So you’ve conducted initial research and determined that the drone industry has potential. But what are the best offerings that would make the most money with your drone? Read on for 10 income generating avenues to consider after you’ve passed your Part 107, acquired a drone, secured insurance, and decided to start your drone business.
1. Drone aerial photography and videography
The ability to create visually stunning videos is a popular offering to make money using a drone. Being able to capture the perfect shot is a skill that can take some time to develop. Fortunately, with today’s drone technology, taking great pictures and video is easier than ever. With an integrated or attached gimbal to automatically balance the camera, drones are able to take smooth cinematic shots. The automated flying features of many modern drones allow the pilot to focus more exclusively on the composition of the shot and storytelling. For example, tracking a subject can now be performed automatically by the drone, permitting the pilot to focus on the creativity. Networking for your drone business with local realtors, wedding photographers and ancillary businesses in your location can be a great source of ongoing referrals.
2. Aerial mapping and modeling
Providing maps and models to clients has become a staple offering to make money with drones. Clients are expecting you to be able to effectively gather, analyze and export mapping data. There is a demand for orthomosaic maps which are a correctly scaled representation of an area, composed of multiple location-tagged images.
With your drone and volumetric software, you can provide your client with an estimate of the volume of a stockpile of sand, rock or other raw material – such audits would take far longer and be far more dangerous when conducted manually by employees clambering up unsteady stockpiles by foot. Consider developing both a traditional and social media marketing campaign to promote your drone business. Also think about joining business and trade associations to target the right companies in your area.
3. Drone aerial inspections
Traditional methods of inspecting any structure, be it a wind turbine, bridge or railway can have significant risk. A worker manually hoisted from a rope to conduct a wind turbine inspection is intrinsically challenging. Drones bring safety and reduced costs to such tasks.
Conducting roof inspections is also an in-demand offering – a thermal camera attached to a drone can give value by identifying hot- and cold-spots. You can inspect solar farms, wireless communications towers, oil and gas pipelines or other large installations. Inspections are one of the easiest ways to demonstrate return on investment to a client as introducing drones helps prevent accidents, reduces the need for manual labor and replaces the more expensive helicopter and airplane alternatives. The DARTdrones Aerial Drone Inspections Workshop will help you develop the knowledge to begin your exploration of this niche.
4. Agriculture and land management
Drones can be used to make money in agriculture and land management in a variety of ways. For example, precision agriculture is the ability to increase crop profitability by using less resources. Utilizing drones can be an excellent tool in this endeavor. Drones can be used for everything from analyzing the soil quality to identifying parasites affecting crops.
In forestry, drones are being used for surveying areas and even for planting trees. Agricultural spraying is also popular with highly specialized drones. Using a drone with or without a thermal camera can be used to search for missing livestock and to monitor game. Consider promoting your offerings to the farming, ranching, forestry and land management communities. Business Insider predicts agriculture to be one of five main segments that will experience significant growth in the next coming years.
5. Mining and quarrying
There are many difficult and dangerous tasks in the mining and quarrying industries. Drones can dramatically improve the efficiency of mines and assist in the management of quarries. All of this is achieved by gathering data very quickly at remote distances. Drones can be particularly useful at the pre-planning steps prior to planting explosives to shatter and break rock. Drilling and blasting can also be made safer by introducing aerial technology. Surveying, 3D mapping and stockpile management are popular uses for drones in the mining and quarry industries. Drones are being used to fly a quarry, then the images are exported to photogrammetry software to produce models and maps so that accurate measurements can be undertaken within these computer models rather than physically in the field. Consider the mining and quarry industry when searching for opportunities to make money with your drone business.
6. Conservation and ecology
Efforts around the globe are being enhanced by the introduction of drones for land and water conservation. Drones can acquire images of ecosystems from the sky unobtrusively. A drone can capture images of the terrain before and after a natural disaster or can conduct inventory of habitats that are difficult to reach by foot. Drones have been used to track animals and to support anti-poaching efforts and to conduct low cost surveys of forest habitats for carbon assessments. Appropriate software can be used to map habitats and species. A 2003 study by the Wildlife Society Bulletin reported that an unfortunate number of scientist fatalities occurred in plane and helicopter crashes at low altitude – heights required for observing and tracking wildlife. Offering drone services to conservation organizations can be a revenue-generator whilst helping a genuinely worthwhile cause.
7. Surveillance and security
There is a growing interest by clients in the surveillance and security benefits of drones and the situational awareness they can provide in a real-time crisis. As drones are less visible, cheaper and quieter than many equivalent technologies they offer significant benefits for surveillance and monitoring assignments. Drones can also cover a lot of ground quickly and remain unaffected by awkward terrain. Be aware that during operations, it is mandatory that the drone remains in your line of sight at all times unless you have a special waiver from the FAA. Be mindful regarding privacy issues also.
If you are in a smaller jurisdiction where helicopter cover is unaffordable for your local public safety agencies and they are not already served by an in-house drone program, you might consider approaching them to gauge if their needs and your offerings align. DARTdrones specializes in aiding public safety departments adopt drone programs.
Drones can be used in construction for a variety of tasks including facilitating quicker and cheaper surveying. Drones enhanced with Real-time Kinematic (RTK) technology offer even greater accuracy benefits, but this premium capability is not necessarily required for many construction projects. Other popular applications of drones in construction are progress monitoring, personnel safety and marketing.
Be aware that in some cases the collection of the data with your drone is only the beginning – the workflow may entail putting that data into a form that is usable by the client. Of course, as we continually emphasize, you must be conversant with drone rules in your country and locality. Also, do consider investing in a second ‘backup’ drone in case your main aircraft experiences an issue in the midst of an assignment.
9. News gathering and sports
The use of drones in news gathering and sports is gaining momentum. Journalists can benefit from your ability to contribute to news gathering and sharing of breaking stories. Your service can allow the public to see visuals from locations that were once perceived as impenetrable. Drones are becoming an everyday tool, bringing vibrant still images and video to the screen to enhance storytelling. Similarly, drones are being used in sports coaching and training to see tactics from an aerial perspective, thereby giving teams an edge over opponents.
While there are still regulatory matters to be mindful of concerning privacy in news gathering, there remains a great opportunity in this sector so do make your offerings known to the local media.
10. Disaster response and relief
Drones have been pivotal in recent years during a variety of hazards. Uses have included everything from providing a light source to illuminate an area, to locating lost people with thermal cameras. Drones can be a considerable asset in a catastrophe. As a drone pilot, one of the many services you can offer is to capture damage to critical infrastructure after such events. The first few hours of decision-making and action are crucial when an unexpected environmental incident occurs and drones can be deployed very quickly during such an effort, in comparison to alternative aerial solutions. Of course, if considering offering this type of service you must be endorsed and approved by the relevant local relief agencies – your objective is to work under the auspices of the authorities governing the scenario. Make your capabilities and offerings known to relief agencies in your area to evaluate their needs.
Next steps in making money with your drone business
Asking what the best offerings are to make the most money with your drone is certainly wise. Of the 10 offerings above, it would be prudent to focus on those that are the most lucrative given your location, capabilities and extent of competition. A key to success and business longevity is honing your skills in one key offering and striving to become a recognized local expert. Be sure to develop a strategic business plan including how to market your services. The DARTdrones Starting a Drone Business Under Part 107 can help you with this important initial step.
About the Author
Mike is an instrument-rated pilot and a self-described transportation enthusiast and weather geek. As a former light rail instructor for Harris County Metro, Mike trained new operators to safely operate trains on Metro’s new rail extensions in the city of Houston. Mike returned to Austin and discovered Drone photography. Taking his new hobby to the next level by combining his aviation, rait trainer, and industrial sales experience, Mike Joined DARTdrones to share his passion for aviation with student drone pilots to help them become safe, competent and confident drone pilots.
DARTdrones is the nation’s leader in drone training, program development and consultation, offering online and in-person courses in 40+ cities across the United States. DARTdrones takes pride in their comprehensive curriculum, developed by a former US Navy Helicopter pilot, as well as their 40+ flight instructors who are all manned and unmanned aircraft pilots. Visit us online at www.dartdrones.com, call 800-264-3907 or email the DARTdrones Team at [email protected] to learn more.