Commercial Drones – A Basic Buyers Guide
When commercial drones first arrived on the market, choices were relatively limited. Nowadays, when it comes to purchasing commercial UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), or drones as they’re more commonly known, there’s a vast array of choices out there. So much choice, in fact, that sometimes it can be difficult to know where to even begin. That’s why we’ve written this basic buyers guide to help you consider which drone is right for you.
As the UK’s leading commercial drone experts, we know that the best starting point is to ask yourself exactly why your business is looking to invest in a drone in the first place. What will the job of the drone be? What do you need it to be able to do? For example, will it be used for mapping or air surveillance? Inspection or art? Will the purpose of the drone be static or is some versatility required in case business requirements change over time?
Another important consideration is what the drone will not need to do. For instance, if it’s not going to be filming or taking photographs then issues such as resolution quality become less relevant. If the drone is to be used for purely indoor inspections, then weather conditions are likely to be less important.
Asking yourself these types of questions before embarking on a spending spree can save you from overpaying for a commercial drone jam-packed with features that your business simply doesn’t need and never will. Equally, it prevents you from purchasing a drone that just isn’t fit for purpose because it’s cheap to buy but unsuitable for your needs most of the time.
Give it some serious thought though because once you’ve got those basics down, you can start considering the specifics.
In this Buyers Guide we will cover;
- UAV Design Type
- Flight Duration
- Portability & Reliability
- Ground Control Station
- Operational Requirements
- Data Processing
If you’re looking to adopt drones into your business contact a Coptrz Expert here for free, no obligation advice.
UAV design type
These types of UAV come in a range of styles, with 3, 4, 6 and 8 rotors all available to choose from. These drones tend to be a good choice for infrastructure or building inspections (including high-rise) and 3D modelling. Advantages include stability, simplicity and reliability, while disadvantages include shorter flight times due to their low speeds (relatively speaking), meaning a reduced range. This type of drone is usually launched via vertical take-off and lands the same way. As such, virtually any flat surface can be used for these purposes, adding to the appeal for this type of design.
Designed similarly to planes, this type of UAV is built to be aerodynamic, meaning that it tends to be air-borne for longer, giving it the advantage of being able to fly further. If you’ll be using your drone to shoot from a fair distance, extended objects or large areas, then the fixed-wing model may be the design for you. Factors to watch for though are that, due to their design, these devices need to be in constant motion. If you need your drone to work in a confined space or to be able to hover, this is unlikely to work for this purpose. These designs are either launched via catapult or straight from the hands and land with a parachute or directly on the body. Safety-wise, catapults are best for the operator, while for the drone, a parachute tends to do the least damage.
There are even some drones now available that combine the best bits from the multirotor with a fixed-wing aerodynamic design, such as the WingtraOne VTOL, a great choice for surveying and mapping large areas.
Duration of flight needs
To assess how commercially efficient a particular UAV is, you need to know just how long a model can fly for per flight. These are often listed under “maximum flight time” available. Note that these are often given for the most favourable conditions. Something else to watch for here is that some brands are given a fairly generic maximum flight time across the brand.
Remember that take-off weight and carrying capacity (payload) are going to need to be factored into flight time also. Sometimes, the flight time indicated for a particular model doesn’t make it clear if that’s with or without payload factored in. This can make it tricky to make fair and accurate comparisons.
It is possible and recommended to ask us for a demo for exactly these reasons.
Payload factors & requirements
When purchasing a drone for commercial reasons, drone payloads are an often overlooked but crucial part of the buying process. It’s going to be a rare commercial drone indeed that doesn’t need some type of payload!
Again, this is where that first step of thinking through precisely what you’ll be using your UAV for is important. There are so many different types of payload available: magnetometers, cameras (both photo and video), scanners, thermal imaging devices, infrared. Ask yourself what type of information you are hoping to capture.
Also, consider whether you are going to need an interchangeable payload or not. Even if you can change the payload yourself, be sure to check that you don’t need to fork out for special tools to do this. Another common problem that users come up against here is that while the payload can be changed, it often ends up not being recognised by the software.
It’s also worth knowing that you can customise your drone to come with a specifically required payload should you need it. If you know from the start that your drone needs a certain payload not easily available as standard, then making enquiries for this to be customised for you and the likely costs involved in this might save you time overall.
Portability & reliability
How portable does the drone need to be? Some of the most convenient designs on the market are those that come in a strong yet portable carrier, capable of simply being loaded into the boot of a car ready for transportation.
Readying the drone for flight in a matter of a couple of minutes or so, ideally by a single operator, should also be high up on the agenda.
Once the UAV is airborne, you’ll want to know that you can trust it to carry out the task it has been purchased for reliably. What materials is the UAV made from? This is important in terms of carrying capacity but even more so when landing. To ensure that both of these requirements are met, many of the most reliable UAVs are made of both composite and polymeric materials. This makes the drone light yet stable in the air as well as capable of landing with minimal damage.
Bearing in mind that the UAV is highly likely to be flying directly over people and property, safety is one area that should not be compromised on – ever.
Many drones now come with artificial intelligence built-in to the device. These include an alarm, radio communication, mission testing and returning to the flight path start point if the battery gets too low or connection is lost. Being able to pre-set a distance, beyond which the drone cannot physically go, is another safety feature often installed. This is especially handy if there is land adjacent to that over which the drone is working on that needs additional protection. Features such as these can help put people’s minds at rest.
Skimping on safety at the purchase stage is likely to turn out to be a false economy in the long run if and when something or someone is injured as a result.
Ground control station
What kind of features your drone comes equipped with will largely depend on how functional its ground control station (GCS) is. You’ll need this to create a flight task and to control the drone when it’s airborne. Those with the best features will allow you to keep a close eye on how the flight task is being followed, adjust the payload and, should it be necessary, you’ll even be able to abort the mission through the GCS.
Use-specific features include commercial drones used for surveillance – you may well want to have the drone uploading the images it has taken to the GCS online screen, so look out for UAVs that come with this specifically. For aerial photography, you will definitely need features that allow you, via the GCS, to set the camera’s resolution, image overlap percentage, flight speed and the land point.
The key question here is where are you going to be flying your drone and what are the typical weather conditions? These issues affect not only whether the UAV can actually fly at certain times, but also its performance quality when capturing data.
Of course, to give yourself more room to manoeuvre and work in a variety of conditions, opt for a UAV that can be used across a broader range of temperatures and during substantial wind speeds.
Remember too, that if you’re planning to put your drone to use in harsh conditions, it’s likely to need to be specially customised for such use. For instance, shooting wildlife images in Siberia is going to require some very different operational requirements than it would on the plains of Africa!
Another relevant requirement will be just how high your drone is going to need to fly. Here you need to think about how this affects a particular model’s resolution and coverage. In the UK, without special permission, this is generally going to be no more than 400ft.
Data processing software
The main things to watch for when it comes to data processing are speed and quality. Most often these work best when the UAV and its photogrammetric processing software were intended to work together from the start and are therefore completely compatible.
If that’s not possible or suitable for your needs, then you want to be looking for established software that is known for being as compatible as possible with other specific software.
It is only once all of the above factors have been carefully weighed up against the role of your commercial drone that cost should even be considered. Unfortunately, far too often, this can be the first and only consideration. This usually leads to impulse buying which rarely works out well when you think about just how many variables affect UAVs.
A good question to ask yourself when it comes to cost is what value you will derive from the purchase. For example, what’s the warranty? Does it come with training and technical support? What kind of software comes as standard?
You also need to factor in the running costs as well as maintenance costs. It will be much harder to source spare parts for older models. Similarly, they may require the expertise of a specialist even though, at first glance, they appear cheaper. How easy it will be for you to repair and maintain your drone yourself will be hugely relevant if it’s likely to be out of action for some time, affecting your ability to use it.
As you can see from this guide, there’s more to investing in a commercial drone than many people realise. With so much exciting and innovative choice on the market, it’s easy to get your head turned. Our advice is that you can’t go far wrong if you set out your stall from the start if you weigh up what you need against what’s available.
Once you’ve got your starting point, you’re in a great position to start checking out the market. At Coptrz, we’ve got a fantastic range of products on the website for you to browse right now, from the drones themselves right through to accessories and software. And, if you’re looking for further information or advice on a purchase you’re contemplating, our team of industry experts are just one step away, so feel free to contact Coptrz here today.