drones to survey the Great Sand Dunes.

Accuracy is crucial for aerial surveys. Two of our recent posts dive into the topic of accuracy and are worth a read:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Survey of Aggregate Quarry is Safer — and 20x Faster — Thanks to Drones was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Compare the Differences Between Multi-Rotor and Fixed Wing Drones

Many businesses are considering the purchase of drones in 2017. With commercial drone legislation being introduced around the world, it’s quickly becoming possible for today’s companies to integrate these powerful tools into their existing workflows.

Drones allow businesses to make sense of the physical world by capturing aerial data to generate accurate maps and 3D models of their surroundings. By analyzing drone maps and models, companies are enabling faster, more informed decisions that increase efficiency, improve safety, and drive ROI. With benefits like these, it’s no surprise that drone use is on the rise across industries including construction, agriculture, surveying, mining, and more.

Businesses just getting started with drones often ask us what drone they should buy. While there is no simple answer, we can help you better understand what you should consider before making a purchase.

In this post, we will help you navigate the different options available in the market and decide which drone model — multi-rotor or fixed wing — is the right choice for your business. Let’s dig in.

Want the read full breakdown? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Multi-Rotor vs. Fixed Wing Aircraft

When choosing a drone, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is whether you need a multi-rotor or fixed wing aircraft. They each have advantages and disadvantages that make them better suited for certain uses, so it’s important to understand the key differences between both types.

Multi-Rotor Aircraft

Multi-rotor aircraft are the most commonly used drone models for making maps and models with DroneDeploy. In fact, they make up 97% of the drones mapping on our platform. Learn more about the breakdown in our recent report on 2017 Commercial Drone Industry Trends.


97% of mapping with DroneDeploy occurs on multi-rotor aircraft. Read more in our Commercial Drone Industry Trends report.

Multi-rotor drones are made of a central body and multiple rotors that power propellers to take flight and maneuver the aircraft. These usually have four rotors (quadcopter), but can have as many six or eight (hexacopter and octocopter). Once in the air, a multi-rotor drone uses fixed-pitch propeller blades to control the vehicle motion by varying the relative speed of each rotor to change the thrust and torque produced, allowing a unique range of movement. This presents some advantages when used for commercial mapping.


Some examples of common multi-rotor quadcopters available from DJI

Advantages

  • Greater maneuverability: Unlike fixed wings, multi-rotor aircraft can perform vertical takeoffs and landings. This means that they require less space to take flight, can hover mid-flight, and maneuver up and around objects for easy inspection, mapping, and modeling. This also makes them ideal for area mapping due to the number of flight legs often required to get sufficient overlap to make a quality map.
  • Lower price: In the current market, multi-rotor crafts come with a lower price tag than their fixed wing counterparts. There is of course a wide price range, but you can purchase a professional quadcopter for as low as $1,500, whereas a professional fixed wing drone of similar quality can easily be 7–10x as much — or more.
  • More compact: Multi-rotor crafts don’t require the surface area or wingspan that fixed wing aircraft do because they use multiple propellers to maneuver. They are designed break down and pack up into smaller cases — making them easier to transport. Even the larger hexacopters and octocopters fold down to a portable size.
  • Ease-of-use: Multi-rotor aircraft are easier to fly for both humans and autopilots. Quick to maneuver, and capable of making movements in any direction, copters have a shorter learning curve for beginners taking flight for the first time.
  • Higher payload capacity: Multi-rotor vehicles generally support more weight due to their design. However, this means that you will need a larger, more expensive drone if you intend to carry significant payloads such as large DSLR or other camera rigs

Disadvantages

  • Shorter range: One limitation of multi-rotor craft is the flight range on a single battery. Most multi-rotor drones can fly for about 30 minutes in ideal weather conditions before returning home for battery replacement. You can offset this downside by purchasing additional batteries.
  • Less stable in the wind: The aerodynamics of multi-rotor aircraft leaves them more vulnerable to wind and high amounts of turbulence. This means that for use cases where high winds are expected, you may have to purchase a heavier, more stable and more expensive multi-rotor vehicle.

Want to learn more about Multi-rotor drones? Download our complete Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Fixed Wing Aircraft

Fixed wing drones are designed like more traditional types of aircraft — which look similar to an airplane. They are made of a central body that has two wings and a single propeller. Once in the air, the two wings generate lift that compensates for its weight — allowing the aircraft to remain in flight. While this type of aircraft is less common in drone mapping outside of agriculture and oil & gas applications, they present some unique advantages.


The eBee is a common fixed wing drone model available from SenseFly

Advantages

  • Significant range: Fixed wing aircraft can fly longer than multi-rotor drones on a single battery cycle. This makes them ideal for mapping very large or linear areas because they do not have to fly home for a battery replacement as often during a single mission. Though, as battery technology improves this gap is closing.
  • Greater stability: The airframe design of fixed wing aircraft give them greater stability in high winds over multi-rotor aircraft. This is important for flying in environments where higher winds are expected or frequent.
  • Safer recovery from motor power loss: If a fixed wing aircraft loses power for any reason, in theory it is able to glide down to safety — giving the aircraft a better chance of surviving a fall.
  • Linear flight advantage: Fixed wing aircraft are ideal for long-distance flights, such as pipeline inspections. However, this capability is currently limited to line-of-sight (LOS) regulatory requirements in the US and other countries where LOS regulations have been put into place.
  • Higher payload capacity: Many fixed wing models can support more weight, which can be an advantage for operators seeking to support heavier cameras or sensors.

Disadvantages

  • Larger takeoff/landing zone required: Fixed wing aircraft require a larger take off and landing zone for flight, which can make them ill-suited for some use cases. This can also lead to more time required for setup, takeoff, and landing.
  • Higher price: In the current state of the market, fixed wing aircraft tend to cost more than their multi-rotor counterparts. While this could change in the future, it can impact overall ROI.
  • Challenging to fly: Fixed wing aircraft are harder to fly, both for humans and for autopilots, especially in an evolving sense-and avoid landscape.
  • Less compact: The range advantage of fixed wing aircraft comes directly from a larger lifting surface, meaning they are harder to pack away, and often require assembly.
  • Less efficient for area mapping: Fixed wing aircraft are not as well suited for area mapping. This is because many turns are needed to fly a grid pattern and get sufficient overlap of a target area. This sort of maneuvering is better suited for multi-rotor drones.

To make things easier, we prepared this summary table so that you can compare the two types of drones side-by-side.

Want to learn more? Download our complete Drone Buyer’s Guide today.

Conclusion: Taking it to the Skies

Ultimately, you’ll need to decide which drone is best for your business needs. We’ve given you the information and tools to make an informed decision when you choose your next drone for mapping. Before you take the next step and make a purchasing decision, we have some final thoughts to share.

Choose a Drone That Supports Your Use Case

Consider your industry use case, average flying conditions (e.g. high winds), and mapping subject before you buy. If you plan to map smaller areas, make 3D models of structures, or conduct site inspections that require maneuvering up and around buildings, then a multi-rotor drone model is the right choice. If you are mapping larger areas (hundreds or thousands of acres at a time) or flying long, linear flight plans such as pipelines or roadways, you may want to consider a fixed wing drone.

Keep Your Budget in Mind

You’ll also want to keep your budget in mind. In the current market, there is a significant price gap between multi-rotor and fixed wing drone models. If you’re looking to get a greater ROI, an affordable, multi-use quadcopter model is your best bet. However, you may need a fixed-wing to meet the specific demands of your business use case — it all depends.

Newer is Usually Better

When it comes to purchasing business technology solutions, buying the latest product usually results in a smoother experience and greater feature set. Drones are no different. Choosing the latest drone model over its predecessor is a smarter investment for your business. Not only will they have improved hardware, but software solutions will also work more effectively with the latest integrations and support. While some older models are solid products, we recommend you invest in the newer model for a longer shelf life and better experience. You don’t want buyer’s remorse, or be faced with an early upgrade down the line.

Remain Flexible

There is no one-size fits all drone solution that will suit every use case. In fact, more than 20% of pilots on the DroneDeploy platform fly multiple drones. This number is increasing every year as companies expand the use of drones for commercial applications. So, you should remain flexible. Your businesses may need to invest in more than one drone model to accomplish all of its goals. If your budget doesn’t allow for several drones, pick a model that has wide range of applications.

Where to Learn More

Still have questions? Download our 2017 Drone Buyer’s Guide: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Mapping Drone for Your Business


Download the complete 2017 DroneDeploy DroneBuyer’s Guide today

You can also stay tuned to our blog for the next part in this series, which will cover cameras and imaging solutions for commercial drone mapping.

If you plan to use DroneDeploy as your drone mapping solution, review some of our support docs for more information about supported drones and read through our frequently asked questions.

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Choosing the Right Mapping Drone for Your Business Part I: Multi-Rotor vs. Fixed Wing Aircraft was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Easily view and compare data layers within DroneDeploy

An aerial map of a site can be helpful, but sometimes you need guidelines to understand what you’re looking at — just imagine trying to follow directions using a map with no street names.

Now, with our new overlay tool, it’s easy to import and overlay data layers right within the DroneDeploy interface — letting you quickly compare actual site conditions to other spatial information like design plans and utility maps.


Section of orthomosaic map with site electric overlay

On construction sites, project managers like Nick Johnson at Tilt Rock of Texas use plans overlaid on drone maps to help them keep projects on track. “Now, if I need a contractor to be aware of a design change before he lays pipe, I simply walk over to him with my tablet, blow up a particular section of overlaid plans and show him exactly what he needs to know,� said Nick.

“I’m able to discover conflicts earlier, communicate quickly to everyone involved, and implement changes long before contractors install incorrect work. I’m saving an enormous amount of time and money.� — Nick Johnson, Tilt Rock of Texas

Learn more about how Nick uses drone maps on the job site.

Construction isn’t the only industry that can benefit from overlaying additional data on a map. Anyone can use the overlay tool to add more visual data to a map, from growers comparing current crop health and historical yield data to fire chiefs superimposing protection systems and operating procedures to create pre-incident plans.

How to Add an Overlay to Your Drone Map

To add an overlay to your map, just click the “Add� button, select a PNG image with a transparent background, and then drag the two markers to align the image using recognizable features on the map.

Don’t have a PNG of your plan? Convert from a PDF using Acrobat Reader or online tools like PNGtoPDF .


Upload your PNG and then use the markers to align it on your map

You can even add multiple plans to the same map and show or hide different layers.

Once you’ve added an overlay, bring your map into the field on your mobile device or share it with your team in just one click!

Where to Learn More

The Overlay tool is available to all customers on the Business tier of DroneDeploy. To learn more about how drones can be used in construction, be sure to listen to the recording of our recent webinar featuring major construction company Brasfield & Gorrie, in which they discuss the use of drones for 3D modeling, site planning and quality assurance.

You can also explore our support documentation to learn more about how to use some of the tools discussed above, including:

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Compare Design Plans and Drone Maps with New Overlay Tool was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Pro Tips for Getting Your Drone Service Business off the Ground

So you’ve decided to dive into the field of drone services. You have your Part 107 License, your equipment, and maybe a client or two. At this point, you might find yourself thinking, “Where do I go from here?�

Don’t worry: you’re not alone. Building your drone service business, and positioning it for long-term success, is about so much more than just firing up that Phantom 4 Pro. We get a lot of questions from new commercial drone pilots about the best way to position their services in the growing market and build those services into a thriving business.

To help pilots improve their drone service offerings, we’ve compiled a set of pro tips that answer common questions about marketing, pricing and finding clients for a commercial drone business.

Positioning Yourself in the Drone Services Market: Who to Serve and What to Charge

There are over 30,000 commercial drone pilots currently certified under Part 107, and this number is growing fast. In a recent report, the FAA estimates that the commercial drone fleet will grow to be 10 times larger over the next five years, growing from 42,000 in 2016 to 420,000 by 2021. This means the drone services industry will see a major influx of entrepreneurs in the coming years. To stand out from the crowd, you will need to position your business well. This includes taking a step back and thinking carefully about your service model and price point.

Ed Schmalfeld, of Dragonfly AeroSolutions, is a civil engineer and former landfill manager who now uses drones to provide professional analysis and review for landfills, construction and roadway projects. In our recent webinar about building a new drone business, he had this to say:

“You probably could go buy a drone, go get your license real quick, go out there, and have some limited success….But for sustained success, you need to look at the who, what, where, and why of what you’re doing.�

In other words, to succeed as a drone service provider, you need to first decide: who am I going to serve, how am I going to serve them, and what will I charge to do it?

There’s a lot here, so let’s break it down:

Who to Serve: Choosing Which Industries to Target

From construction, to agriculture, to oil and gas — drones are rapidly finding their way into nearly every industry. As a new drone service provider, it can be hard to know where to focus your energy. Before you decide which industries to serve, it’s helpful to answer these two questions: What industries do I already know about? And what needs in my location aren’t already being filled?

If you have any experience in a particular field, use it. A drone service provider who used to work construction is going to speak the language and know his way around a jobsite in a way others might not. This can be a valuable asset, especially to that project manager who is wary about bringing someone onsite to fly an unmanned vehicle around heavy machinery.

Pro Tip: Before you decide which industries to serve with your drone business, it’s helpful to answer these two questions:

What industries do I already know about?

What needs in my location aren’t currently being met?

If your background doesn’t lend itself to a specific industry, consider how your drone services can solve a business problem that isn’t otherwise being solved, or fill a need that isn’t being met in your particular location.

Stephen Myers of Angel Eyes UAV took both of these factors into consideration when he landed upon his niche market. “It was a matter of being opportunistic in my surroundings,� says Stephen. As a single-digit handicap golfer who lives in Florida — the state with the most golf courses — his choice to focus on turf analysis for the golf industry was a natural fit.

How to Serve Them: Deciding What Services to Offer

Commercial drone operators are no longer limited to the point-and-shoot real estate photography that marked the early days of the industry. Thanks to advances in hardware and technology, today’s drone businesses are able to offer a whole host of services, including high-resolution photography and videography, mapping, 3D modeling, and even land surveys.


You can use DroneDeploy’s platform to create drone maps and 3D models for your clients across industries such as agriculture, construction, and real estate.

As you decide what services to offer, it’s important to take stock of what outputs your potential client base needs. Do you anticipate your clients using drone imagery for marketing purposes only? Or will they benefit from the more in-depth data analysis that drone maps and 3D models provide? Spend some time learning about the different ways your target industry already uses drones, as well as any emerging opportunities, and then match your services to meet this demand.

Again, Stephen Myers has advice to offer on the subject: “The drone is nothing more than a platform, the sensor is nothing more than a data capture device. You have to understand how the value of the data is going to help your end user.�

Pro tip: Consider adding maps and models to your service offerings.

Drone businesses that specialize in mapping and 3D modeling charge an average of $23 more per hour. [click to tweet]

Set Your Price Point

Once you decide what services to offer, you’ll need to price those services in such a way that you stay both competitive and profitable. But nailing down that price point can be difficult. There are so many variables at play, says Justin Moore of Airborne Aerial Photography. Justin is a professional photographer who now offers drone mapping services to the construction and nature conservation industries. “It’s so localized,� says Justin, “and so different based on your market and based on so many other factors.�

To help nail down a pricing structure that fits well for your business, spend time researching your competition and local market. Early groundwork in this area will go a long way. As a starting point, review our recent pricing study, which digs into the available pricing data to help new businesses get a sense of what other drone service providers are charging.

Marketing Your Drone Business

Although not everyone is excited to hear it — if you want your drone business to thrive, you have to spend time marketing your services. This might seem daunting, but, it doesn’t have to be. Start by focusing on these three initial tasks, and you’ll be well on your way toward building a solid marketing strategy.


Develop a marketing strategy for your business.

Develop a Company Name, Tagline and Logo

Your business name, tagline and logo are in many ways the “face� of your company. Develop them thoughtfully. Spend time researching how other drone businesses handle these elements, and then create a package that is unique, memorable and reflects how you want prospective clients to think about your business.

In terms of a logo, do make sure it’s responsive — meaning it scales well to fit a variety of digital formats. If this is beyond your skill set, you can hire a freelance graphic designer through websites like Fiverr, Upwork, or CloudPeeps.

Create a Professional Website

It goes without saying that you won’t get far with your marketing endeavors if you don’t have a user-friendly, professional website for your drone business. Sites like Squarespace and Wix are affordable tools that make it simple for anyone to design a site — no coding experience necessary. Or, you can access website designers for hire through marketplaces like Codeable.


Examples of professional drone service websites from Airborne Aerial Photography, Dragonfly AeroSolution, and Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation.

As you design your site, keep search engine optimization (SEO) in mind. For web marketing newbies, SEO just means you are drawing relevant people to your website by designing it — and the content on it — in such as way that it ranks high on search engine results. This ensures people can find your business without having to search for your business name. Instead they can use search-friendly terms like “drone services in Chicago�, or “drone mapping Seattle� to locate your business on Google and other online search engines.

Launch a Blog Highlighting Customers and Successes

Publishing regular blog content, even just a short post once a week, will improve your SEO. Frequent blogging will help keep you top-of-mind with current clients and send the message to potential clients that you are a knowledgeable and trustworthy resource. You can say you are a drone expert all you want, but a blog helps you show it with photos and testimonials from happy customers.

Your blog content doesn’t have to be fancy. A post highlighting a successful project, or a short video in which a client talks about how your drone services have improved their business, are two easy ways to get blog content up on your website.

Finding Customers

After you’ve laid the groundwork with a solid business model and marketing plan, a big question still remains: how to find customers? Joining drone service directories like DroneDeploy’s Drone Mapping Directory, droners.io and airstoc is a great way to put yourself out there.


Joining DroneDeploy’s Drone Mapping Directory is a great way to find new jobs in your area.

But in addition to getting on directory lists, it’s important to put yourself out in front of as many potential customers as possible. Many people simply don’t know what drones can do, but once they realize the business benefits of drones, hiring a DSP becomes a no brainer. Consider setting up an exploratory call to educate people on the benefits of drones. Demo and pro-bono work also goes a long way toward finding new business opportunities.

Pro Tip: Attend rotary meetings and professional networking events to connect with local businesses and find customer prospects

Attending professional networking events and rotary meetings is another way to connect with local businesses and find customer prospects. Create presentations and slide decks to share at these meetings to give your presentation even more impact.

Gregg Heath of Silicon Falcon Micro Aviation takes this approach. He also keeps an eye out for opportunities to network on the fly. He recounts stopping to talk to the staff of a crop management company when he happened to drive by one morning. “They tried drones on their own a few months ago, but they didn’t know it was possible to do things like stand counts.� Not seeing the value, the crop management company gave up on drones. But after hearing from Gregg what drone mapping can accomplish, they turned from skeptics to a solid business prospect for Silicon Falcon.

And finally, never underestimate the importance of networking with other drone service providers. You never know when someone might get a query for work that is outside their service area. Likewise, if a local colleague ends up with more work than they can handle, they may refer clients to other trusted drone businesses. Connect with colleagues in the commercial drone field by joining pilot networks and communities. Examples include the DroneDeploy Users Forum, PhantomPilots, and the SUAS Commercial Mapping Pilots Facebook group. DroneLife’s guide to the top drone forums is also a useful read.

No doubt about it, building a thriving drone business takes some work. But if you find yourself getting overwhelmed, take things one step at a time. And remember, all of this work now will pay off down the road. As a bit of parting advice, here’s Ed Schmalfeld again:

“You want make sure you set yourself up for success. If you run your business like it’s a little teeny tiny thing, it’s going to be very hard for you to grow or manage success. If you start things like you’re going to be a big formal company, as growth and success come, you just kind of grow into it. You already have a lot of the pieces in place.� — Ed Schmalfeld, Drone Service Provider

Where to Learn More

Here’s how to access the resources we talked about in this post:

General Resources

DIY Website Tools

Website Designers for Hire

Freelance Logo Designers

DSP Directories

Drone Pilot Networks and Communities

Get Started with DroneDeploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.



Surviving and Thriving as a Commercial Drone Business was originally published in DroneDeploy’s Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.