The entrepreneurs behind the new drone economy

The FAA released some staggering numbers as it welcomed Part 107, otherwise known as the rules governing — or perhaps creating — the commercial drone industry in the U.S.: Within one year, the FAA estimates that 600,000 drones will be active in commerce in the United States.

Even if you assume every pilot has, on average, 1.2 drones, that’s still half a million commercial drone pilots. But where are all these pilots coming from, and what are they going to do with those drones?

Up until now, the process of becoming a commercial drone pilot was onerous. First, you had to be (or hire) a licensed manned aviation pilot, then have a lawyer to file paperwork related to exactly how you were going to operate your drone, often waiting up to six months before you received your certificate.

Today, the process takes 10 days. The first step is a $150 test you can take at any of 600 FAA-approved test centers (unless you are one of the few to have a manned pilot certificate, in which case the test is replaced with online training). It may be cheap, but this test is by no means easy, including questions on aeronautical charts, aviation law and the effects of weather conditions on flight. The final step is a TSA vetting, similar to applying for TSA Precheck.

The FAA also has set some general rules of the road — you must fly in daylight, away from airports and with your drone in your line of sight. Yet even these rules can be waived, and there have already been 76 waivers granted (at the time of writing this). So if you can dream it, you can probably do it under Part 107.

The winners will be the best entrepreneurs — the ones who find innovative ways to scale and delight their clients.

That brings us back to the bigger question: Where will these half a million new pilots come from and what exactly what will they be doing?

Maybe existing pilots will transition to drones. There are currently 171,000 FAA-licensed private pilots in the U.S. Even assuming that every one of them caught the drone bug and decided to quit their day job (which we all know is unlikely), that would still leave 329,000 who are expected to register as commercial users this year. Because only about 6,000 people are currently registered as commercial drone pilots, that means there will be more than 300,000 new commercial users directly resulting from the new regulation. That’s more than the population of Orlando.

The natural first question is whether these new pilots will be part of larger organizations, small business owners or individuals. Because the FAA estimates that 90 percent of commercial drones will have an average price under $2,500, think Phantom or Inspire drones. And when the tools of your trade are cheap enough for most Americans to afford on their own, there is little incentive to become part of a larger organization. So this leaves about 290,000 sole proprietors and small businesses on pace to register this year. This represents a whopping 52X growth in drone pilots year over year. But where will all these new users come from and what will these drones be used to do?

Typically they started out as consumers — receiving a drone as a gift, or having saved up for one as a special purchase — and fell in love with flying. They got so good at it that people started asking them to do favors; take a video of a house, do a roof inspection, snap some aerial family photos or perhaps survey a construction site. All it takes is a website and business cards and voilà — they had a sideline drone enterprise.

And how do they find clients? They hustle. They are always looking for new ways to add value to their clients through aviation. Part 107 will now put these enthusiasts on equal footing with the manned pilots currently working the skies. By the time this is all over, the number of commercial drone pilots will easily eclipse the entire manned pilot population in the United States — the only question is: how many times over?

These drone lovers are now triggering a wave of commercial drone applications as early adopters of a trend that is soon to become a mainstream occupation. The new rules provide structure for commercial users to operate legally and, in doing so, have leveled the playing field.

The winners will be the best entrepreneurs — the ones who find innovative ways to scale and delight their clients. Even the equipment is now readily available, thanks to a robust market for commercial-grade drones at consumer-friendly prices. When people can make back their investment on something they want by doing what they love, great things will happen.

The entrepreneurs behind the new drone economy

Canada: UAV Finds Missing Person

aeryon-skyranger-hoverAn industry leader in the police-drone sector has scored another victory in the search-and-rescue arena.

On Oct. 14, the Ontario Provincial Police found a missing man after deploying drones manufactured by Canada-based Aeryon Labs.

The man, who suffers from dementia, went missing at twilight in a rural area. After his family searched for two hours, they called police officers who launched a SkyRanger drone.

About an hour after launch, the drone’s thermal-imaging sensors detected the man’s heat signature in a nearby cornfield about a mile from his home. Using telemetry from the UAV, rescuers were able to direct search dogs to the site. Medical workers treated the man for mild hypothermia but he was otherwise healthy.

According to an OPP press release, the UAS mission rescue was the second instance in recent months the agency’s drones have helped find a missing person – the first a hiker in Lanark County. The agency owns 11 SkyRangers.

Two weeks ago, police in Barrie, Ont. launched a SkyRanger to locate and track a suspected thief. The drone gave them a bird’s-eye view, allowing police to easily locate the 43-year-old fugitive in a clinic parking lot.

Earlier that week, the police force launched the drone to help locate an injured woman following a jet-ski accident near Niagara Falls.

“It’s definitely helpful if you are searching for someone, or evidence,” Barrie Police Constable Nicole Rodgers said. “When you’re getting a wider view of an area, where maybe there might be evidence or items that were maybe ditched during a foot pursuit.”

The Canadian company is slowly heading south of the border, launching partnerships with American public-safety agencies. At a recent workshop in Ohio, Aeryon experts trained local police and fire departments in the basics of drone deployment.

In 2014, the company announced an agreement with the Michigan State Police to standardize the agency’s statewide drone deployment with SkyRanger platforms.  The quadcopter can fly up to 40 mph with a maximum flight time of 50 minutes. It offers a 1.9-mile beyond-line-of-sight range and can lift a five-pound payload.

Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters awarded Aeryon both the Exporter of the Year and Consumer Products accolades in 2014.

5 Skills You Need to Get a UAV Job

drone jobWith the enactment of Part 107, the US expects thousands of new commercial drone operators to enter the market this year.  The FAA predicts that 90% of those new operators will be small businesses.  Even with extensive flight experience and an FAA certificate, how can drone businesses stand out among the competition?  At our sister site, JobForDrones, we see hundreds of customers looking for operators, and their criteria are clear.  Here are 5 skills you need to get a drone job today.

  1. Hone your business skills.  Just like hiring any service provider for home or business, commercial drone customers are concerned about doing business with independent operators, and they will choose the provider who presents the most professional profile.  Make sure that you have everything the customer expects ready to go: including standard contracts, proof of insurance, proof of your certification, a professional bid or estimate document, and any liability waivers that you might require.  You might want to invest in a drone lawyer to make sure you understand all of the issues – like the copyright laws on the images you produce, for example.  And make sure that you have a payment system in place: larger customers expect you to be able to handle credit card or PO transactions.
  2. short-term FAA BillLearn to Navigate the Regulations. Searching the FAA website for changes is nobody’s idea of fun, but it’s a requirement for a professional drone operator.  Customers need to have confidence that you know how to fly legally, so you will need to be able to discuss the regulations intelligently.  Explain what apps or tools you use to make sure that you are flying in legal airspace.  Be ready to tell customers if their idea isn’t legal – like flying directly over a soccer game, or taking real estate footage in Manhattan – but offer alternative suggestions that might work to achieve their goals.  And make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with any specific local ordinances – many states and town have their own drone laws.  There are many resources to help with this, including communities on Facebook and websites like DRONELIFE that follow big events in regulations.
  3. communicationCommunications. If you’ve got the first two skills – a professional business and a deep expertise in drone regulations – you’re well on your way.  But now you need to let your customers know that.  Many commercial drone services websites feature only the impressive footage that the operator has produced.  Make sure that your website – or blog, or Twitter feed, or YouTube channel – indicates that you have the company structure required to meet customers’ needs.  Make it clear on the front page of your site that you have your FAA certification and are “licensed and insured;”  consider creating a brief “FAQ” section that will allow you to demonstrate your expertise.  Offer references.  Spend time on your emails.  If you have a specialty, feature it. While it isn’t always fair, it’s often the most professionally presented profile that gets the business.
  4. photographer-698908_1280Photography or Videography. This one has to be said – if you’re selling images, it isn’t enough to know how to fly a drone.  Many of the most successful drone businesses are photographers who learned to fly drones, rather than drone pilots who learned to take pictures.  Customers in real estate, marketing, and event planning have a high standard for their product-  and they expect a drone operator working with them to provide some creativity and photography or videography skills.  You have to know what shots to take, when the best lighting will be available, and how to edit and produce those shots afterwards.  If you’ve got experience or training in photography, state it on your website.  Not interested in pursuing that aspect?  No problem – there are plenty of other applications for commercial drone operators: agriculture, construction, inspection services, surveying and mapping are just a few.
  5. Learn how to package your final product.  Many operators aren’t quite sure what to deliver when they take a job – and that causes problems for the customer.  Learn to package your deliverable, and be very clear up front about what the customer is getting.  What’s the platform that you will deliver on?  If you are you delivering images, are they raw or edited?  If you’re providing a different type of data, are you sending data to an analysis platform of the customer’s choice?  Are you supposed to find a data analysis platform?  If you’re not sure what’s reasonable, ask them what they the minimum requirement is – and try to do a little better than that.  If you can, and the job lends itself to a package, offer a flat price.  You may be able to do a little better that way, as customers often prefer a predictable expense to an hourly estimate that risks going over.

Commercial drones are gaining ground fast, as many industries realize the benefit that they provide.  Drones can save money, time, and often offer a perspective or information that is otherwise unavailable. Customers are looking for operators to provide a product and help them understand what commercial drones can offer – and the business that does that best gets the job.

UAV Help Hurricane Victims File Insurance Claims Faster

Drone-1-2-MB-658x439Two of the largest insurers are processing millions of property claims following Hurricane Matthew more efficiently by using drones.

The hurricane, which rampaged through the Caribbean and several Southern Seaboard states, was responsible for an estimated 1,300 deaths and $6.91 billion in damage. Allstate and Travelers deployed several drones over parts of South Carolina and Georgia this past week to assess damage and to hopefully put insurance money into the pockets of stricken policyholders quicker.

“Our use of drones will help customers recover from losses more quickly because it expedites inspections, payments and repairs,” Travelers Senior Claims Vice President of Claim Patrick Gee said in a press release. “The drones also help protect our claim professionals by eliminating the need to climb ladders to inspect roofs and other elevated structures.”

Allstate’s quadcopters can capture 4K-resolution images and the company says this allows adjusters to zoom in for extreme detail on any individual shingle on a roof or a crack in a building.

“When I started back in 1999 with the National Catastrophe Team, I used a Polaroid camera to take pictures of the damage,” Allstate Catastrophe Adjuster Charlie Urban said in a press release. “Now, seeing us use drones is unbelievable. I’m really excited to see where the technology might go in the future.”

Travelers launched a UAV training program earlier this year and employs 60 FAA-certified adjusters to pilot drones.  Allstate tested inspection drones following a hail storm in Texas this past August following the release of the FAA’s Part 107 revision for commercial drone use.

“We have been active in the drone space, testing and researching use cases for a while now,” Allstate Chief Claims Officer Glenn Shapiro said. “To be able to use drones with our customers who have actual storm damage is a big step forward.”

In April, the insurance giant joined the Property Drone Consortium, a collaboration of insurance carriers and construction industry leaders that pledges to “work together to promote the development of standards and specifications for the safe use of unmanned aircraft system technology in the insurance and construction industries.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, other organizations are using drones to inspect damage and identify trouble spots. Wireless provider Verizon launched several drone missions in heavily flooded regions in North and South Carolina to examine damaged or offline cell equipment nodes.

5 Tips for Aerial Photography Beginners

There are plenty of reasons that you might be considering getting into aerial photography. You might’ve been inspired by some epic drone footage – of which there’s plenty – fancy yourself a professional pilot in the making, or just want an excuse to get out of the house. Whatever your motivation, the idea of actually buying a drone and getting started can be pretty daunting. That’s why we’ve put together a quick list of top tips for aerial photography beginners for you to take away, think about some more and use to help get your new hobby off the ground.

Tips for aerial photography beginners

top tips for aerial photography

Find the right drone

This is a pretty obvious one to start with. There’s a huge range of drones available on the consumer market, from small toys to professional-grade photography equipment. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. If you want grainy footage and a flight time more easily counted in seconds than in minutes, that’s easy enough to find. But you probably don’t want that. Even beginners to the field of aerial photography would be well advised to stick with the established manufacturers who have earned their reputations as the go-to providers of aerial photography drones. Most of them have products to suit a range of budgets.

Aerial photography top tips

The GoPro Karma: There are plenty of drones out there to suit all budgets and aspirations.

The market leader is by far and away DJI, whose Phantom range has set the standard for consumer drones. Going back a couple of years, DJI’s Phantom 3 Standard is now available for under $500, while the Chinese manufacturer’s new, vastly superior Mavic Pro is retailing at double that. For a beginner, the Phantom 3 is, on the face of it, the perfect place to start. It’s a great balance between price and quality. But bear in mind that things have moved on incredibly quickly in the industry since it was first released in the summer of 2015. In fact, while a newer drone such as the Mavic Pro may be more expensive and appear more complex, the increased sophistication of the latest drones arguably makes them a whole lot easier to fly straight out of the box. They are generally easier to control once up in the air as well, and can of course produce higher quality results.

The right drone for you will depend on two things: 1. What’s your drone really for? And 2. How much are you willing to spend to make this happen? The point of your drone is the first thing you should be considering. What are you going to be using it for? What level of image quality are you expecting? How much hands-on flying do you want to be doing? Are autonomous flight modes important to you? Are you bothered about built-in safety features, or do you want to don a pair of FPV goggles and just leave reality behind? Consider the answers to these questions when choosing your first drone.

top tips for aerial photography

The Parrot Disco is fantastic for FPV flyers.

The latest tech from DJI, Yuneec, 3DR, GoPro or Parrot might do a whole bunch of things you’re never going to need or even appreciate. You might even be the kind of person who lets the latest gadgets gather dust in the attic after an hour of use. If either of these is ringing true, then the above manufacturers – with the exception of GoPro – offer drones across the price spectrum, so you can find the balance between cost and reward that best suits your expectations and expected use.

If you’re in the enviable position of having zero restrictions when it comes to budget: GoPro fans will enjoy the Karma and its seamless integration with the camera company’s other products, pilots looking for a first person view experience should try out the Parrot Disco, and aerial photographers keen on an all-round package should look no further than DJI’s Mavic Pro or Phantom 4, along with Yuneec’s Typhoon H.f all the top tips for aerial

Of all the tips for aerial photography beginners that we can think of, choosing the right drone has to be number one.

Harness the power of autonomous flight

While the idea of putting a high-quality camera in the sky sounds like a dream come true for keen photographers, it’s not always been straightforward to pilot a drone effectively and shoot great footage at the same time. A focus on one can often be to the detriment of the other. Fortunately, manufacturers across the board have made great strides and are now much closer to solving this fundamental issue.

Essentially, autonomous flight modes mean that you’re only ever a click away from becoming the Steven Speilberg of the skies. With most of the manufacturers mentioned so far, you can draw custom flight paths, have your drone orbit a certain location, and perform classic aerial photography maneuvers to mimic a cable camera or slowly zoom out or into a location. With the top-end drones you can be both pilot and star of the show; why not have your drone track you and keep you in shot?

top tips for aerial photography

Yuneec’s Typhoon H is one drone that takes autonomous flight to the next level with built-in obstacle avoidance.

Autonomous flight is one area of drone photography that’s fast becoming both an essential and an assumed feature of any new consumer model. These manufacturers want to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. As a result, the latest drones are a lot less daunting to fly and get great results with less input than you might think.

Several manufacturers, such as DJI, offer the ability to control the camera separately from the drone itself. The GoPro Passenger app for the Karma is a perfect example of this burgeoning concept. You can pilot the drone while your ‘passenger’ takes control of the camera and handles the photography independently. Most of the latest drones can also be used with FPV goggles, so your or a copilot can enjoy an immersive view while you fly.

Check for no-fly zones

There’s no doubt that a significant percentage of the general public remain skeptical about the rise of consumer drones. As a new pilot, you owe it to yourself, your fellow citizens and the wider flying community to fly responsibly and well away from established no-fly zones. Typically, these are anywhere near airports, at altitudes above 400ft and in National Parks – You can check your nearest no-fly zones through a number of apps, or on the FAA website. Manufacturers are also starting to introduce software that stops you from flying where you shouldn’t, such as DJI.

There are also plenty of applications and growing communities dedicated to sharing tips on great flying locations, such as Where2Fly.

Think about insurance

Next in our rundown of top tips for aerial photography beginners is something you might not have thought of yet. Your drone is probably going to set you back a few bucks, so it’s probably a good idea to sort out some insurance. Crashes happen, and with new pilots it’s often a case of when, not if. Insurance is also a good idea if you’re flying anywhere near others (which you shouldn’t really be doing) or their property. With providers such as Verifly you can arrange cover on a flight by flight basis. It’s not a legal requirement, but it might be a good idea for peace of mind, keeping you covered in the worst-case scenario that something does go horribly wrong.

top tips for aerial photographers insurance

Check out Verifly for on-demand drone insurance.

If you’re piloting skills really take off and you end up flying for a living, insurance is highly recommended.

Don’t forget about post-production

The last point in our list of tips for aerial photography beginners concerns what you do once all the excitement is over. Having spent a day taking to the skies and shooting video in a way you’ve never been able to before, it’s easy to forget that there’s an end result here: the footage itself. Whether you just want to watch it back with friends and family, capture a special occasion or share it on social media, editing and polishing your footage is an absolute must.

We recently featured a range of software to get the best out of your aerial photography. Many manufacturers, such as GoPro, offer a suite of services to help with post-production. With a few clicks you can add backing tracks, cut out the boring bits and generally make your videos a whole lot more professional.

Editing footage is a great way to relive the moment, but it’s also vital to making the most of what you’ve captured. Check out the links above and search around to find some video editing software that suits your needs and ability.