Logan Campbell - Logan@Aerotas.com
What is the best drone for business?
Here at Aerotas, we often get the question of what is the best drone out there. And the answer is that there is no one best drone, there are lots of them. It all depends on what you are using it for. Due to pesky laws of physics, drones that try and do everything end up being really heavy, expensive, and all around mediocre or bad at everything. So because of that, it is best to break things up into categories to answer the real question, what is the best drone for my business?
Commercial Photography: DJI Inspire 1
DJI is the undisputed king of the consumer drone market, and that also allows them to make the best professional photography drones as well. The Inspire 1 was an extremely capable photography drone when it was first released in November of 2014, but since the release of the new Zenmuse X5 camera, DJI has made almost every other photography drone look outdated. With a very well integrated app and relatively easy controls, the Inspire 1 is the best bet for any serious professional photographer.
Surveying: SenseFly eBee RTK
Surveying requires a very different set of hardware than most other drone applications. With a high emphasis accuracy, down to 1cm or less, the drone needs to be more than just a flying camera. SenseFly has built the best aircraft for most surveying applications. Built as a flying wing instead of a multirotor, the eBee RTK is capable of covering nearly 2,000 acres in a single flight. Further, it can be easily integrated with ground control stations, allowing some of the best accuracy in an off the shelf surveying solution. The only downside of the fixed wing is that it is difficult to use small areas.
Fixed Asset Inspection: AscTec Falcon 8
By fixed asset inspection, we mean inspecting things like wind turbines, oil rigs, cell phone towers, and bridges. The Falcon 8, build by German firm Ascending Technologies, is one of the most robust aircraft for fixed asset inspection. With multiple layers of redundant hardware and software, the Falcon 8 is one of the most reliable drones for where failure is not an option. Further, it can carry both thermal and visual cameras simultaneously, while offering the ability to look directly up for inspection purposes, a very valuable option that almost all competitors lack.
Long Distance Inspection: AeroVironment Puma
AeroVironment is primarily a defense contractor, and most of their equipment is built to military standards. This makes them some of the most expensive options for commercial drones, but they also excel at some of the more advanced use cases. The AeroVironment Puma can fly for over 3.5 hours in weather that would ground most other aircraft, all while carrying multiple sensors to get highly accurate 3D models of things like oil pipelines that may stretch miles beyond the range of standard commercial UAVs. At $250,000 each, the Puma is definitely not for every business, but for some it may be the only real option.
Agriculture: PrecisionHawk Lancaster
Because of the amount of land that Agricultural surveying needs to cover, you will almost always need to have a fixed-wing platform to cover enough ground. The PrecisionHawk Lancaster does this very well, with swappable sensors for whatever your agriculture sensing needs are, including multispectral, thermal, or visual sensors. Further, their DataMapper platforms lets you convert the raw data into usable maps and orthomosaics easier than many competitors. DataMapper appears to be more important to the company than their hardware, but right now they have some of the best of both worlds.
Research & Development: 3DRobotics Solo
The biggest benefit to the 3DR Solo is its open source architecture. Unlike most other drones, which utilize some degree of a "black box" autopilot, 3DR encourages tinkering and custom coding in its software stack. Further, the Solo was built with an expansion bay, allowing anyone to build custom hardware and software to attach to the drone. The downside to all of this is the much higher learning curve required to get it to operate smoothly and reliably, however if you are up to the challenge, the possibilities are nearly limitless.
The key takeaway from all of this is that there is no single best drone. They are very specialized and that makes them good at individual things. But beyond this, the industry changes all the time. As new products are introduced, the best in a single category is going to change, and may change every couple of months and competitors continue to build better hardware. Its a complicated industry to figure out, but with enough data and enough experience, there is always going to be a best drone out there for whatever you want to do.
Are you interested in learning more about how to operate commercial drones profitably and safely? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Logan is the founder and CEO of Aerotas. He graduated from Harvard Business School in 2015 and brings experience in a broad range of industries, including agriculture, real estate, and finance. A lifelong tinkerer and avid UAV enthusiast, Logan also has hundreds of hours of flight experience over a broad set of different UAV types.