The drone industry is ever evolving with hundreds of companies adopting the technology every year. It’s now beyond doubt that drones can definitively save you time, save you money and reduce the risk of your operations, however, it can’t be ignored that there is still a barrier to entry.
While the price of drone technology is certainly not what it used to be, with many starter-to-mid level drones costing within the region of £200-£5,000, the barrier can still become apparent when fronting the initial investment. And we’re not blind to it, it can be a lot of money. We understand that the investment in a new field can be daunting, and without any evidence or seeing first-hand how drones can change your business.
A brilliant alternative when assessing your company’s usage of drones is the use of drone service providers (DSPs). Using DSP’s can be far more effective than using traditional methods of data collection, inspection or surveying, saving you both time and money. Additionally, DSP’s can provide high-value datasets that can then be used in your business cases for bringing operations in-house.
However, if you’re looking to hire a drone service provider, there are some guidelines worth following, and some information you need to find out to make sure that you get someone who’s right for you:
- What qualifications does the drone operator hold?
- Do they have relative PI & PL insurance and required drone insurance?
- Can they provide case studies and references?
- What outputs do you need and what can the drone company provide?
- What specialist area(s) does the drone company offer?
So, let’s get started.
To fly in the UK, including for leisure, operators must at least have a Flyer ID. This is obtained by passing a short course on the CAA website, allowing operators to fly in the ‘Open Category’.
Commercial drone pilots must have:
- A flyer ID – Specific to the pilot
- Operator ID – Specific to the company/organisation (which must be visible on the drone)
- An A2 CofC certificate (to fly drones of size up to 250g)
Once an operator has passed their A2 CofC or GVC, they must investigate obtaining public liability and public indemnity insurance to pursue a career as a commercial drone operator. Additionally, operators should obtain insurance specified by the CAA and requires that the insurance includes the clause known as EC785/2004.
It is also recommended that the company have employer liability insurance, particularly if they are a drone company rather than an individual drone pilot who is working self-employed or alone without a team.
3. Case Studies and References
When looking for a drone service provider, it’s always good to check the services that they are providing. Nothing speaks louder than a happy customer. Reviews, case studies and quotes are generally visible on a provider’s website and social platforms.
On the topic of due diligence, you must always ensure that you check the company’s outputs when in the process of hiring. You need to first understand what you are looking for, then put together a brief so that your operator can get straight to work and provide you with the best quality data.
By providing a clear brief, you will also be able to filter out operators who don’t have the facilities to provide what you need, be it the drone itself, software or know-how.
Following are some examples of outputs and the very minimum you should check for with the drone company to ensure they can deliver what you need for your project:
What will the images provided be used for? If you’re using them for social media, the resolution doesn’t need to be high and could be shot in JPEG format. On the other hand, if you’re looking for TV-quality footage or photos, you’ll need most likely need a 4K video quality or images shot in RAW, D-LOG, providing a TIF or PNG format.
Additionally, it will help the photo quality if the operator is well versed in photographic techniques. You wouldn’t pick a wedding photographer that didn’t know their stuff after all. A minimal example is a technique called ‘bracketing’ – whereby the camera takes 3-5 photos ranging in exposures that can then be stitched together in post-processing to give a better dynamic range.
Some drone companies have equipment that showcases the thermal output of structures, e.g. roofs, solar farms, pipelines, tanks and power lines. Completing operations such as these require dedicated equipment, so the drone must have a thermal sensor or payload. Thermal sensors capture data by measuring the difference between infrared light being received at different points of the surface.
Higher quality sensors will show a denser number of pixels within the field of view, showing the better disparity between individual parts of the asset.
Building and Asset Inspection
Visual or video imaging is an extremely efficient way to identify faults, cracks or surface issues that are present on an asset. Traditional methods will require the likes of rope access, scaffolding or working from height to achieve the same level of detail. By utilising drone technology for initial inspections of assets, companies can far reduce the amount of money spent on resources and also reduce the hours of staff working from height.
By providing high-quality RGB imagery, operators can then pass this footage to the company to review, keep and share with key stakeholders before any decisions are made.
Another excellent feature of drone technology is the ability to recreate environments as digital assets. This can help with the planning of new housing developments (as files can be output to CAD/AutoCAD), or other software.
To create a 3D model of an asset, the operator will be able to need access to mapping software such as PiX4D or DJI Terra. By combining software with an RTK-enabled drone, you are also capable of achieving centimetre-level accuracy.
Land Surveying by Drone
The requirements for surveying drastically vary across the industry, but the key consideration is the level of accuracy, and ground sampling distance (GSD) measured in +/- cm that is required for your project.
Most drones are sufficient for some degree of basic surveying where a basic orthomosaic is required. This could be useful for marking boundaries or other general surveys, but the quality of the data will be reliant on how close you can fly to the surface.
As mentioned before, however, accuracy is dependent on the drone’s ability to position itself by GPS, which can be too broad for operations that require survey-level accuracy. Therefore, if the operator is completing a job where high levels of positional accuracy is required, they must ensure that they are using PPK stations, have an RTK-enabled drone with an RTK license, or use LiDAR.
5. Specialist Areas
With the drone industry being so broad, it can be difficult to master all trades. Drone operators therefore tend to specialise in one or two areas based on their skills, equipment and knowledge. You can see some examples below to illustrate this point:
- Photography – basic, professional, billboard images
- Videography – basic, advert creation, TV or film production level
- FPV – first person view filming a.k.a. ‘fly throughs’
- Surveying – basic, advanced, surveyors (who have trained for drone capture), agriculture, rivers and coastal, land contouring, quantity surveying
- Building modelling – 3D point clouds, mesh creation
- Building and Asset inspections – basic, powerlines, solar farms, wind turbines, oil rigs
Find out more
A special thanks to S4G drone services for aiding us in the creation of this article. For any drone services required around London, make sure to check them out.
If you’d like to find out more about how drone technology can further your business, increase efficiencies and provide reliable data, please get in contact with our team.
We have a host of experts on hand that are ready to help you revolutionise you organisation using drone technology.